The Future of Search Marketing – Where next for PPC?
Hello and welcome to another edition of Digital Marketing Roundtable, hosted by Acquire Digital Talent.
This blog series explores different channels and aims to utilise our expansive global network to ask key questions to those in the field.
Next on our tour is PPC. It’s a channel that loves an acronym. SEA & SEM are 2 others you may hear, depending on where you’re based in the world. Paid Search. That’s what we’re looking at today.
Paid Search is one of the more ‘grown-up’ channels within the Digital Marketing world, and during the last 10 years has been on a journey of its own. Some even say it’s getting muscled out by Paid Social, so I wanted to find out what’s next for PPC.
I was joined by:
– Neil Campbell (Head of SEM at Transferwise)
– Sam Martin-Ross (MD at Digital Uncut)
– Christin Seibert (PPC Manager at MAG-O)
– Sheila Puertollano (Head of PPC at GVC Group)
Here’s how it went down…
Alex Marriner: Thanks for joining me today everyone. Since starting in PPC, what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen take shape?
Neil: The slow encroachment of PPC over organic results. It is plainly obvious how Google benefits from this – ads have just gotten bigger. From the change to expanded text ads from the smaller standard ads to the increasing number of extensions and reduced space as users transition from predominantly desktop to mobiles, the amount of real estate for organic has been squeezed and squeezed.
Greater automation. Another obvious one but given the amount of signals any user can provide – device/location/age/gender/interests etc. – and the wider number of ad types and channels nowadays it is clear that a machine learning element must be used to some degree.
Greater depth of optimisation and reporting. Scripts were a big addition to the PPC marketer’s toolbox and innovations including the integration of 3rd party data such as offline conversions mean we now have far greater control over our ads and can analyse and optimise to levels that were unheard of 10 years ago
Sam: The new UI has been the most noticeable. Most of Google’s changes are incremental and can almost go unnoticed, however, the UI was a major change. The speed changes are the best part about it, it’s a lot faster to use and this means a lot of time has been saved by PPC-ers all over.
Beyond that, it was the loss of “exact” match. Google made “exact” match keywords also trigger close variations. This was a notable change in that it meant users lost a significant bit of control over what their keywords were bidding on. Fortunately, there have been ways around it.
Christin: Even though it’s only been 3 years Google changed so much during that time.
I think this is also their biggest strength because they can adapt fast and launch new functionalities which improve the way we can advertise on Google constantly.
I guess the changes over the last years are countless, but one thing is definitely to mention here: The Google Smart Bidding algorithm has become a very reliable tool for advertisers. The way Google can target users based on the information they have delivers a very precise method for advertisers to target the right users at the right time and with that improve the PPC performance.
For all the different goals that companies have Googles bid strategies offer a variety of methods to meet these goals. This is also a huge advantage against bidding tool providers that usually are very costly and have much less user information than Google has.
Sheila: I began my paid search career over 10 years ago and AdWords (or Google Ads now) has changed pretty dramatically in that time! In my opinion, the most impactful changes have been:
Google decided to remove the ability to specifically target mobile devices in campaigns around 2013.
I remember this was a huge change and most people in the industry were extremely unhappy. Mobile search ads perform very differently to desktop (and the difference was even bigger back in the day), so the fact that Google took this control from us was very significant (and annoying).
Google never admitted that they were wrong here, but they did later reinstate a lot of this control when updating AdWords to allow bid adjustments by device.
The Google Ads rebrand. Despite all my years of experience, the interface makeover made me feel like I had to learn everything again. At the very beginning it took me ages to find every element in the interface because of this massive facelift. Things just didn’t feel second nature anymore.
Alex Marriner: With the rise in automation, how can those in PPC ensure the need remains for a human element?
Neil: Automation has revolutionised bidding in particular but there are certain automated elements of a campaign which have generally not been adopted by marketers such as ad writing.
Whilst Google will provide suggested ad copy, I know of no-one that doesn’t write or at least check their own ads themselves.
Writing copy is still, arguably, the most important step in any campaign creation. Despite all the tech, devices, audiences and the alike a PPC campaign still consists of a keyword, an ad and a landing page at its core and all 3 of those elements require a human touch to ensure the relevance Google (and users) require.
Sam: I am not certain there is a way PPC-ers can ensure there’s a need for a human element, the trajectory of AI in Google Ads is towards full automation. However, for now, it is still a long way from that, and the most obvious example is with ad copy. Google’s automation is far from producing creative, engaging ad copy, and whether it will ever be able to is questionable. For example, how would it know of an upcoming sale, or new brand positioning? I think it’s this ‘creative’ part of PPC that means humans will be needed for a long time to come.
Christin: Automation is a big topic in PPC, and Google helps constantly to support this. The key thing here is that companies who can automate their processes within PPC have more time to think about strategy. Everyone working in PPC knows that there are plenty of small tasks that ensure a good quality factor etc. Instead of thinking about ad copies, checking the search term report or bid manually you can use functions provided by Google and think about the overall strategy of your PPC accounts which helps companies to stay competitive and increase revenue.
Sheila: Automation is great. Having the ability to streamline time-consuming and repetitive tasks is a big benefit and it means that we can invest our time in more important things – such as properly deep-diving and analysing data or focusing on the strategic side of our roles.
A lot of people can be initially scared by automation because it removes the human element, but I believe those people are not looking at it in the right way. Automation works with PPC managers to make their day-to-day lives easier, so they can focus on the things that have the most impact on the business.
If you spent all your time changing bids, how are you going to prepare for what’s coming in three weeks, or ensure your ads are optimised, work with other channels to achieve the common goal, or focus on developing your team?
Alex Marriner: How important are scripts?
Neil: Their importance will vary by account and vertical. In retail, it is often extremely difficult to stand out when many advertisers are promoting the same products at more or less the same prices.
A script can dynamically insert the price into an ad and even pause an ad if a competitors are cheaper or the product is out of stock. This is huge. Not only can you pause ads that are less likely to convert but you are screening the price-conscious user before they even click through.
For more general use they can save hours if not days of manual data analysis by, excluding unprofitable placements/keywords/locations, dynamic device/hourly/audience and other bidding. The list goes on…
Scripts can often provide that 5% difference between profit and loss, making them invaluable when used properly.
Sam: Google Ads scripts are invaluable at the moment as they present almost infinite ways to automate and customise Google Ads. However, as Google builds out more functionality e.g. monthly budgets most recently, and tools like Zapier build out their API integrations, Google Ads scripts’ days are numbered.
Christin: Scripts are a useful tool to optimize campaigns but definitely have their limits. They should be used at some point, but they cannot deal with every problem one has to solve within large PPC accounts. Also, the more complicated the problem the script has to solve the more coding skills are needed from the one writing the script. And as most people working in PPC don’t have resources it is very helpful to have the support of an engineer who can help when it comes to automation of processes.
Sheila: This question is a contentious one! I have worked with people who love scripts and couldn’t work without them, but I have also worked with teams that have never implemented one. Is there a wrong approach? The answer is: it depends. It depends on the size of the team, the scale of the account, and even the industry…
Scripts can make your PPC life easier when used correctly; they help with automation, they can help to identify areas for improvement, send alerts, … However, bid management platforms can help with many of these tasks too (and are often better optimised to do so). Don’t get me wrong, these are not mutually exclusive; I’ve worked with scripts and a bid management platform at the same time and the result can powerful.
In my current role, my team is not using any scripts at all and the results we’re delivering for the business are very strong. So, why should I change something that’s working for us?
Alex Marriner: What are the key skills you believe those working in PPC need to learn and master to stay one step ahead?
Neil: I believe anyone with a high aptitude for numbers and analysis that enjoys working with Excel has a decent chance of succeeding at PPC.
That said certain skills that will make a candidate stand out are:
○ Script writing! Python and AWQL in particular. This immediately trumps any of the usual ‘hard worker’, ‘quick team player’ clichés you find on many CVs
○ Excel – goes without saying. Our best friend.
○ Embracing change/constant learner (Not so much a skill but a requirement). PPC and Digital Marketing in general changes constantly. You must adapt to keep up.
○ Passion/attitude. You have to enjoy it even love it! If you don’t you are in the wrong job
Sam: Beyond understanding the platform inside out, it’s basic CRO and people skills that PPC-ers need to learn and master most. This platform is often misunderstood by those who work around it e.g. web developers, SEOs, and those working above, MDs, CEOs, however, PPC is most effective when used collaboratively with other areas of businesses. For example; building out landing pages to support keywords or improving the website funnel/checkout. It’s having an awareness of that and being able to work with others to get it done, that’ll put PPC-ers ahead.
Christin: I guess having an overview of the ways to advertise in Google is always a good thing. The ability to adapt to constant changes is a huge part of that. There is something new to learn every day and finding out how you can use Google to reach your users efficiently is a must. Try to constantly optimize processes by using automation and test to see how you can improve your performance and increase revenue. Adapt to new features and find a way how to use them best to reach your goals.
Also taking a look in the future for me is a key thing. See how Google and the way we advertise will change and ensure to make this a part of your strategy. A part of that also means looking at other platforms and ways to advertise to deliver a full online marketing mix.
Sheila: Thank you for asking this question. What I am going to say may sound silly and obvious, but it is something that I think is overlooked.
To be a PPC expert, you need to be a master of the basics as well as Google’s guidelines (remembering that these can vary by industry).
If you can’t get the basics right you won’t succeed, you won’t be able to have streamlined processes, and certainly, you won’t beat your competitors.
As part of our recruitment process, we give candidates a test during the first round. This is quite a straightforward test: just a few mathematical questions and a couple of guidelines-based questions (nothing you wouldn’t find in the Fundamentals exam).
You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t know what Google’s ad copy policy is, or how to write an ad to ensure it doesn’t get disapproved.
At first, I was shocked by the number of candidates who failed the test. Then I started thinking about this, and realised that when I started in the industry, everything had to be done manually: the AdWords interface wasn’t great, it wasn’t intuitive, and had few notifications…PPC managers at the time had to live and breathe the guidelines and know every calculation to do their day-to-day job.
Nowadays, Google Ads is full of notifications, lets you preview your ad, and even tells you the exact reason when your ads are disapproved…you can even find the answers to the Google exams online!
Google is holding your hand so much now that many new paid search practitioners are not taking the time to learn the fundamentals.
I don’t think this is best for these newbies and I think in the long term they will suffer the consequences, but this is what I’ve seen after recruiting for so long…
My best advice for anyone looking to progress in their PPC career: learning the basics and paying attention to the detail will make you stand out and will get you the job!
…Thanks to Neil, Sam, Christin, and Sheila for their time and contributions in making this informative piece.
It just goes to show that not only does PPC enjoy multiple acronyms, but it also creates multiple views on what and how works best!
If you missed the 2 previous topics on SEO and Growth Marketing, click the relevant links and take a read of them now.
Watch out for the next instalment of Digital Marketing Roundtable, hosted by Acquire Digital Talent coming soon!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment below…
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