Google’s gearing up for a big announcement on April 22. The last time Google truly lowered the boom, we got Enhanced Campaigns, which have radically changed the SEM landscape.
Let’s take a look at where Enhanced Campaigns have led us and what might be coming next.
Enhanced Campaigns Have Changed Your World – But Not How You Think
Sure, we’ve all come to the conclusion that CPCs were nominally impacted. Mobile is higher, but not that much. Tablet CPCs have increased, but those impressions are still relatively low, and the CPCs still haven’t met parity with desktop.
The bigger story isn’t about shifts in CPC but that the anxiety, restructuring and obsessive analysis of Enhanced Campaigns, which has defined the last year in SEM, has overshadowed big societal changes in what it means to “search.” Additionally, the release of a host of new features has dramatically changed what we do in the AdWords ecosystem to reach high-intent customers. Bottom line: keywords are less important; context and first-party data are more important.
The “sheen” of Enhanced Campaigns was about simplicity; fewer campaigns, more reach. However, the search landscape from a data and targeting perspective is way more sophisticated and complex than a year ago, and it has a lot less to do with your keywords.
So where are we now, and where are we headed?
You Cannot Ignore Mobile Anymore
Desktop searches have plateaued for most industries, and mobile is where any substantial growth or competitive edge lies.
We’ve got estimated total conversions, which do include real instances of signed-in Google users moving from phone to desktop to complete transactions. The big issue of true cross-device conversion tracking still remains, but I doubt it will for long.
Also included in the “estimated total conversions” are manual call extensions, which also represent real users executing real actions. At present, these calls, where the call extension shows on a desktop device and the user calls the number from a phone, are free. That’s great for the advertiser and also provides a solid link for Google between desktop activity and phone numbers – another data point for Google to connect people, their computers and their phones.
Google Is Really Good At Knowing What You Want Now
The universal remarketing pixel upped the ante on what we can do with remarketing. The scale and granularity are much bigger. It also got every savvy advertiser to put an AdWords pixel on every page of their site.
These pixels drive really smart “similar users” audiences that pop up in your account when enough data is accrued. These Google look-a-like audiences, when targeting users similar to those who have converted, typically send results that are as strong from a performance perspective as regular remarketing– with no keyword and without having visited your site before. It’s first-party data, with huge scale. Google‘s ability to know who wants what outside of keywords is mature and effective.
Context in AdWords used to be keyword-targeted GDN; this meant we were talking about the context of page content where we placed our ads. That targeting seems increasingly Luddite when what somebody is reading is so far removed from their intent.
Keywords Are Losing Their Importance
The highly developed user-level targets like in-market and affinity carry high intent at the user level and can be layered with other signals like demographic and geographic targets to effectively hone in right on your target audience.
Add some compelling messaging and you can absolutely close the sale, without any keywords in play. What’s all this mean? Even in the keyword-based search space, the keywords are getting less important.
Keywords aren’t only getting diminished in importance; they’re getting shorter. Non-keyboard form factors and auto-fill options mean that we’ve been seeing fewer words per keyword search since mid-2012.
As we’ve been arguing at 3Q Digital for a while, the long-tail is not really there anymore. Keywords are just one of many contextual signals being collected: granular geographies, household income, contextual locations and past behavior (RLSA) all get into intent now.
Keywords in ad text is a fine best practice, but with slowed impression growth and always increasing competition, extensions are no longer icing on a nice ad but mandatory to compete. Single-keyword searches mirrored in ad text don’t provide the compelling “pull” that longer tail ones do. So instead, we now are supported with a myriad of extensions that provide social validation, expert validation and more options to convert .
New Reporting, Rules & Bidding Are Taking Shape
As the impressions get sparse and the competition heats up, the competitive edge isn’t about sourcing the newest long-tail keyword but about sophisticated ways to slice up the data and the action on it that require true data analysts (the kind that are migrating to the ad industry from Wall Street) to discover.
In a pretty insubstantial move, Google released Google Now cards for Chrome desktop on March 24. Why? Surely to encourage more logged-in searching. The user incentive is helpful; they get almost magic cards popping up about what they care about and have searched for. Google’s incentive is more hard connections between people moving across devices. They already had the Android people, but a whole lot of iPhone phone + Chrome desktop people (like me) are now trackable.
This is also Google quietly showing “I know what information you want… even when you aren’t searching for it.” Granted, Google Now cards require searches to feed the algo at this point, but why wouldn’t the technology extend into showing ads based on historical searches (on any device) coupled with context?
“I know you search for shoes frequently”
“You are around the corner from my store, and we are having a Jimmy Choo sale.”
Soooo… GDN targets and remarketing + Contextual Google Now Triggers + Cross Device trackability = a world where keywords become less and less import to SEM and context becomes more so.
My guess for April 22nd? Real cross-device conversion tracking, including cross-device remarketing and ad units for mobile that exhibit outside of the context of searches that you are currently performing. What are some other ideas out there?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.