Paid Search Advertising Gets More Complicated In 2013

Last week, we assembled a group of paid search experts in NYC at the SMX East Conference for a conversation about where Paid Search Advertising was heading in 2013.

I figured we’d hear some wild predictions about new mergers and buyouts, ad formats, campaign automation tools; and the usual whining about rising CPCs, Google’s quality score and ad serving policies; and whether or not Microsoft would make a significant dent in Google’s search marketshare.

Instead, our panel, which included some of our industry’s most experienced paid search luminaries like Chi-Chao Chang of AdX, Kevin Lee of Didit, Kimm Lincoln of Nebo, Craig MacDonald of Microsoft, and Sid Shah of Adobe talked more about fundamental ways that search behavior is changing as a result of new devices.

I’ve tried to capture some of their thoughts on where paid search is heading next year to give you some food for thought as you look ahead to plan and budget for paid search 2013.

Desktops, Tablets & Mobile Phones

Our conversation started on the topic of the huge increases of non-desktop devices that people use for search. Sid Shah believes, and other panelists agreed, that mobile search clicks may account for as many as 20-25% of all search clicks in 2013.

I think that most paid search managers know by now that you can target mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers distinctly in Google AdWords and Bing Ads campaigns, and that at minimum, you should target the mobile phones separately, so that you can bid them appropriately (usually lower bids) and direct users to mobile-friendly landing pages.

The question came up, “Does it make sense to target tablets separately, too, or just lump them together with desktop computers?

Microsoft’s Craig MacDonald suggested that while mobile devices contribute incremental clicks and have their own specific use cases, tablets and desktop searches are “very, very similar” in spite of media reports to the contrary.

Kevin Lee and Chi-Chao Chang, on the other hand, argued that search behavior on tablets can be markedly different from desktops because of how, when and where people are using these devices. Tablet usage typically spikes in the evenings and weekends, when people are reading e-books, watching TV with their iPads on their laps, or engaging in other leisure and social activities.

Although tablet-based search queries may indeed be very similar desktop queries, the queries themselves take on new meanings and implied intents depending on the place, time-of-day, and the environment in which the tablet is being used. For those reasons, Lee and Chang thought that separating tablets into their own campaigns makes a lot of sense.

On a related note, AJ Kohn (a contributor at SEL’s sister site Marketing Land) made a startling observation on his blog last month.

AJ reported that for the first time ever, his analysis of comScore data shows a a year-over-year decrease in U.S. desktop searches across Google, Yahoo and Bing, as illustrated below:

Desktop Searches Volume Declines across Google, Yahoo, and Bing

Mobile and tablet devices may be cannabilizing desktop search volume.

The implication, of course, is that if you haven’t already started to think through your strategy for addressing the changing shape of the search device landscape, now would be a very good time to start.

Increased Complexity In Your Accounts

More targeting, of course, means more complexity in your accounts.

Since device targeting in Google AdWords is done at the campaign level, that means that you need to consider device-specific campaigns for each of your other targeting segments, such as display, geography, brand, non-brand and so on.

Where you may have had 50 campaigns before, you’ll need 150 to cover mobile, tablet and desktop. The same holds true on Bing Ads, except that you have the option to target devices either at ad group or campaign level.

As you can see, targeting can increase the complexity of your account very quickly and overwhelm your ability to manage it — either manually or with automation tools. My colleague and fellow Search Engine Land author, Benjamin Vigneron wrote an excellent post on managing account granularity versus scalability last week that is definitely worth reading.

Target People, Not Keywords, Devices & Locations

The true complexity of paid search in 2013, however, won’t just come from the cut and paste mechanics of creating and then managing multiple campaigns, but rather from the extra effort you’ll need to apply to creating and testing new ads and landing pages as you optimize your new targeting campaigns.

Craig MacDonald told us to expect search engine targeting to keep evolving in 2013 from simple keyword, device, and location filters, to include more social and demographic data filters, too. Both Google and Microsoft are working on the ability to allow users to do real time bidding on search keywords that take recent search history into account.

For example, if a particular person searches on [automobile] you may want to bid up when they search on word [auto insurance] in order to drive improved conversion rates.

There is a flip side to this progression of ever-improved targeting, too. As search engines give us more social and demographic targeting signals, it then becomes our responsibility to define our audience targeting segments.

What that means, of course, is that we actually have to know who our customers really are. We need to know how old they are, what professions they work in, what they read and what they do on weekends. Instead of knowing our keyword inventory and match types by heart, we need to know what is in the hearts of our actual customers.

Kimm Lincoln referred to this as “human-centered PPC” thinking. Instead of thinking only about keywords and ads, we need to also approach our campaigns from our customers’ perspectives.

In other words, do more of what traditional offline marketers have always done. Kimm suggests we incorporate insights from the rich demographic and psychographic data we get from online social networks on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, as well from offline networks like sales reps, user conferences and so on, into our paid search program designs right from the start.

Tracking & Attribution

Tracking and attribution, unfortunately, may not get better in 2013, and may even get worse. As Sid Shah put it, not being able to track a conversion across devices is a huge blind spot.

Between Google removing more search queries from query strings and the ongoing challenges of trying to understand user behavior as as they switch back and forth between their phones, tablets and desktops, our ability to correctly attribute conversions will take a few steps backwards in 2013.

Bottom Line For Paid Search In 2013

The bottom line for search marketers is that mobile phones and tablet devices are significantly transforming the ways consumers search, make transactions and interact with brands online. Search marketers and many website owners are simply not keeping pace with these foundational changes.

The most important investment that most companies can make to improve (or maintain) the performance of their paid search campaigns is probably going to be in mobile infrastructure, U/X engineering and design.

Few companies have developed truly awesome mobile websites and landing pages that address the new demands and expectations that consumers have for immediacy and urgency. There is a big difference between a site that has been developed with the user and device in mind, versus a desktop site that has been converted, or stripped down to be a ‘mobile’ site.

The second area where you should consider investing is in training. Specifically, invest in training your paid search marketing team on traditional marketing concepts and applications. In many companies, PPC managers are generally more technically oriented than consumer savvy. They are probably more comfortable manipulating keyword lists, Excel spreadsheets and analytics reports than they are with describing and defining consumer behavior and motivational triggers.

Deepening your team’s skill set and changing their process orientation from from an inside-out, keyword-centric approach to one that incorporates a more holistic human-centered thinking will pay dividends in 2013 and beyond.

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: is President and founder of Find Me Faster a search engine marketing firm based in Nashua, NH. He is a member of SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England), and SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization as a member and contributing courseware developer for the SEMPO Institute. Matt writes occasionally on internet, search engines and technology topics for IMedia, The NH Business Review and other publications.

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  • Kevin Lee

    Indeed, with the ability (using new technology like Didit’s new MAPS hyper-geotargeting plug-in product) we’ll get closer to the holy grail of targeting by audience and search signal simultaneously. Plus the engines will give us more control over audience (behaviorally) as well. Bid boosts by audience (behavioral or psychographic/demographic) will differentiate the winners from the losers in PPC.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thanks, Kevin. That MAPS product you’ve announced sounds really great – as always, you are helping define the next generation of systems and tools.

  • Dudley Antoine

    A point that drew my attention was the discussion of user intent when it comes to tablet usage. I agree that people are using these devices most likely during their leisure time. With this in mind I think its a good idea to be less aggressive on bidding and take more of an efficiency stance. Since it is a leisure based time period you will get plenty of “just browsing” clicks that may give you undesired results…

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you for weighing in, Dudley.
    Very reasonable hypothesis and definitely worth testing. You may also find that during their leisure time people are willing to spend more time on your site, taking in more information and engaging with your brand. If so, then, you may want test landing pages and ad creatives, that are more informational and less conversion-focused. As long as you can keep their interest, they’ll stick around.
    This sort of purposeful browsing on a tablet device may result in later conversions – on different devices – which makes direct conversion attribution to your tablet strategy difficult. In this case, you may want to give more weight to engagement metrics for tablets. Lots to think about and test.

  • George Michie

    Dudley, let data be your guide. Our research suggests that iPad traffic remains higher quality (conversion rates, AOVs) than desktop throughout the day. I wouldn’t bid tablets down unless data tells you to do so. For a clear look at the data from our client base:

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you, George, for weighing in on this, and for also for the link.
    Your data analysis, as always, is very compelling.
    Thinking about the anthropology of the retail shopper, and wondering is the iPAD the modern day equivalent of a woman’s purse? Does your data suggest any gender bias?
    My intention isn’t to promote gender stereotyping, but we are where we are socio-culturally, so just asking the question about what you observe.

  • George Michie

    We haven’t mapped it back to gender, though it’s an interesting notion. I think it’s a socio-economic phenomena. iPad users are on the higher end of the family income scale and that impacts the value of the traffic. Kindle Fire, at a much lower price point, does not see that same boost — just the reverse.

  • Pat Grady

    Your group NAILED it, imo. Too little about attribution, but that’s a minor comment. Thanks for leading!

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Hi Pat Thank you, Pat. I agree, attribution continues to be a hot (and fast moving) target as we try to understand cross platform,cross network, offline to online interactions. Sid Shah had an excellent presentation on the PPC Mad Scientists panel, explaining the usefuless of building econometric models to measure indirecty what is not possible to measure directly. Here’s a post he did earlier this year: Read anything Sid writes!

  • Luigi Ferguson

    Matt – great article. Regarding tablets, while performance may be similar there are opportunities for advertisers who have tablet optimized sites that are different from their traditional PC site. Also, depending on the vertical there could be a big disparity in Avg. CPCs, CTR and ultimately the value of a user by device as it pertains to conversions and revenue. If an advertiser can, it might benefit them to break it out and optimize them differently if only to understand the difference in performance as time progresses.

  • Matt Van Wagner

    Thank you, Luigi. Agree with each of your points – to the extent you have enough and actionable data flowing in, you should absolutely take advantage of segmenting. Breaking out device campaigns now will help you understand when you approach the tipping point where you need to invest in a tablet-optimized site(s) to maximze revenue/profit.


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