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10 Important PPC Trends to Watch in 2020

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10 Important PPC Trends to Watch in 2020

What does the future hold for PPC?

This is a question we ask every year here at Search Engine Journal.

Last year, audiences and automation were just a couple trends PPC marketing experts expected to dominate.

But what will be the most important PPC trends in 2020?

That’s the exact question I asked 39 of the top PPC marketing experts.

Here are the top 10 PPC trends you need to know for 2020 – from paid search, to paid social, to remarketing, and beyond – according to the experts.

Want all the trends now? Download our new ebook: The Biggest PPC Trends of 2020, According to 39 Experts

1. Less Control: Automation, AI & Machine Learning

Automation is the biggest PPC trend of 2020. It seems to be on the mind of nearly every PPC marketer.

Julie Friedman Bacchini, President & Founder, Neptune Moon, thinks the automation and machine learning train will continue picking up speed in 2020.

“The key for paid search pros will be figuring out how to use these tools/features as effectively as possible, while also retaining our value by doing things the machines cannot do,” she said.

Ed Leake, Managing Director, Midas Media, said similar, noting that machines and artificial intelligence can produce judgments and perform routine tasks faster than humans.

“That means if you’re not at least using some form of rules or scripts in your workflow, you’re way behind,” Leake said. “You might have heard of the Eisenhower Matrix. Using that principle, start with the one thankless task you do regularly. In other words, it takes a lot of time and it has a small impact on results. Take that task and find a machine to do it for you.”

Jeff Ferguson, CEO, Fang Marketing, said PPC managers will finally learn their place in the new world order of digital advertising in 2020 – to provide a clean working environment for their robot overlords.

“The role of the PPC manager will not go away for at least another five years, but the days of spending hours tweaking bids are gone,” Ferguson said. “Keywords aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – the robots still need us to speak to the other humans properly; however, whatever can be made into a math problem is now the domain of the machines.”

A couple of experts talked about the loss of control due to automation, and what it means.

Jon Clark, Managing Partner, Moving Traffic Media, expects the trend of decreased control to continue as Google pushes users toward automation and minimized transparency. He speculated that we may even see manual bidding removed entirely in favor of automation.

Also, Brad Geddes, Co-Founder, AdAlysis, said:

“We’re going to see Google continue to take control away from advertisers in the name of ‘better targeting & intent’. Unfortunately, Google has not figured out intent in any meaningful way, so these changes will leave you with more work to do in order to keep seeing the same results.”

Some experts expect some pushback against Google’s continued drive toward automation.

“While Google will introduce more audience capabilities and more automation, advertisers are becoming leery of Google’s automation and won’t as blindly adopt it but rather dip their toes into Google’s new features to see if they really work as intended,” Geddes said. “This will leave more advertisers to create automation on their own or leverage third-party automation and evaluation systems. We’ll see automation continue to rise, however, Google won’t always be the one driving these changes.”

Andrew Lolk, Lead PPC Manager & Founder, Savvy Revenue, said he’s not ready to just hand over accounts to Google’s automation.

“I don’t advise outright rejecting Google’s automation, but knowing its strengths and weaknesses intimately instead,” Lolk said. “By knowing the weaknesses in Google’s automation, you’ll know what to do to beat other advertisers that aren’t privy to it.”

According to Nikki Kuhlman, Senior Account Director, JumpFly, it comes down to this:

“What marketers will need to do is be the gatekeepers on whether these automated options are best for the clients or best for Google.”

Aaron Levy, Group Director, SEM, Tinuiti, is hopeful that 2020 will be a year of automation refinement, where the engines and tool partners will take time to get the automation right.

“They want to make sure that us advertisers are set up for success, for growth and to devote our headspace to strategy rather than pushing buttons,” Levy said. “All aided by the help of great data.”

Ilya Cherepakhin, VP, Media Operations, Acronym, highly recommends testing target ROAS, dynamic search ads (DSAs), responsive search ads, max conversion value, and any of the other PPC automation options.

One other aspect of automation Frederick Vallaeys, Co-Founder, Optmyzr, discussed is “automation layering,” a concept he believes is the future of PPC.

“The idea is simple… we need to teach, monitor and guide the automations to deliver the best possible results, but instead of devoting more of our already limited human bandwidth to it, we can build lightweight automations using ads scripts, rule engines, alerts, etc. to restore some of the control we used to have before Google, Microsoft and the other ad platforms took over with their artificial intelligence,” he said.

2. Blurred Lines: PPC & the Bigger Marketing Picture

Many of our experts talked about the importance of identifying and appealing to your target audience across multiple channels and platforms, as well as creating cross-channel plans to ensure your campaigns all play nicely.

Search, social, ecommerce? They’re all blurring together, said Wesley MacLaggan, SVP of Marketing, Marin Software. He said the rise of Amazon as an ad platform will undoubtedly continue to shake up the ad industry.

What it all means: in 2020, channel integration and diversification will be huge.

Put simply: “If you’re not looking to new channels in the coming year, you’ll miss out on new business,” said Michelle Morgan, Director of Client Services, Clix Marketing.

“All marketing works together – no channel is an island,” Kuhlman added. “Instead of looking at each channel as a separate standalone entity, advertisers in 2020 will focus on overall, bottom-line results. I know I will be.”

Integrated campaigns will be at the forefront of 2020, said Liam Wade, Head of PPC, Impression

“Just look at Google’s Smart Shopping to see how channels work better together; rolling PLAs, dynamic remarketing and cross-network audience targeting into one,” Wade said. “A signal of more to come!”

In 2020, marketers and businesses need a proper understanding of PPC’s place in their overall marketing strategy and how that actually works itself into process, said Kirk Williams, Founder, ZATO.

“Marketers need to care about all of the ways (even when untraceable) that a business grows in its totality, and then determine how to fit the PPC channel into that overall business growth, including strategy, creative, and reporting,” Williams said. “The best thing for PPCers in 2020 may be to blow the dust off those old traditional marketing books.”

Melissa Mackey, Search Supervisor, gyro, said we’ll also see a further blurring of the lines between paid social and paid search features and targeting.

“We’ve always seen feature adoption across platforms within search engines (Google Ads, Microsoft Ads) and within social ad channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), but now we’re starting to see search engines adopting social targeting, and social channels adding keywords,” Mackey said. “Blurred lines between search and social causes one to wonder: who will end up the winner? Only time will tell.”

3. More & Better Audience Targeting

Smart marketers and businesses must strategically speak to their target audiences at specific touchpoints along their consumer journey in 2020, according to Ferguson.

“If 2019 was all about audience targeting, 2020 will be the year that we speak to those audiences the right way at the right time.”

The key in 2020 will be your messaging and offering, said Greg Finn, Digital Marketer & Partner, Cypress North.

“Instead of cramming a marketing message in the face of others, advertisers need to worry less about the direct sale, and more about how our offerings can help others,” Finn said. “Gone are the days of overpaying for top positions with poor offerings, today we need to embrace helping our customers learn, and grow – even if we have to pay to do it.”

Audiences will continue to be important as Google pushes for more and more audience signals, and rolls out Affinity Audiences for Search and Seasonal Event targeting, according to Kuhlman.

“Where we’re seeing the most exciting results are on the Microsoft Audience Network (MSAN), especially with prospecting using LinkedIn profile targeting and In-Market Audiences, and with fully automated MSAN Shopping campaigns that use the power of the Microsoft Graph,” she said.

Audience targeting will remains as important as ever in 2020, according to Christi Olson, Head of Evangelism for Search, Microsoft.

“It’s not audiences or keywords,” Olson said. “It’s audience targeting layered on top keywords.”

4. Privacy, Tracking, First-Party Data & You

GDPR, and similar legislation, is restricting tracking capabilities and has catapulted privacy from the “nice to think about” to “an absolute must” for any marketer, according to Cherepakhin.

As a result, Arianne Donoghue, Associate Director – Digital Strategy, Edit, said we need to find new ways to track, but we also need to revisit elements of how we approach campaigns in a world that’s increasingly data and privacy-conscious.

Until platforms find ways to adapt, marketers need to avoid straying down the path of trying for 100% perfect attribution.

According to Tim Jensen, Campaign Manager, Clix Marketing, that means “getting the messaging on point for the right audience” and “tracking the top-level ROI metrics that matter to the business’s bottom line.”

Purna Virji, Senior Manager, Global Engagement, Microsoft Advertising, said in 2020 it will be all about leveraging all the data without exploiting the people behind the data.

“PPC advertisers have seen successful results with more contextual and demographic targeting options such as In-Marketing Audiences offered by both Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising,” Virji said. “We’re increasingly seeing new ways to leverage more understandings and insights – while still protecting people’s privacy- to connect brands and their customers differently.”

The current landscape means first-party data is more important and valuable than ever, according to Cherepakhin and MacLaggan.

“Update your first-party data processes and policies, to meet the latest requirements for regions you target,” Cherepakhin said. “That will position you for success to leverage customer match, remarketing and a growing range of strategies driven by first-party data.”

Added MacLaggan:

Gone are the days of optimizing to CPA, to get an edge advertisers will need to incorporate customer value (including) lifetime value into their optimization strategy. With offline conversion, it’s already possible to upload offline or follow-on conversions, but expect Google to continue making this easier next year.”

5. PPC Strategy Becomes More Valuable

As automation eliminates some of the more tedious tasks, there will be a greater need for PPC marketers who can think strategically, according to our experts.

Amy Bishop, Owner & Digital Marketing Consultant, Cultivative, said that PPC folks who can strategize will have the most success.

“In a changing landscape, strategy only ever becomes more and more valuable,” Bishop said.

Donoghue agreed.

“Focusing on helping clients set strategy, really understanding who our audience is and what it’ll take to solve their problems is going to be key,” she said.

Amy Hebdon, Founder, Paid Search Magic, said leadership in this area is even more important when efficient management is table stakes.

“Leadership requires big-picture thinking. It involves understanding consumer wants and needs, knowing how to target beyond the “local maximum,” and making strategic decisions for clients,” Hebdon said. “Marketing leaders who drive strategy and leverage automation to accomplish their growth goals will have even more success in 2020.”

Similarly, Mark Irvine, Director of Strategic Partnerships, WordStream, said you must find where you can peacefully partner with automation

“Whether it’s with software, scripts, dynamic search, automated bidding, ads written with AI/ML, or even various smart campaigns – the time saved on the minutiae of managing fundamental elements of campaigns can be better spent managing the strategic elements – such as audience, targets, and creatives,” he said.

6. Going Beyond Google & Facebook: Alternative Platforms to Watch

Duane Brown, Founder & Head of Strategy, Take Some Risk, and Lisa Raehsler, Founder & SEM Strategy Consultant, Big Click Co., noted that people spent more time on platforms like Snapchat, Pinterest, TikTok, in 2019 – and the revenue at those companies is growing.

That trend will not slow down. So brands will need to go where their customers are in 2020.

“This does not mean you need to be on every ad platform above. It does mean you need to have a better understanding of where your customers spend their time online,” Brown said. “If your audience is on one of the ad platforms above then you should at least test it out and see if you can make it work for your business.”

Clark agreed. He said budgets will be more dispersed than ever.

“From Quora, to Reddit, to Pinterest and, especially Amazon,” he said. “Budget management and keeping a fluid allocation based on performance across platforms will be paramount.”

Akvile DeFazio, President, AKvertise, said ecommerce brands should begin strategizing for Instagram Checkout.

“Though it is currently only available in organic posts, it’s only a matter of time until this new format will be available as an ad,” she said. “Plan now to stay ahead and launch when available for maximum exposure.”

Elizabeth Marsten, Senior Director, Marketplace Strategic Services, Tinuiti, suggested paying attention to the expansion of options in advertising that blur the lines of “paid search” – specifically Amazon and Walmart.

“Their marketplaces have millions of visits a month to their site and searches being performed on those sites, too,” Marsten said. “Additionally, product detail pages that are being built out with robust content like reviews, attributes, video and product comparisons are getting picked up in search engine results and will be competing for eyeballs. Design a strategy or position that addresses that now, rather than halfway through 2020.”

Bottom line?

“While Facebook still has the majority of users, paid ad managers should be closely following these user trends in 2020 to ensure their ads are reaching the right people (or for new opportunities) as they shift platforms,” Raehsler said.

7. A Focus on Brand Affinity, Awareness & Safety

Pauline Jakober, CEO, Group Twenty Seven, expects PPC marketers to take branding to the next level in 2020.

“More and more, I’m seeing marketers move beyond brand awareness and aim for brand affinity,” Jakober said. “Marketers are no longer satisfied with familiarizing potential customers with their brand. They also want to influence how potential customers feel about it and respond to it.”

Donoghue agreed that brand preference and building relationships will be key in 2020.

Bacchini also hopes to see a return to branding in digital advertising.

“Building a connection to your brand has always mattered, we’ve just largely ignored it for the past 15 years,” she said.

Jonathan Kagan, VP for Search, Cogniscient Media, said brand safety will continue to be incredibly important in 2020 to ensure your ads don’t appear to be endorsing extremist content.

“Advertisers can no longer allow the platforms to ‘do their own things.’ They need to continue to police your ad placements that are operating on automation. Otherwise, you may appear that your brand is supporting a horrific event,” Kagan said.

8. More SERP Competition + Search Stagnation = Rising CPCs

Jeff Allen, President, Hanapin Marketing, said the biggest trend to pay attention to is the lack of search query growth in recent years.

“2020 will see this come to a head due to platforms lacking additional SERP space to monetize,” Allen said. This will result in the continued rise of search CPCs, and a potential for increased CPAs and a lack of growth in sales volume.

Leake agreed, saying that competition will only increase and CPC inflation will continue.

“I’d suggest you adjust your 2020 budgets and expectations to suit,” Leake said. “Not a fun trend, but a realistic one.”

Levy also believes the U.S. search market has become saturated.

“Everybody already searches just about as much as they’re going to. There isn’t going to be 25% YoY query growth anymore,” Levy said. “The SERPs will continue to get more competitive and the CPCs will continue to rise until we reach a saturation point, a point that the next click is no longer profitable.”

9. CRO Is a Must Do

While advertisers should have been investing in conversion rate optimization for years, 2020 may be the year it moves from “should do” to “must do,” according to Allen.

“Smart advertisers will continue to develop other channels, such as display and social, but the main lift in their sales numbers will come from robust conversion rate optimization programs,” Allen said.

But as you’re doing CRO, Leake reminds us not to forget about another type of optimization: customer optimization.

“Conversion optimization is lauded, but customer optimization is underrated,” Leake said. “You’re paying to acquire customers, so make sure you’re paying (investing) to keep them, too!”

Levy added that optimizing beyond clicks is essential.

“In the next decade, the biggest wins will come from those who optimize beyond the conversion,” Levy said.

10. The Year of the Technical PPC Marketer!

AJ Wilcox, LinkedIn Ads Expert & Founder, B2Linked Marketers, believes that 2020 will be the year of the technical marketer.

“We’ll see marketers becoming more technical, leading to things like wider adoption and reliance on CRM data in conjunction with their advertising efforts,” Wilcox said. “Marketers will be tracking the lifecycle of leads and will be the ones predicting performance, and not Finance or IT.”

Likewise, John Lee, Learning Strategist, Microsoft Advertising, said gaining technical expertise will help you have the ability to manage, optimize, and analyze digital advertising campaigns at scale.

“These skills are fundamental to the use of tools like Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising Scripts or feed-based features like Shopping, Ad Customizers, etc.,” he said. “Let alone how these skills can help you in piecing together data sets in BI tools, etc.”

Want More PPC Trends & Insights for 2019?

This only scratches the surface of what you’ll find in our new ebook, The Biggest PPC Trends of 2020, According to 39 Experts. Ready for more?

Click here to download The Biggest PPC Trends of 2020, According to 39 Experts

You’ll get more uncensored and unfiltered insights and tips straight from these PPC experts on how to succeed at PPC in 2020:

  • Jeff Allen
  • Amy Bishop
  • Anna Blanken
  • Duane Brown
  • Ilya Cherepakhin
  • Jon Clark
  • Akvile DeFazio
  • Arianne Donoghue
  • Nicole Farley
  • Jeff Ferguson
  • Greg Finn
  • Justin Freid
  • Julie Friedman Bacchini
  • Brad Geddes
  • Daniel Gilbert
  • Andrew Goodman
  • Amy Hebdon
  • Mark Irvine
  • Pauline Jakober
  • Tim Jensen
  • Jonathan Kagan
  • Nikki Kuhlman
  • John Lee
  • Ed Leake
  • Aaron Levy
  • Andrew Lolk
  • Melissa Mackey
  • Wesley MacLaggan
  • Elizabeth Marsten
  • Michelle Morgan
  • Samantha Noble
  • Christi Olson
  • Brooke Osmundson
  • Lisa Raehsler
  • Frederick Vallaeys
  • Purna Virji
  • Liam Wade
  • AJ Wilcox
  • Kirk Williams

Plus, from our sponsors:

  • Adzooma
  • Group Twenty Seven
  • WordStream

10 Important PPC Trends to Watch in 2020

Past Editions of PPC Trends:


Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita

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Danny Goodwin

Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal

Danny Goodwin is Executive Editor of Search Engine Journal. In addition to overseeing SEJ's editorial strategy and managing contributions from ... [Read full bio]

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