'Mobile search is the key battleground'

What are some of the key trends in search marketing to look out for this year?

By Shane Lyons Head of search strategy, Core

IT IS NO secret that ‘search marketing’ has boomed over the last ten years. In 2019 alone, global spend on search reached approximately €122.7 billion — equal to 22% of all advertising spend worldwide. 

Spend on search marketing also continued to grow in 2019 but at an increase of just 9%, the lowest growth rate since 2015. 

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising has, in recent years, reached a mature stage and while investment in that has continued, it looks like the only real growth area is going to be ‘mobile.’ 

Mobile search ad spend is expected to rise by 19.2% this year and already represents almost two-thirds of total search spend worldwide.

It is important to understand that in Ireland when we talk about ‘search’, we mean Google, which almost has a monopoly here. A whopping 96.3% of all searches in Ireland are conducted through the Google browser or app. 

Bing and Yahoo’s market share remains around the 3% mark, so rather than a rival search engine, it is Amazon – with its digital marketing product, Amazon Web Services (AWS) – that represents the biggest potential threat to Google.

It remains, for the time being, only a potential threat to Google’s dominance because, while Irish users can advertise with AWS on a direct-buy basis, the platform has not yet been fully rolled out here.

So what are some of the key trends to be on the lookout for over the next year?

The brand versus PPC debate

We expect there to be continued scrutiny of ‘brand PPC’ (bidding on your own brand’s keywords, such as Nike bidding on ‘Nike running shoes’) into 2020. 

With search budgets usually growing by small percentages year-on-year, you may need to free up PPC budget to ensure that you are more active with your generic strategy (e.g. ‘running shoes’), so you have a strong presence in the early research stage. This will be particularly relevant for brands without high levels of competition for their brand terms.

We recommend running a trial period with branded PPC paused, so that you can monitor the impact on organic results. Hopefully, there will be no loss of leads, and you can re-invest the saved budget further up the marketing funnel.

Artificial intelligence drives efficiency

Another key trend in search strategy this year will be the continued use of artificial intelligence (AI) features. 

We already use AI in our daily lives from personalised Spotify playlists to real-time traffic information on Google Maps. Increasingly, AI is also the central component in all smart bidding strategies.

In one particular case, by introducing this technology to a client’s bid strategy, we saw the number of bid modifications increase by 70,000 per month, due to the AI’s increased sophistication. 

This technology has taken control of the more menial tasks, allowing search marketers to focus more of their time on strategy and optimisation.

When it comes to AI, our advice is to hand over the reins to the machines and reap the efficiency benefits. 

Visual ad formats

We predict that search results will become increasingly image-based.

Google’s Shopping Ads format was the first to introduce images to paid search back in 2016.

Then last year, Google introduced Gallery Ads, a mobile-specific format that delivers a large ‘swipeable’ carousel of images.  

Although 5G is now available in certain cities across the country, mainstream adoption may still be a while away. However, the increased internet speeds and reduced latency that 5G will deliver will likely mean the arrival of more interactive – and possibly even video – formats to search in 2020.

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Voice and ‘no-click’ searches

On the organic side of search, voice search continues to be the most newsworthy area.

While digital assistants are now in everything from fridges to cars to wearables, recent industry usage studies show that adoption and daily use remain very low. 

It is still early days for voice technology. While the potential is there, there are many unknowns about what the future of the technology will look like but in the short-term, it is important for companies not to place too much emphasis on it.

One area that is worth examining, however, is the rise of ‘no-click’ searches.

A study by SparkToro recently found that 56% of searches on mobile now return ‘no-click results’, meaning the user simply finds the information they were looking for within the search results rather than having to click through to a website.

An important task is to carry out an organic rankings report of your top traffic-driving keywords. With the redesign of Google Search for mobile, organic search results are becoming less impactful on mobile.

Across the hotel and travel sectors, in particular, brands have no choice but to advertise in order to be seen across mobile search, as the flight and hotel finder from Google is pushing ‘Position 1’ further and further down the page (and we are less likely to scroll on mobile). 

If your business generates a lot of leads on Google, to remain competitive you must have plans for how to diversify your traffic sources, and how to optimise your content to benefit from zero-click searches.

Shane Lyons is head of search strategy at Irish media-buying agency Core.

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