We try to write a roundup of the most impactful changes in Google AdWords each year, to help marketers keep up with the constantly changing PPC scene. It's not just AdWords, though – the entire online advertising industry is changing at a rapid clip.
Sure, you still have all of those AdWords changes to contend with … new features, extensions, ad formats, bidding and targeting options, etc. (In fact, Google is announcing some big changes to AdWords later this week. You can register for our webinar on Thursday, May 7 to get my update on the changes.)
But now we have this brave new world of social PPC, as well. The massive amount of data available to pay-per-click marketers across search, social and display is helping us connect with more precise audiences and really market to specific individuals – but that's only if we're able to make sense of this data and turn it into actionable insight. It can seem overwhelming.
Online marketers today need a roadmap to help guide them through a more successful strategy tomorrow and into the future. Here, I'll outline three key areas of focus – three trends that will influence the future of online advertising.
Ready? This is a big one, so I've broken it up into sections for easy skimming:
- The Rise of Identity-Based PPC Marketing
- Automation: The Rise of the Machines
- The Convergence of Paid/Organic Teams and the Rise of Content Marketing
Trend #1 – The Rise of Identity-Based Pay-Per-Click Marketing
Display targeting options have evolved at breakneck speed over the last few years. Display used to be such garbage that you would buy it for the 50-cent CPMs, but new targeting options have made Display much more valuable.
First we got keyword targeting, then interests, and then remarketing.
Now, you can target people with super specific ads, even based on their phone number and email! This is the most important trend happening in PPC today.
This enhanced targeting makes PPC feel more like email marketing – you know who you're promoting to, unlike with search or social ads.
It solves for some common challenges with email, as well: you don't have to limit the number of blasts to reduce your unsubscribes, and you don't need people to opt in to see your messaging. They can't unsubscribe from ads.
Identity-Based Marketing Opens Up Tons of New Use Cases in PPC
You can't pay for content to go viral, right? Technically, no. The Internet tends to frown upon that. And yet, PPC can be an incredibly effective tool in content promotion.
So, how does content go viral when people are so attention-deficit and millions of other pieces of content are competing for their eyes and shares?
This blog post was published on a Friday afternoon at 5 pm. I shared it out to my social media channels, including Google+ and Twitter. Then, I promoted it to a custom list of influencers on Twitter, including people who work in journalism.
Within hours, it started showing up in different publications, like Marketing Land. Over the weekend, it absolutely blew up and showed up all over, being cited by Lifehacker, VentureBeat, The Washington Post and hundreds of others.
We don't usually think of PPC as a way to get links, yet it's incredibly effective at getting your content in front of a very targeted audience, who can then snowball it into viral content.
Of course, your influencers don't have to be journalists who are actually going to write about it themselves.
Getting a share from an influencer in your space can also help you attract the attention of the media.
Target people with big social profiles, then layer in demographics on top of identity. If your list is half a million people, you can qualify them by above average income, a certain job title, etc.
A quick note here: cookies don't work on mobile apps. People are spending more time in apps than on desktop and remarketing is all based on cookies. The only way to get those ads to show up is based on the user's logged-in identity, so that's something to keep in mind.
- You need to create interesting content and to expose it to influential people.
- Identity-based ad targeting opens up all kinds of new PPC marketing use cases!
- Pairing identity with behavioral and demographic filters is where you get super granular and the real magic happens.
Trend #2 – Automation: The Rise of the Machines
Google has been gradually eliminating manual optimizations and replacing them with more automated solutions. That's great – it saves advertisers time, right? With that convenience, though, comes a loss of control.
We've seen a ton of big changes to AdWords recently. Enhanced Campaigns involved getting rid of device-level targeting and a lot of search marketers were really, really upset about the change. Still, Google went ahead with it, despite the backlash.
Then last August, Google redefined how keyword match types work. Before, you could specify precise phrases or keywords, but now Google automatically finds close variants for you.
Basically, mindless and repetitive tasks are becoming extinct as Google continues to implement more technology-driven optimizations. Things like inserting keywords in quadruplicate to get all of the variations – "nike shoes," [nike shoes], nike shoes, +nike +shoes – are unnecessary. Likewise with creating separate mobile and desktop campaigns. All of this manual, tedious, repetitive crap is going away.
Instead, we're getting keyword-less ad formats, dynamically written sitelinks and other fun new toys.
So, umm… what are SEMs supposed to do with their time now to prove ROI for clients?
That's right, and this is the best search marketing advice you'll get all year – don't be a donkey.
See, we’ve found by analyzing billions of dollars in ad spend nts that there’s a big gap between the best and the worst PPC marketers. For example, the top 1% of ads get 6x higher CTR than the average ad.
These aren't just flukes, either. Across entire accounts, the top 10% of accounts convert 3-5x higher than the average advertiser – and this holds true across every industry.
These are the unicorns. They are the best at what they do. How are they so great?
Often, they have first-mover advantage. They're using the new account features, ad extensions and so on long before their competitors. Their accounts aren’t weighed down by millions of keywords, either. They’re able to move to implement new features very quickly. And the rewards are huge.
These exceptional advertisers are also usually the first to take advantage of the coolest new ad formats, like Gmail and video ads. They spend their time thinking about more strategic things like, "What’s the offer? What’s the guarantee? Why should I buy from you? Why should I buy now?"
They're not bogged down in the small issues that don't have the potential for great impact, like keyword match types.
Basically, they're spending more time on PPC marketing (i.e. the “marketing” component of PPC marketing) and less on trying to manipulate the tactical elements of PPC.
- Save time spent on dumb, repetitive tasks when Google automates away something, and use that time to be a first mover.
- Focus on your strategic marketing instead of the small tactical stuff for big wins.
- Be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys!
Trend #3 – The Convergence of Paid/Organic Teams and the Rise of Content Remarketing
I was absolutely amazed that at HubSpot's Inbound 2014 conference, I was asked to do a PPC session!
The thing is, PPC isn't just a standalone marketing tactic anymore. Paid and organic work better together, yet marketers and agencies have been super slow to actually get them working together. Coming into 2015, PPC and SEO are still largely siloed and compete for budget share.
This is changing, though. SEO, paid social, content marketing and PPC are all converging as marketers realize new and creative ways they play better together.
So what's driving this convergence of paid and organic, to the point that even HubSpot (the inventor of “inbound” marketing) sees value in PPC as part of a comprehensive inbound strategy?
For starters, it's getting more and more difficult to be seen at all in organic social feeds, even when people have already Liked or Followed your brand. There's a ton of competition, not only from other businesses but from users' friends, media publications, entertainers and more. Everyone wants a slice of that Newsfeed action but at the same time, Facebook is killing off the ability for Pages to have their content appear in Newsfeed (without paid ads).
So there's that.
This is where content remarketing comes in, to amplify your content among the right audience segments, increase brand recall, and generate qualified leads and sales.
Let's see how Content Remarketing works:
In this graphic, we break content remarketing down into 6 main steps:
- Create awesome content and share it on social.
- Amplify by selectively promoting specific pieces of top-performing content in social channels.
- Tag site visitors with a cookie so you can track their activity on your site.
- Filter by behavior and demographics to create relevant audience segments.
- Advertise to those audiences with display and social remarketing ads.
- Convert and capture qualified leads or sales.
Remarketing to these people who have already visited your website enables you to get back in front of them with relevant, targeted offers based on what you know of their demographic traits and behaviors.
Where Content Remarketing Fits in the Funnel
In order for content remarketing to work, you need to start with a base of solid, original, high-quality content. Otherwise, well… have you ever heard the expression "putting lipstick on a pig"? Using junk content in remarketing campaigns is more like throwing money at that lipstick-wearing pig. Just don't do it.
So you have your great content and you've posted it to your social channels. Now, using remarketing ads, you'll get this great piece of content in front of a more relevant audience than you could possibly reach using organic social alone: people who have already expressed an interest on some level in your business.
Content remarketing is right in the intersection of SEO and content marketing, PPC and social media marketing. You're using PPC to promote content to deliver a relevant experience to your social followers, and earning brownie points with Google for all of those engagement metrics you're killing.
The Paid Social Flywheel Effect
Paying to promote your best content to relevant audiences kicks off what I call the paid social flywheel effect.
The very nature of social means your content is going to spread beyond just that audience you're targeting with ads. As each person likes, retweets, clicks on or otherwise engages with your content, they're spreading it to their organic network, as well.
For example, if you retweet my promoted tweets, your followers will see that tweet for free – I don't pay if your followers engage with the retweet. You can buy one click and get 3 more for free! That's not a bad deal, right? Especially compared to search ads, where there are no free clicks at all.
Getting Started with Paid Social Content Promotion
Promote the posts people are most likely to engage with to get the most bang for your buck with social promotion. There are a number of ways you can do this:
Targeting using Social Remarketing
Target Your Fans/Brand Advocates
Facebook's organic reach is garbage. Paying even a small amount to get your best content in front of your best audience is worth it, though. This is a great way to set off that social flywheel effect. I like to let my posts have an organic run at it, then promote the ones that are doing best. That shows me people approve of and are engaged with the content – promotion amplifies that effect, but won't turn a flop into a success.
On Twitter, you can use Tailored Audiences to get your best content in front of your existing customers and prospects by using your email and phone number lists for targeting.
And on Google+, +Post ads allow you to target certain Circles you've created.
All of this content promotion across social networks helps you reach more targeted audience segments, putting you squarely in the sights of people who are most likely to find your content relevant.
This isn't just a tactic for social channels, though.
Promoting Content on the Google Display Network Using Remarketing
High-quality, engaging content that earns more clicks can actually cost you way less on the Google Display Network. By choosing your audiences carefully, ensuring your content is relevant to each segment, and promoting only your most popular content, you can seriously boost your CTRs. And as we know, increasing your CTRs is a strong signal to the AdWords algorithm that says, "I'm super relevant! You should show me off and charge me less for the privilege."
And it does show your ad off with more impressions and better placement. And you will pay less per click for it. Increasing your Quality Score with a higher CTR has a real and measurable impact on the cost you'll pay for your ads, so make sure the content you're promoting is a winner.
In this scatterplot graph, check out just how few of your pieces of content will get the vast majority of social shares:
Those are the ones you want to pay to promote.
Once you've chosen a piece of content to promote using remarketing on the GDN, how do you get people to click on it? In social, you're just showing an excerpt of the content, but in display, you can get creative and use your incredible creativity (you are incredibly creative, right?) to make your content more compelling. In fact, you should be thinking of how you'll promote your content each and every time it's created.
Once you master this, your display ads really just look like awesome content people want to click on, engage with and share with their friends. Like this:
You may have noticed with the ads above that they all seem to want to make the reader feel something. One of the most effective ways to earn the click is to appeal to the emotions of your audience. According to BuzzSumo, these are the emotions most likely to inspire people to click:
- Content remarketing, social media and PPC marketing are rapidly converging. Success requires integrated paid/organic teams.
- Content remarketing greatly amplifies content marketing and social media marketing.
Did you make it all the way through?! Do you have any questions for me? Let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to respond.
Where not noted above, data is based on a sample size of 2,000 accounts (WordStream clients) representing small and medium-sized businesses in all verticals who were actively advertising on all devices on the Google Search Network throughout 2013 and 2014. Data referencing the Google Display network is based on a sample of 600 accounts (WordStream clients) representing small and medium-sized businesses in all verticals who were advertising on the Google Display Network in June of 2014.