2016 was a great year for PPC.

I know that’s an odd way of beginning an article about 2016 since let’s be honest, 2016 was pretty much a terrible year in many aspects. Perhaps there is some yin-yang action happening behind the scenes connecting PPC to the real world? Whatever it might be, digital marketing in 2016 grew overall in terms of spend, social media advertising continued to increase in popularity and success, AdWords gave us back device targeting and didn’t take anything too drastically important away, and Bing Ads saw leaps and bounds in functionality.

So overall, not a bad year for PPC.

I will personally look back on 2016 with some serious mixed emotions. In many ways, all of the death and destruction and politics cloud the memories of what was personally a great year of growth for my business. I hired my first employee, broke personal revenue growth records, and traveled more than I ever thought I would to speak at PPC conferences and make awesome new PPC friends.

So overall, I find myself conflicted about 2016.

As we look ahead to PPC in 2017 (and wade through the approximately 4,765 PPC Predictions for 2017 articles surely to be written), I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on PPC and Digital Marketing in general. Please note, this isn’t just another listical to get you to read a blog post! This is my opinion of what were the most significant things to take note of for 2016 and to reward you for making it through the post, I also included my predictions for what we can expect in 2017 at the end.

2 Reflections On 2016 PPC

(1) The Confluence Of PPC And Social Was Completed

While social ads have been around for years, I would argue they saw more of an inclusion as “normalcy” in the PPC realm in the year 2016. Some of this is sheer anecdotal observation, but if you follow social gatherings of PPCers (like the great #PPCChat, of which we’ll discuss more of next), you might also have noticed how many fewer conversations happened throughout this year about the seemingly unending arguments of things like account organization and match types, and how many more conversations and questions began to revolve around social ads (specifically Facebook). My friend, Susan Wenograd, noted one particular point where she pitched a few things to a conference (primarily advanced search marketing material), and they only jumped at her single social pitch. Apparently, they have been aware of the demand and wanted to get someone in to take advantage of that shift.

Looking back, I believe that 2016 will be the year where the full inclusion of Paid Search into the “PPC” bubble was finalized. I still distinguish between Paid Search and Paid Social, but I am happy to call them both PPC as the zip-lock bag of time begins to close on this year.

Note for disgruntled commenters: Yay, you included social in your PPC language before 2016. Congrats, you’re awesome. I’m not speaking simply in terms of a light switch turning on and off, but in terms of an entire industry moving in a direction (it takes longer than a few months). Thus, why I used terms like “completed” and “finalized”.

(2) The Twitter PPC Community Shifted

How to not make this sound like I’m a disgruntled curmudgeon?

When I started PPC, it took me a couple of years to find the PPC Twitter crowd. When I found them in early 2013, I couldn’t believe the tight-knit, helpful community I had stumbled across and I valued it highly. I found a group of people who were smarter than me, spurred me to a deeper understanding of PPC, encouraged me on tough days, offered sound business advice to a person with n0 background or schooling in business trying to jumpstart a solo agency, and generally provided a place of haven for me for 3 years.

I would argue that the Twitter community of PPC weakened in 2016 and I think there are 3 reasons for the change.

First, people move around and move on (this is normal). I’m surprised by how few people who are part of “the old guard” in PPC are with the same company. Some people moved around agencies, some went to the dark side (stolen by Google or Bing! 😛 I kid, I kid), and some began managing people rather than PPC. In fact, I am now to the point where I can remember specific names of people I interacted with almost daily, who are not even in digital marketing at all anymore.

Probably the “older” generation of PPCers will smirk at this note. Maybe I’m starting to finally date myself here. But I just don’t recognize the names of a lot of PPCers at companies like I used to! There seemed to be a bit of shift in 2016 especially in terms of job movements, and I think that was part of what weakened the fairly strong community that PPC had on Twitter especially. This is going to happen normally all the time of course, but as I look back on the PPC Twitter community of 2016, I have this sense that I am looking back on the beginnings of a downward trend after the high in a graph. I am saddened by that because the PPC Twitter community has been so strong for years.

The second reason I think the community aspect got hit in 2016, was partially due to Twitter’s loss of popularity (this is not the time or place for arguing specifics about that), and coinciding with that an increase of spam hit the popular #PPCChat hashtag which definitely hurt the PPC community. You can only play whack-a-mole so often with spammers before giving up. I found myself spending less time interacting with others, since primarily, there was less true interaction to be had. Fewer questions came through on the hashtag, so the complaints against the search engines and shared lower-quality articles ruled the day.  The ironic thing is that I think this was a natural “consequence” of the chat itself’s explosion in popularity! Matt Umbro did such an awesome job of establishing a great community of PPCers, that it was only a matter of time before it became too popular to resist for those wanting a “following” rather than a community.

The third reason I think the PPC Twitter community has weakened is the sheer volume of lower-quality content being churned out and shared. The reason we throw the word “spam” around a lot isn’t because we hate reading, it’s because the majority of the articles I see written and shared are not in-depth thought pieces or radically helpful walk-throughs of complicated aspects of PPC. They are the “5 Ways to Use Remarketing Correctly”, 4 of which tell you to create lists of your customers. I totally get that there are places for beginner articles too. But I would say that’s not primarily what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the hurry to push out less-than-best quality content to hit a deadline and keep the fresh-site-content churn going. Hey, if that’s your strategy, I honestly don’t really care… unless you share every single one of those articles multiple times to make up your “social media presence.”

This strategy itself seems to have exploded in popularity with multiple marketers/agencies in the last 12-18 months, so the sheer amount of lower-quality PPC articles has just exploded. It’s difficult to sift through, and it causes me to go less and less to Twitter hashtags (I can still filter my personal feed by refusing to follow people who constantly share low-quality content, but I used to get lots of great content from hashtags like #PPCChat too. That is what has changed).

Looking back, I believe we will see that 2016 was the year that the vibrant PPC community on Twitter began to weaken in its resolve to preserve its community. Admittedly, there are many other new ways to have community, including: Reddit, Slack, Facebook Private Groups, LinkedIn… HAHAHAHAHAHA, phew, sorry, have to wipe the mirth out of my eyes. Kidding on that last one.

But in all seriousness, there are other ways for the serious PPCer to bond together in community and I look forward to seeing the evolution. My point here is just to note that I think Twitter is finally declining in the amazing role its played in PPC over the last 5+ years.

4 Predictions For 2017 PPC

My marketer credentials should probably be taken away from me (although as I think about that, I guess ” my credentials” in their entirety refers solely to my AdWords/Bing certifications sooo…. whoopity ding dong about losing them) if I fail to write a post within 6 weeks of the ending of a year, that does not make some sort of prediction for the coming year.  I actually do have some thoughts on this, so bear with me. They aren’t just my excuse to blab a little more but are areas I believe should cause us to sit up and take notice, as we look to 2017.

(1) Expanded Audience Targeting In Google And Bing

Let’s begin with some marketer math:

Social Media + crazy good audiences = lot$ ad moneyz.

Search Engines + crappy audiences = not a$ much moneyz (as they could get if audiences were better).

Make sense?

Google and Bing aren’t sitting around ignoring the immense value of social audiences for ad targeting (why do you think Google begged, pleaded, and prayed for G+ to work out?). We’ve had demographic targeting in Bing for awhile, and Google added it in a few months ago. The Income level targeting in Google is interesting in its own right, though I’ve not seen immensely mind-blowing success with it. I have been playing around with Custom Affinity audiences for GDN campaigns and liking them so far, and then, of course, remarketing audiences and customer match targeting are powerful in their own right.

However, in 2017 I anticipate Google and Bing both drastically expanding their audience and demographic targeting. One specific prediction I will make that is more of a wish than a prediction, is that Bing will begin allowing us to layer LinkedIn audiences into search campaigns now that Microsoft owns LinkedIn.

In fact, if you would like that as well, would you please vote for it on Bing’s User Feedback Forum?

Vote Here: Allow Bing advertisers to target LinkedIn Audiences

(2) Enhanced Local Ads Capabilities

Curiously enough, while much of PPC has gone the route of the enterprise level, I believe that we will see even more expanded local ads capabilities. Google is no dummy and has always had an obsession (sometimes unhealthy, remember the pizza place examples a few years ago?) with local ads and businesses. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked somewhere online “how can I target ads on Google Maps?” Currently, Google Maps ads are fairly automated (even now considered a part of core search). Sure you have to add location extensions and then…… well, you wait for Google to show ads when Google wants to show ads. but imagine being able to choose whether to bid Maps ads higher than normal SERP results?

I predict that 2017 will be the year we can bid separately on Google Map ads, at the very least a bid modifier!  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other changes as well in the arena of local ads. Google has proven that it always takes local seriously.

(3) Continued Automation Growth

Gee Kirk, ya think Google wants to increase automation, huh? Genius you are, yup yup.

Obviously, automation has been increasing in PPC a bit, but I think the significant 2016 advances with AI, Digital Assistants, and basic machine learning will impact PPC quite a bit in 2017. As one example, how long before Google Home get some version of ads in a Youtube like fashion controlled in AdWords. Perhaps it will be audio files uploaded and then paired with audiences?

On the automation side of things, we have seen DSA and Shopping continue to get facelifts in ways that demonstrate the search engines are growing in their ability to identify and target better queries and match them to the correct PLA or text ad. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I have seen a growth in Google’s query targeting abilities specifically, especially in more accuracy with Shopping Ads. This makes sense as machine learning grows. Google and Bing will actually get better at targeting and bidding as time marches on, so it makes sense that they will continue to insert more automation into our current systems. At this point, my prediction here is less of a specific idea, and more of a “keep your eyes out because Google will continue to replace manual bidding and targeting methods with automation.”

Finally, in terms of automation, we will continue to see the need for PPCers to grow in utilizing tools, automated rules, scripts, and other custom options to handle tasks previously assigned to manually labor. The smart PPCer will become more interested in identifying those areas of her job where automation can be utilized successfully, so she can be preserved for the areas of her job where her expertise is most valuable. This bumps into Prediction Number 4.

(4) PPC Skills Shift

I have been seeing more and more articles in general on the impact AI and automation are having in multiple areas of life, and PPC is no different. We could choose to freak out about this, or we could sit down and think it through. Automation is based on code understood and written by humans, or at least written by a program that was written by a program to write the program… regardless, the genesis of all programs and code is a human brain. The clear takeaway (though not the only one) is that the PPCer with coding skills is going to be continually more valuable. Admittedly, I say that in utter hypocrisy since I don’t know coding. However, automation can take many forms. In my opinion, I do successful automation when I think through a script that will solve a particular problem for a client or ease my monthly process, and then hire someone to write that script. PPC still requires a level of marketing, so let’s not run completely into the camp of all becoming coders. We can just pay them to code what we think up, that’s still automation.

Regardless, if someone were new to PPC in 2017 and asked for advice, I would suggest that they make themselves immensely valuable by learning how to be the person in their small agency that can code. Or be the person on the market for that in-house job that has the SQL knowledge to go into deeper data dives than simply analyzing Google Analytics.

This shifts us into the final thing I want to note about predictions and PPCers value shifts, and that is that taking data from PPC, knowing it, being able to explain it, compiling it, knowing how to act on it and most importantly, knowing how to communicate that to the C-Suite is still an immensely human feat. I think we will see data analysis grow in importance for PPC in 2017.

I have been chewing on this ever since I got one of Avinash Kaushik’s newsletters on machine learning. In it, he pointed to this amazing article and specifically discussed the part on it regarding human activity: The Simple Economics of Machine Intelligence. I think it’s an excellent post and one worth considering. It applies directly to PPC and we would be wise to heed its words!

Phew, ok, I’m done now. My hiatus from writing for the last few months appears to have severely impacted the length of this article. If you happened to make it to this point (first, congratulations), then what are your thoughts? Agree or disagree with my conclusions?  Let’s learn and grow together, and definitely, hit me up on Twitter at @PPCKirk.

Peace up, dudes!