A legion of hyper-intelligent machines grow exponentially more powerful, rendering humanity obsolete in its wake. It may sound like the premise of the latest dystopian thriller, but it’s not exactly fiction as far as search marketing is concerned. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have fundamentally changed PPC management, making marketers’ lives easier in some respects and more challenging in others.
Retailers, agencies, and other players may be unsure where they stand as the human element seems to be disappearing from search marketing. What do retailers need to know about automation, and what can you do right now to adapt to the fast-paced changes?
Leveling the Playing Field
The emergence of Google’s Smart Bidding and similar tools have stripped many of the advantages traditionally offered by experience and good old-fashioned know-how. Google Ads users can now simply choose a setting like “Maximize Conversions” or “Target ROAS” and watch their campaign optimize automatically toward that goal. From a labor standpoint, it sounds like a dream come true, as you don’t need to fiddle with bids and other manual adjustments to put your account on the right track.
However, for many retailers, those hard-won insights were one of the primary ways they stayed ahead of the competition. Seasoned advertisers knew exactly which buttons to push and which levers to pull (or at least had a pretty good idea). Now AI does all the heavy lifting for you, optimizing your campaigns with algorithms that can analyze millions of signals almost instantly.
As machine learning seemingly puts everyone on an equal footing, search marketing may feel like it’s becoming less transparent. After activating a Smart Campaign, you can’t even review the specific queries, device bids, audiences, locations, and other inputs that were previously chosen and tested by hand.
While AI removes much of the guesswork from the equation, it also threatens to dilute the sense of differentiation in search. How do you make your SEM strategy stand out when your competitors have access to the same automated guidance?
Creativity Strikes Back
Humans will never be able to compete with machines from a quantitative standpoint (sorry, team), but we still have a distinct advantage in abstract and creative endeavors. By leveraging those skills, you can maximize the potential of your paid search campaigns and outshine competitors.
Yes, it’s time to get back to some marketing basics. Ask yourself: What makes your brand and/or products unique? What do your ideal customers look like, and what attracts them to your business? Think about the answers to these questions and incorporate them into your content to engage potential buyers with compelling messaging. Finding your own brand voice and speaking confidently in a crowded marketplace enhances your ability to stand out.
Personalized content offers a great opportunity for retailers to showcase themselves this way. For instance, you can take advantage of Google’s Responsive Search Ads to deliver targeted ad copy to specific customer segments. These ads can pull from up to 15 different headlines and four description lines to present a user with the most relevant combination based on their individual search query.
Even standard expanded text ads on Google gained an additional headline, description, and extended character count last year, so retailers have much greater flexibility across the board in developing ad copy that resonates with their particular audience.
Temper Your Approach
While retailers must embrace automation in search marketing, they shouldn’t jump in without a plan either. We recommend setting aside 5-10% of your paid search budget for testing Smart Campaigns. This will allow you to transition your account gradually as you determine what works best for your business. Pay especially close attention to how automated campaigns drive new customers and incremental sales for your high-competition and high-consideration products.
Don’t completely give up on manual campaign management just yet, though. These campaigns are still useful as testing grounds to determine what adjustments may move your performance in the right direction. See which levers produce desired results and then apply these findings to your overall strategy.
Interested in learning more? Catch up on the first entry in our blog series about the future of search marketing, where we examine the emergence of contextual search in SEO. Continue to follow along with us as we explore additional topics and concepts that will dominate the year ahead.