Coming Soon: Paid Search Without Keywords

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about search without keywords. Recently, the topic came up again at SES San Jose in a keynote presentation from Nick Fox, Google’s business product management director for AdWords. In the presentation, Nick outlined where paid search could be in the next 5 to 10 years and covered two general topics—paid search without keyword terms and phrases and pay per conversion. In this post, I’ll cover the paid search part of his presentation. In my next post, I’ll look at the future of pay per conversion.

Why is search with no keyword terms important?

There are several important reasons why search without keyword terms has recently become important. Some of the reasons for this include:

Longer query length. According to a Hitwise news release, the number of 5+ search queries increased by 10% from January 2008 to January 2009. In the same time period, 2 word search queries decreased by 5%.

Unique search terms. According to Google, 20-25% of search queries in the last 6 months were new queries.

Increased searcher sophistication. In his keynote, Nick provided an example related to cashmere sweaters that demonstrated this point well. He stated in 2007, people searched for cashmere sweaters 47 different ways. In 2008, people searched for the same keyword phrase 73 different ways. It’s becoming a headache for advertisers to anticipate and react to so many different queries. Should advertiser prowess be measured based on mind-boggling attention to long query keyword detail?

Resistance to do-it-yourself advertising systems. Google recognizes that PPC advertising considerations (like keywords, ad copy, cost per click, etc.) can be cumbersome for some advertisers. New methods of connecting advertisers with searchers seem inevitable—especially for those advertisers who don’t like fiddling with self-serve systems.

What would no-keyword search look like?

In the keynote, Nick mentioned that keywords were used as a proxy for relevance. Conceptually, there is no reason an advertiser couldn’t achieve the same results without having to directly manage a keyword list. Down the road, Google wants to state outcomes and have machine-based learning and algorithms come up with the best method of achieving specific outcomes. In the case of no keyword search, an advertiser (like a retailer) would provide information on products, product descriptions, pricing, etc. and Google would use the information to find the most effective way to place ads in front of potential customers.

In his keynote, Nick provided an example related to plumbers: a plumber would provide a list his services and Google would figure out a way to appropriately advertise the plumber’s services. Here’s a possible example of a list of plumber services Google could draw from:

  • Faucets
  • Bath sinks
  • Kitchen sinks
  • Bathtubs and showers
  • Toilets
  • Water heaters
  • Water softeners
  • Drain pipes
  • Sewer lines
  • Garbage disposals
  • Laundry centers
  • Gas vents
  • Gas meters
  • Backflow prevention

The advantages of no-keyword search

All in all, there are several advantages of no keyword term search. They are:

  • Efficiency for advertisers—there would be no keyword research component to a PPC advertising campaign.
  • There could be better connections between searchers and advertisers on natural language queries.
  • It would allow advertisers to better connect with consumers and capitalize on all relevant advertising opportunities.

These are obviously initial ideas and now Google needs to figure how to make no-keyword search work. According to Nick Fox, it will be some time before Google shares specific product details. Sharing the concepts with the advertising community at this stage doubles as a feedback mechanism and a trial balloon: if too many people hate it, Google can modify its approach. We sure look forward to hearing more on this.

If you’re interested in reading more or chiming in on this topic, check out the Google groups keynote forum.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: was recently voted the 2013 Most influential SEM. She is the Vice President of Online Marketing Strategy at Page Zero Media where she focuses on search engine marketing strategy, landing page optimization (LPO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO).

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  • Stupidscript

    Let’s see … shall we rely on Google’s technical acumen to provide our ads as relevant links to search queries? Hmmm. How do they do with normal web programming, like, say, laying out a page on Google Groups? Hmmm. Let’s see the page Ms. Elesseily referred us to … DOH! Looks like crap on every browser. Layers, buddies … learn about ‘em.

  • alanbleiweiss

    Mona, I’m confused.

    In the example of the plumber, what are all those words related to the plumber’s service if they’re not keywords?

    I assume here then, that Google is claiming they’re going to need those core phrases provided, and that their system is internally going to assume what all the long tail phrases are related to them instead of the site owner managing their own list of 200 similar phrases?

    I sure hope not. When I do my keyword research using the Google keyword tool, if I only provide one or five phrases, I get 90% unrelated suggestions. When I put in too many phrases, the vast majority of high quality related phrases aren’t even displayed because they have a lower count than the truly irrelevant stuff.

    Keyword phrases have to be the basis for the advertisement to relate to the target site. Whether the advertiser enters them and at least understands their business (or their PPC manager does because they’re human) or the Google system tries and fails miserably, it’s still all keywords.

  • robertbrady

    The idea is intriguing and there are some great benefits that could be had. However, I’m a bit uneasy about letting Google have so much control over when MY ads show. Seems like another black box (like the Google search algo and AdWords’ QS) that Google would control. I’m going to have to think this over more and write a blog post about it.

  • xurxo

    While there are some compelling arguments for the benefits of search without keywords, I’m still a bit skeptical when it comes to the paid search side.

    We all know how much expanded broad match is loved by search marketers! Even though it’s toted around by Google as giving advertisers the ability to reach more potential clients without having to do tons of keyword research and maintaining massive keywords lists.

    There might be a future in search without keywords, but since most of us are not ready to trust algorithms to do the heavy lifting just yet, I’m sure we’ll continue to enjoy the transparency and control that keywords give us.

  • tobitm

    “Should advertiser prowess be measured based on mind-boggling attention to long query keyword detail?” – In a way, yes. What else are they to be measured on? If it’s purely relevancy then it’s SEO. If it’s purely spend then google becomes a traditional media buy. The draw of paid search has always been it’s accountability, with out it google could potentially be undermining its entire business model.

    Maintaining keyword sets is a crucial part of making the campaigns efficient. A key reason for this is expanded broad match, forcing either extensive negative lists or vast numbers of phrase match permutations. Given the flaws already present in expanded broad match I would be reticent to surrender more control to Google.

  • grgclvrt

    So basically Google wants to market your business for you. If there are high converting keywords, that may not be related to “plumber” in any obvious way for Google to discern, you’re out of luck and minus those potential customers. Google will have to be experts in all fields and all verticals, and will have to handle those queries better than those that work in those fields 100% of the time.

    This could work at a basic level, but to aggressively capture those queries, your keyword list must be managed and consistently updated. The fact that cashmere sweaters were searched for in 26 more ways in 2008 is an opportunity, not a problem. That shows growth and sophistication.

    “Should advertiser prowess be measured based on mind-boggling attention to long query keyword detail?” Yes, absolutely! That’s called knowing your customer and it’s what marketing is all about.

  • mbailetti

    I like this because it’s focused on output vs. input & it saves time. At the end of day, clients don’t care how much effort we put in mining, managing & monitoring keywords. They care about results, profitability & ROI. The manual process of managing keywords may deliver incremental benefits vs. automated tools today (technology is not quite there yet), but will not be enough to justify the high overhead costs to the client in 1-2 years.

    I believe automated PPC tools will do 2 things: 1. kill jobs that are manual, repetitive, high cost/low yield. 2. Create opportunity for online marketers to add more value. Instead of focusing time on trying to squeeze an incremental 0.1% conversion vs. automated tools, you can focus on driving volume with SEO, driving consumer insights to support overall marketing initiatives and M/V testing to drive conversion.

    The point here is to adapt and evolve with business demand & new technologies. Clients will pay for a strategic marketer that can leverage tools to reduce cost & time and deliver best ROI.

    However, if you can consistently deliver higher ROI with lower costs & time than an automated tool, you have nothing to worry about.


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