2018 PPC Predictions: Meta-Analysis to Kick off the Year

To kick off the year, we’ve been treated to the usual round of roundups: expert predictions for what to expect in the coming year. For Search Engine Journal, an esteemed list of 25 PPC experts offered their prognostications about what to expect in our rapidly-changing field in 2018 and beyond. Other than my own product idea (an “old AdWords interface emulator”), what burning issues are the gang focusing on?

  • Several analysts mention machine learning. The power of machine learning has already been at work under the hood, especially in AdWords, and it is only gaining momentum. We’d love to see it apply better to hard problems, such as non-remarketing GDN advertising. But overall, the ability to crunch large datasets and make better inferences is helpful in counteracting continued escalation of competition and rising costs. Of course, I hope it goes without saying that machine learning Google controls and apportions to advertisers in whatever manner they choose is distinct from actually leveraging machine learning autonomously for our own purposes.
  • People are going ga-ga about audiences. Like a lot of people, I like how you can leverage different types of audiences to more precisely target some users (speaking of machine learning, Similar Audiences and In-Market Audiences are often a complete fail right now, but one day, they won’t be). But I think too many marketers are blithely using them without knowing how they operate, and lazily using them to overcredit one channel over another. That’s why a fair attribution model is so vital. It’s been a surprise to me how significant has been the re-entry of email lists into our consciousness, given the ability to retarget such audiences using Google and Facebook versions of “retarget in Display to an email list”. Audiences like this may offer something of a get-out-of-jail free card for “tough” PPC business models, such as high-ticket, highly granular B2B. With audiences today, there really is something for everyone. As long as we recognize that your core audiences have to come from somewhere in the first place… so that means not neglecting your higher-funnel “first click” (or for that matter, any other channel, or offline activities like trade shows) activity.
  • Amazon may be looming as another platform to pay ever more attention to. Aaargh! The Amazon beast is coming! (Note: this is a meta-analysis, so I don’t have to be analytical.)
  • Some analysts referenced demographic targeting and hope that it will improve. In this realm, Facebook has seemingly raced light years ahead of Google and Bing. The pressure is on for the latter to provide more insight to advertisers here. There are privacy issues in play, though.
  • Unfortunately rare, but present in at least two expert assessments, was the need for deeper marketing insight motivated by empathy with the customer’s information needs. Whether that comes down to creative breakthroughs for ad copy and display ads or providing unique product information or how-to videos to consumers, this type of old-fashioned marketing heavy lifting is one of the only means of differentiation in a crowded, tech-savvy realm. And it takes dollars (staff resources, institutional history) to achieve. A marketer cannot live on clever bots and laser-precise targeting alone.
  • BONUS item: By my count, at least five of the 25 entries went out of their way to single out the new AdWords UI. (There were a few coded pleas for help from outer-space saviors, as well; I’m not including those. You know who you are, Larry Kim.) Let’s be clear: we didn’t talk among ourselves beforehand. Everyone sent in their predictions and top-of-mind issues independently, and five seasoned PPC experts went out of their way to decry the new interface. Based on the outcry, I suspect Google will allow us to use the old one until 2019.
  • And CAVEAT EMPTOR: One PPC pro mentioned something called Smart Display. The AdWords platform is rife with Orwellian terminology these days. So what does Smart Display actually do? The documentation is light on details, but I’ll tell you what, Smart Display campaigns “automatically optimize within days.” Wow! We gave Smart Display a spin in one large account. Ubering it from our team-building painting class (“Sip and Paint” – I might have sipped some) to our annual company holiday dinner, I suggested out of the blue that hey wait a minute, if Smart Display is performing so well, is it mostly just showing to our remarketing audiences? If you’re running Smart Display, you might ask yourself the same question.