Consumer behaviour and expectations are driving the next frontier of search marketing. Search engines have gone from having to meet the demands of the ‘robotic inputter’ to having to swiftly contend with consumer needs and expectations of speed, convenience, and greater product accessibility. Search engine behaviours and trends evidence this shift in mindsets perfectly. Consumer queries have moved from the rather mechanical, ‘hotel London’ to far more conversational ‘where is the nearest showing of Top Gun Maverick?’.  The post-pandemic modern consumer (the one-click purchaser) expects to get to the answer faster than ever before, after all every moment matters.

Marketers and advertisers have several fresh challenges to contend with including cookie deprecation, the impact of the war in Ukraine, a potential decade ahead of hyperinflation and a likely economic downturn. With these aforementioned factors, achieving marketer’s goals within limited budgets is becoming even more challenging and to do so through traditional approaches and a more manual portfolio of keywords is a herculean task. Advertisers’ search landscapes need to expand and diversify in line with consumer needs, if they have any hope to remain competitive. Modern search delivers against these needs.

Search engines have not stood still

As customer needs and behaviours are evolving, search engines have risen to the task through machine learning. More than ever, search engines can match user queries with the most appropriate results and consequently advertisements than ever before, whether voice ready, or location based. The modern consumer expects modern results. It’s therefore unsurprising that we believe modern search is the next frontier of search marketing. 

What is modern search and how can I extract the most value from it?

In practical terms modern search can be defined as a search programme that is based upon consolidated account structures, where a greater application of machine learning and automation is used to make data-driven decisions. Modern search is founded on the principle that pattern recognition techniques through machine learning can work most effectively when given the widest selection of data signals to assess.

A modern search programme has four key characteristics:

  1. Modern search demands greater consolidation of key account structures often shifting to broad match keywords and a focus on fewer, more meaningful campaigns. 
  1. The balance of human vs automated intervention has moved up a notch in favour of the latter: with a greater degree of best practice formats and targeting approaches applied, such as dynamic search ads, remarketing list for search ads and performance max. 
  1. Greater adoption of smarter bidding options, (the name alone suggests you are not smart if you omit them from your campaigns), that said it’s difficult to argue against value-based bidding as a concept. Smart bidding also spans across the shopping ecosystem and bidding to profit is a powerful concept.
  1. Use of more first party data to inform decisioning.  As we move the balance from human to automated, our ‘human’ insights and interventions evolve, with humans providing greater structure and insight to machine learning. For instance, in value-based bidding work streams, customers with a greater lifetime value warrant enhanced bids and adjusted marketing techniques.

The right modern search approach begins with a level of strategic consultancy to align with an advertisers’ values, culture, vertical and market positioning.  A modern search strategy must be tailor-made, as part of an advertiser’s strategic vision and the role of the agency is to comply with the elements that make most sense and drive the most value. Embrace the parts that make sense and gain first mover advantage where appropriate, test the elements that you are less comfortable with. Modern search applies to even the most conservative advertiser and being a smart second adopter is also progressive.

The modern search practitioner 

It’s worth understanding how the modern search practitioner also needs to start thinking differently about their job function and a positive skills shift. Historically and importantly at the time, it was not uncommon for a PPC programme to comprise of a typical 80/20 split. 80% of the time being spent on best-in-class account management, delivering excellence through bid modifications, expansions, and greater granularity. The remaining 20% of time spent on ‘roadmapping’ for the future.  

The requirements of the modern search practitioner are vastly different. This should feed the industry with excitement and not dread, as their world shifts to greater and more sophisticated use of data to inform decisioning, automation and innovation. A typical modern search practitioner will need greater overall account ownership; focusing on targeting, creative format understanding, planning and bid effectiveness. They will also drive broader project leadership; in which they will need skills to support CRM integrations, drive, cross-channel strategic alignment, testing and tech innovation.

Search is really leading the digital marketplace. Search was the first mature digital buying ecosystem and, as such, the removal of the right hand panel of ads or the recent removal of extended search ads are really the biggest things to happen in search in almost a decade. These are quite cosmetic changes. However, modern search represents a monumental shift which is essential for success. The adoption of machine learning in search is a strong indication of what is to come across the digital landscape.

We have seen that a tailored modern search approach can deliver operational efficiencies, faster applicable learnings and therefore greater operating efficiency and performance results. In a fast-evolving landscape, the time is now to embrace new approaches to meet the every moment matters consumer.

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