Marketing professionals, especially those specialising in PPC, are navigating an evolving landscape. As we move through 2024, several challenges shape our strategies and tactics: declining search keyword performance, rising media costs, and fewer branded searches, to name a few.

Historically, we’ve managed paid campaigns in ways that matched the capabilities of the technology at the time. With recent developments in AI across the major platforms, it’s more important than ever to take full advantage.

It’s also clear that relying solely on bottom-of-the-funnel activities is no longer viable. While search keywords and cookie-based audiences are still important, they need to be supplemented with diversified spending across the marketing funnel.

The Evolving Role of Search

Platforms like Google and Bing handle billions of searches daily. Around 15% of these are new and never searched before. The complexity and volume of these searches are beyond what any human team can manage alone. This is where AI comes into play.

AI isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a critical tool for modern PPC professionals. Here’s why:

Enhanced Understanding: AI helps us understand context and respond to complex search queries more effectively.

Efficiency and Reach: By leveraging the latest AI features such as Broad Match and Performance Max (PMax), we can increase efficiency, spend smarter, and expand our reach.

Personalization: AI allows for more personalized marketing efforts, connecting with audiences on a deeper level.

In June Frederick Vallaeys highlighted that Microsoft Ads recently reported a 1.8x lift in CTR for ads in Bing Copilot compared to regular search ads. This shows that the context and enhanced understanding of AI can help deliver more relevant results. It can only do this, however, if accounts are set up to take advantage of AI. In fact, Google has hinted that they will use mainly PMax campaigns to fuel the ads shown across GSE.

Actionable Steps for Adapting to the New Marketing Landscape

Feed AI with Data: This includes future-proofing and improving your data integrity by using Google’s Consent Mode and Enhanced Conversions. It also means improving your shopping feed, optimizing towards real business goals, and conducting robust creative testing based on data. I go into more detail on these in a blog I wrote late last year: Don’t Fear AI, Feed It.

Pairing Broad Match with Smart Bidding: Keywords are still important, but going broader and pairing with smart bidding removes subjectivity. Leaning into smart bidding allows advertisers to utilize the vast amount of contextual signals. It enablEs Google to show your ad to people who are most likely to take the action you’re optimizing towards.

PMax: If you’re not already using PMax, it’s something you should be testing this quarter. PMax campaigns leverage Google’s machine learning to optimize and reach new audiences across Search, Display, YouTube, and more, boosting conversions and uncovering new growth opportunities.

Shifting Our Approach: From Bottom-of-the-Funnel to Holistic Strategies

Consumers embark on a journey before they convert. They research, compare, and engage with various touchpoints before making a decision. This means advertisers need to move beyond just conversion-focused activities. They must begin focusing on creating personalized marketing campaigns that connect with a wider audience at different stages.

Google has a suite of campaign types that can support this, including Demand Gen, various YouTube campaign types, and standard GDN. Demand Gen and YT Action campaigns use a lot of the same AI bidding tech as PMax to support driving action further up the funnel. Awareness and reach campaigns should be used to improve overall brand awareness and recall.

While the combined reach across Google Search, YouTube, and other partners is extensive, there’s more you could be doing outside of this to reach your audience. Forbes reported that for certain searches, “Instagram and TikTok are now the preferred search engines for Gen Z.” While Google continues to dwarf other sites from a pure traffic POV, from a percentage of time spent online, it’s much lower and shared across social platforms and the open web.

Conduct a media gap analysis, then plan and activate media across the funnel to influence the decisions of audiences before conversion. With consumers three times more likely to purchase from brands in their initial consideration set, the impact on the bottom line can be significant.

The shift from keywords to conversations signifies a broader change in the advertising industry. Advertisers must adapt by investing in brand building and leveraging AI to create more personalized and effective marketing strategies.

This is a written version of the talk Kyle Johnson originally delivered at brightonSEO UK in April 2024.