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2021 Search marketing: The year of automation



30-second summary:

  • The search engine results page (SERP) is a battleground for user attention riddled with colorful paid and organic content including shopping ads, Quick Answers, popular products, and videos.
  • Today’s search users would rather see to believe than read.
  • Let’s explore what marketers must master in 2021 to stay ahead of the curve for search marketing.

Pull up your phone and search for any good or service, what do you see? In today’s Google and Microsoft search experiences, you will see loads of images and other visual content staring back at you. The search engine results page (SERP) is a battleground for user attention. It is riddled with colorful paid and organic content including shopping ads, Quick Answers, popular products, and videos. The traditional “blue links” are now just one mere navigational aid. Today’s search users would rather see to believe than read. Let’s explore what marketers must master in 2021 to stay ahead of the curve with search marketing:

1. The customer journey must be known

For years, search, while connected to other media channels, largely felt isolated as a “pull” marketing medium. Its purpose was clear: capture demand and connect products and services to the user’s intent.

Today, however, search excellence requires new connectivity to speak more personally to the customer at different stages of their journey. Doing this well requires leveraging first-party customer data, but also, and equally important, leveraging the platform’s view of the customer, be it Google, Facebook, or Amazon. Modern marketers must leverage first-party data, third-party data, and platform data to create greater experiences and ROI. It is pivotal that marketers get this step of the process right as the third-party cookie deteriorates in 2022, causing a new horizon in marketing. Increased focus and investment must be placed on aligning and connecting data and identities across environments, with a privacy-first mindset. To enable this infrastructure, advertisers must enlist developers to automate datastreams that fuel machine learning algorithms in near real-time. Without this investment, both the knowledge of and intelligence behind the customer’s journey is lost.

2. The machine must run

Automation is a requirement to compete in search, but there has always been a complementary relationship between human and machine. The right approach is “both/and” instead of “either/or”.

Still, modern marketers must stay current and regularly question how much to favor machines over humans and for which elements. Further, within the aspects we may turn over to automation, we have what the advertiser, agency, and platform each uniquely know about the customer on the other end of the query. As such, today’s marketers must capitalize on knowing who is better equipped to inform a particular action we take with our ad program.

For example, the advertiser does not know the three most recent websites the user has visited, but platform A does. Platform A does not know which ads the user has interacted with on platform B, but the agency does. However, the agency is unaware of the offline conversion data for the user in a digital marketing target list. Data assets held by the platforms, the agency and the advertiser need to work together in guiding the machine.

Brands should employ just a handful of the real-world search marketing capabilities that use automation based on information the advertiser wouldn’t have themselves. Here are some tips:

1. Real-time automated bidding

Leverage platform-only signals such as previous queries and device/browser combination such as an iPhone 11 running the Google app for search.

2. Automated customer segmentation

This runs the gamut from basic remarketing tags, to platform “smart” audiences, to advanced cluster models. All levels of customer segmentation should be used and layered into your search programs.

3. Dynamic Search Ads

Augmenting most successful paid search programs, this “keywordless” automation step will find newly productive query volume to complement traditional keyword campaign activity. It cannot replace traditional keyword generation but should be used to augment those efforts.

4. Responsive Search Ads

Particularly important to highly-specialized, dynamic, and nuanced businesses, automating ad copy, with distinct, feed-driven customizers is a no-brainer for advanced paid search marketers. Gone are the days of specifying quantities, price points, or geo-targeted locations in tens of thousands of ad groups. Allowing for dynamic keyword inclusion and rotating ad copy narratives is just the beginning of fully automated contextual success.

Business automation accelerates growth

Modern search is mature and as comfortable as a well-worn tee-shirt. To the consumer, it is familiar, yet with fresh subtleties. To the marketer, it is ever more necessary to understand and balance the efforts of the human and machine.

The modern search marketer must have a complete line of sight to the visual battleground of paid and organic listings, understand the customer journey at a session-based level, and guide platform automation with intelligent business inputs as we move into 2021 and beyond. The quaint days of endless negative keyword list management have given way to projects that include near real-time activation of customer segments, based on modeled first-party data and competitive intelligence.

Do you spot any search marketing trends brewing? Feel free to share your observations in the comments.



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