As we said in our previous post, the five major forces in digital marketing for 2018 can combine in interesting ways to influence the primary disciplines. Today, we look at paid search in 2018.

Will Chrome block ads?

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Google Chrome will have a native ad-blocking feature starting Feb. 15. (Note that this technology doesn’t block native ads; “native” here simply means it’s an automatic part of the code.) While this might sound dire at first, by no means does it signal the end of paid search advertising.

For starters, paid search advertising is Google’s main source of income, so they have an active interest in preserving it. They also have an active interest in de-incentivizing third-party ad blocking software, most of which blocks all paid search ads. So by including this ad-blocking feature, they hope to mitigate losses caused by third-party ad blockers.

Furthermore, this technology isn’t so much ad-blocking as it is ad-filtering. Google is a founding member of the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry initiative aimed at curtailing the most obnoxious ad practices. Thus, Chrome will block all ads following practices deemed “unacceptable” by the Coalition:

Given that all these practices are very annoying (especially auto-playing video ads with sound) and have been proven to frustrate and alienate users, the Coalition’s standards seem quite reasonable. What might not be quite as reasonable is Google’s zero-tolerance policy, as reported by Ars Technica:

“If a site runs a single ad that runs afoul of Google’s requirements, it will have all of its ads blocked, even the non-offending ones. Google’s “Ad Experience Report” site will allow for reporting and reviewing of unacceptable ads. Once reported, Web developers have 30 days to clean up a site or face ad-blocking from Chrome.”

Personalization possibilities

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Icon indicating "personalization"Making personalized offers in real time is now within reach for many brands. As big data, AI, and machine learning keep developing, marketers will have more opportunities to learn about what their customers want and need, and when they need it. Keep conducting research into your customers’ use patterns for devices and channels, including data on where and when they’re most likely to use each channel, platform, and device. The more data you gather and update, the better you’ll be able to tailor your offers, and the more receptive your customers will be to them.

Icon indicating "personalization"Icon indicating "AI and machine learning"Icon indicating data security and privacyPersonalization in a post-GDPR worldwill likely experience obstacles and require a shift in paid search tactics, but it’s the sort of challenge that agencies and martech firms love to take on.  If marketers can find a way to individualize a customer’s experience while still respecting their personal information (and avoiding hefty European Union fines), they could enjoy personalization’s shorter funnels and higher conversion rates while minimizing risk.

Ad formats

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Icon indicating mobile digital marketingMeme photo "Day 33: They still suspect nothing"Native advertising continues to grow as consumers appreciate its non-intrusive nature. Native ads are designed to blend in with a site’s self-produced content and provide the additional value of quality content. But they shouldn’t blend in too well: native ads must (and, we think, should) have a clear designation that they aren’t produced by the site; “sponsored content” is the most common such signal.

Last year, brand spending on native advertising grew by 74%, and native is predicted to dominate mobile advertising in the next year or two. The research firm IHS Markit estimates that more than 63% of mobile display advertising will be native ads by 2020. We advise considering native advertising, especially on mobile, this year.

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Icon indicating mobile digital marketingLike native, video advertising is still on the rise, and it’s moving toward mobile. Nielsen reported last year that monthly U.S. video consumption on smartphones jumped 81.5% year-over-year from 151 minutes in 2016 to 274 minutes in 2017. If that rate of growth holds this year, consumers will spend an average of 496 minutes a month watching videos on smartphones. That’s about 8.25 hours every month, which is more time than average Americans spend on laundry, leisure-related computer use, lawn and garden care, even playing games. Mobile video clearly has a large audience; the challenge for brands is how to appeal to that audience through video advertising.

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Icon indicating mobile digital marketingSchema for mobile: Part of delivering a consistent, high-quality customer experience is having relevant, accurate data in shopping ads across all platforms. 2018 is the perfect time to make sure your shopping ads are displaying on mobile with all the correct schema markup, especially for Similar Items.

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Icon indicating mobile digital marketingDespite search and click volume comparable or greater to that of desktop, mobile conversion rates still hover below desktop CVRs for many segments, to the frustration of paid search marketers. Our team is planning strategies, tactics, and tests to improve the mobile customer experience in ways that encourage conversions.

Programmatic advertising

Icon indicating "personalization"Icon indicating "AI and machine learning"Image rehabilitation will likely be the greatest challenge for programmatic in 2018. While AI and machine learning allowed real-time bidding to flourish last year, problematic and fraudulent placements made programmatic look like a potential liability for many advertisers. This year, programmatic platforms and exchanges must apply machine learning to the wealth of data they have to improve the quality of matches made between advertiser, publisher, audience, and offer.

Icon indicating "AI and machine learning"Icon indicating data security and privacyPreventing fraud and protecting privacy in programmatic will be another crucial challenge for the year. One potential solution is blockchain, the technology that underpins cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. Blockchain essentially allows the participants in a programmatic ad buy (agencies, publishers, advertisers, supply- and demand-side platforms) to form a closed group where transactions are recorded in a ledger that all participants can see, but that’s encrypted for security.

Unfortunately, blockchain can’t be seen as a full-scale solution just yet. At the moment, it simply isn’t fast enough to handle the millions of transactions that take place every second in programmatic. Furthermore, cryptocurrency carries its own risk in the form of fluctuations; if an ad’s ROI can be significantly reduced or even negated by a sudden shift in exchange rate, the appeal of that channel is similarly damaged.

Another solution to programmatic ad fraud that shows promise is ads.txt, an initiative that grew out of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Tech Lab. As indicated by its name extension, ads.txt is a text file that green-lights only approved parties: publishers upload an ads.txt file specifying which programmatic platforms are authorized to sell space on their site, and programmatic platforms upload an ads.txt file specifying which publishers’ inventory they’re authorized to sell. It’s a relatively simple, low-tech approach, but until blockchain achieves scalability, ads.txt is a pretty good interim solution.

So it looks like 2018 will be a very interesting year in paid search! We’ll cover these topics throughout the year, as they take effect and evolve. Later, we’ll look at the biggest trends for SEO and CRO in 2018.

The Top 5 Phenomena for 2018 in Digital Marketing

Icon for "a seamless marketing experience"Seamless, customer-focused marketing experience

A consistent brand presence across all channels and all stages of the buying cycle focused on what customers need, want, and expect when they choose to interact with a brand

Icon indicating "personalization"Increasing personalization

The sheer volume of customer data now available to brands is allowing them to personalize their messages, offers, and even experiences for customers with different needs

Icon indicating "AI and machine learning"AI, machine learning, deep learning

The increasing sophistication of AI continues to revolutionize almost every aspect of marketing, from search results and ad bidding to customer service

Icon indicating data security and privacyData security and transparency

As online security threats multiply, marketers have become more vigilant about protecting user data, especially as new requirements from the EU go into effect this year

Icon indicating mobile digital marketingMobile. Still.

Mobile’s impact and importance continue to shift, as it’s gone from a separate marketing channel to the central hub of marketing for many channels, industries, and segments.

For a more in-depth explanation of these five phenomena, check out our initial post in this series.