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Future of PPC: Are keywords soon to be a thing of the past

Google is no stranger to making big changes to its PPC platform, AdWords. Even the name has now dropped the ‘Words’ in a move which reflects the wider functionality of the platform. Google Ads is evolving, and the humble keyword is no longer the sole tool at the PPC marketer’s disposal, but could it become fully extinct?

Developments over recent years suggest this is exactly the way it’s heading. Over a number of iterations, exact match has become ‘pretty similar match’ whereby Google uses its machine learning algorithms to determine whether the intent of the query matches your keyword. To highlight the importance of match types, ‘hotels in New York’ and ‘new hotels in York’ contain very different search intent yet use the same keywords. Close variant for an exact match has now expanded yet further whereby if Google’s system understands the intent of the query is different than the keyword, it will not match it.

There is already a number of growing features within Google Ads which allow you to appear on the search engine results page (SERP) without the need for keywords. Dynamic Search Ads aren’t new but the advancements in machine learning mean they’re forever getting smarter. The move from campaign level to ad group level further incorporates them into the core rather than a peripheral PPC tactic.

Google Shopping is another keyword-less PPC tactic which is growing at a remarkable rate. For e-commerce retailers, Google Shopping product listing ads (PLA) are a no-brainer and especially at the moment due to the 20% cost per click (CPC) discount available, due to the EU Commission’s’ ruling over Google’s anti-competitive practices. Utilising the product’s title rather than keyword targeting, the growth of Google Shopping further shows the diminishing impact of keywords within PPC.

The final nail in the keyword’s coffin could be the far deeper use of audiences in PPC geared towards finding the right people, understanding their intent, and targeting them with a different message if needed. We segment our audiences into ‘buckets’ to drive more efficient performance through bidding more aggressively or excluding them altogether. Features such as in-market audiences allows us to segment our audience and bid more aggressively for people who have not yet visited the website but are in the market for our products.

Whilst the keyword may not be dead just yet, keyword only based targeting in paid search simply isn’t enough anymore to drive the best performance.

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What does this mean for PPC managers?

  • Exact Match: It’s extremely important for PPC managers to review ‘Structured Query Reports’ (SQR) to see what additional traffic your exact match keywords are now showing against and ensure they do in fact match the intent.
  • Dynamic Search Ads (DSA): Improvements in categorisation mean DSAs can be an effective way to find the additional volume or to pick up the really long-tail keywords that may otherwise have been deemed low search volume in either exact or broad match keyword targeting
  • Google Shopping: Utilising a shopping comparison shopping site (CSS) partner is the talk of the Google Shopping town at the moment. With 20% CPC discounts available, first mover advantage could be critical.

Audiences: Google knows a lot about users beyond simply the keywords they search. Utilise in-market and similar audiences in your PPC campaigns can drive far better performance.

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