22nd August 2023

Getting the most from search in an AI driven world

Written by John-James Harrisson, Business Director

Search is one of the most effective and efficient forms of advertising. For years brands have maximized their performance in search through precision with keywords and staying in control of the process.

But search has changed dramatically since the early days and brands now need to think and act differently to drive best results.

Google Ads has traditionally worked best when your ad matches exactly what a person is looking for. This has meant covering a wide range of keywords and, ideally, having a unique ad for each. Single keyword ad groups – SKAGs – has been the smart way to achieve this.

But things have moved on since SKAGs were introduced. Driven by technology and a desire to open up inventory, Google has made continual changes to keyword match types. Targeting has become looser and broader as Google seeks to get advertisers to use its full ecosystem.

We are now seeing a big push towards "keywordless" search. Google started talking publicly about ‘keywordless AI’ this year. Its focus is increasingly about driving volume through AI search. This means feeding the algorithm with the right data.

The focus on volume and AI-driven search came in part from Google’s success with Smart Shopping, which led to the launch of Performance Max in 2021. Performance Max complements keyword-based search campaigns, targeting audiences to find more users across Google’s different platforms. But it operates as a ‘black box’ - you don’t receive all the data that could be used to optimize campaigns.

All of these changes mean that advertisers need to adopt an increasingly different approach to get the best results from search. Here are some of the key ways to do this.

Embrace modern search, it's here to stay

Modern search leverages machine learning, so the correct signals and setup needs to be in place to enable it to learn. Smart bidding must be used so you are bidding on all the data signals Google sees, not just those in the platform. Ensure that website and customer audiences are in place so you’re optimizing towards the correct data. That is the closest conversion to your client's business goal with data-driven attribution setup. 

For a global car manufacturer, Mindshare created a single consistent account structure in line with modern search principles. Broad and exact match was implemented with smart bidding on search management platform SA360, and optimisations were geared to maximising conversions at the lowest possible CPA.

AI requires you to think longer term

Transition over time, test campaigns and business units before moving all activity over to PMax. Machine learning takes time - often several weeks - and is designed for long term view not for daily changes.

The importance of scripts & API links

Scripts & API links have long offered increased data or more flexibility in the presentation of data than the Google Ads platform, and PMax campaigns are no exception with existing scripts already out that show delivery by placement, which is currently unavailable in the UI. Work with your agency to have these tailored to tell you the insights you need and keep on top of new scripts as they become available.

Play to the strengths of Performance Max

PMax campaigns are based on your conversion goals, so it’s crucial to select the right one. Link third-party data  as this allows Google Ads to reach better audiences. Focus on your assets - images, logos, videos, headlines - as these are crucial in PMax.

Embrace the changing ways people are searching

People no longer search for a product or service together with their location or ‘near me’. They simply search for what they want and expect Google’s algorithm to do the rest. You can use PMax effectively to capitalize on these changing behaviors.

Use the principles of SKAG in modern search

Start using ‘intent-based ad groups’ or ‘single intent ad groups,’ which use the SKAG approach, but without keywords. Similarly, you can use ‘single themed ad groups’.

You can still exercise control

Use the tools that are in place to get as much control as possible, some are in-platform - eg negative keywords and account level exclusions - some require you to work with your Google representative – eg brand exclusions.

Mindshare created an AI tool to help ensure human safety online. The Impact Index analytics tools can help evaluate the social impact of editorial content on minority communities, affording brands greater control over their advertising environments. 

Keep improving the signals you use in bidding. There are multiple targeting options available from website audiences and demographics to location and device, but how performance is measured for each of these targets is equally important. Value-based bidding (VBB) is weighting the conversions you feed into the value it drives for your business. With the right attribution work fed in, you can rank all the major milestones on a consumer journey. 

For India’s leading fashion destination Lifestyle, Mindshare implemented VBB, which resulted in: greater reach to a more intent-based conversion audience; higher sales at a lower CPT; transaction increase by 56% (when optimized by CPC); and a revenue increase of 125% (compared to the control group).

Ensure Google Ads works for you

Continue working with your agency and Google representative to improve the Google Ads offering, it's a constantly evolving platform and feedback from users is a key component of those changes.

With the introduction of AI, Google’s shift to driving volume, and the new focus on a ‘keywordless’ approach, search now looks very different from the early days of keyword precision. But search can still be a highly effective and efficient way to deliver conversions for advertisers prepared to embrace modern approaches and to work with their agency to get the most out of Performance Max. 

Mindshare Global
    Mindshare Global