As an increasing number of high street brands close their doors in favour of online retail, it has never been more crucial for businesses to be easily visible online. Interestingly, 65% of clicks for transactional search queries – i.e. from online customers looking to buy – go to sponsored search results, highlighting the importance of a well-optimised paid search strategy.  

However, paid search has recently gone through a great deal of change – take Google retiring the AdWords and DoubleClick brands for example, which is forcing brands to innovate and adopt new strategies or risk losing hard-won search relevancy.  

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key areas in which businesses can adapt their paid search offering to stay ahead of the pack in 2018.

Think outside the box with keywords

We’re rapidly approaching the busiest shopping period of the year, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day and Christmas just months away. This will naturally create a spike in the number of consumers shopping and searching for brands online.

While many businesses will respond by bidding on key search terms such as ‘Black Friday’, the volume of brands bidding on this term – including market giants such as Amazon – will mean that attempting to compete on this front may be economically unsustainable.   

Instead, businesses should consider bidding on less obvious (but no less relevant) keywords such as ‘on sale’ or ‘discount’, which many savvy customers will use to search for a bargain. Not only does this lower pay-per-click spend but is also likely to drive targeted leads through to a brand’s online store during this crucial sales period.

Google’s upcoming paid search updates

Google’s move away from long-standing platforms such as AdWords, as well as its recent site speed update, have so far made 2018 a transformative year for search. But how can brands take advantage of such updates?

Google’s automated Smart campaigns, which were first introduced in the U.S. at the end of June could have a substantial impact once they’re introduced in the UK towards the end of this year – particularly for smaller businesses.

With Smart campaigns, ads can be based around small business owners’ primary business goals; whether this is funnelling traffic towards an online store, increasing conversion rates, or even just encouraging customers to get in contact with the brand. This, in turn, allows smaller businesses to focus their efforts on the areas most important to their growth and can increase conversions by 20% without increasing the cost per action.

Shopping Actions is another U.S-based innovation from Google, which we are likely to see hitting the UK market soon. As technologies such as voice and visual search continue to change the way consumers search for products, the pay-per-sale Shopping Actions programme allows forward-thinking retailers to make their products universally discoverable across all Google devices – including newer platforms such as the Google Assistant.

YouTube: an underrated search platform

Despite its relative infancy, compared to more established search tools such as Google, YouTube’s reach cannot be denied, with 79% of adults in the UK regularly using YouTube. This means it is tied with Facebook as the most popular social network in the UK; 32% higher than Twitter and 38% higher than Instagram. Essentially, brands can use YouTube to advertise to a larger audience than TV, at a fraction of the cost.

We recommend longer-form, TrueView ads as the best option here. While these are skippable after five seconds, the cost per view on these videos is only 7p, which is only charged if a viewer watches at least 30 seconds or until the end of the ad.

To take full advantage of TrueView ads, businesses should include strong calls-to-action (CTA) and highlight their brand in the first five seconds of a video, before the user can skip. Brands can also complement this with further CTA in the companion banners – clickable thumbnail images that sit above the list of recommended videos on the viewer’s screen.

To further amplify search campaigns on this platform, brands can use Bumper ads – shorter, unskippable six-second videos with sound – to follow up on these long-form ads. Not only are these spots perfectly designed to suit mobile viewers – where more than half of YouTube’s traffic comes from – their cost per mile starts at £4, making them the most economical ad format.

Overall, paid search – and indeed, search in general – continues to evolve at pace, with emerging technologies such as voice and artificial intelligence driving a new era of search innovation.

In this landscape, businesses must be proactive in exploring new opportunities to stand out from the competition. Neglect this, and brands risk being left behind in an unforgivably competitive retail marketplace.