Recently, we’ve seen some fairly significant changes on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Right-rail ads have disappeared, and on mobile, we’re seeing more prominent placement of Google Shopping ad units.
In this article, I’ll cover some upcoming trends in paid search and speculate on where the trends will lead. Though I refer mostly to Google, these predictions apply largely to all the major search engines.
The only absolute certainty is that there will be more changes in the paid search landscape!
1. More “shopping” ad units
Google Shopping has been very successful for Google, and retailers’ share of clicks from Google Shopping ads (aka PLAs or Product Listing Ads) continues to grow. In fact, according to data from Merkle, “Across all devices, PLAs overall accounted for 38 percent of retailers’ Google search ad clicks in Q4 , up from 30 percent a year earlier.”
PLA growth stemmed from a couple of very recent changes, the first of which was better visibility of Google Shopping results on mobile devices (especially for local companies). Below is an example of how much space the ad units now occupy in mobile search results.
Recent growth may also stem from Google’s AdSense for Shopping program, which allows retailers to display ads on third-party sites. Most notably, the addition of new search partners like Target and Kohl’s seems to have given PLAs a boost.
The growth of Google Shopping will certainly continue to be a trend moving forward.
Here are some additional ways we could see this play out:
Bigger/badder Google Shopping results
Google Shopping results could get bigger (especially on desktop computers), or we could see them repeated in other places on the SERPs. Folks have already reported seeing Google Shopping ads in image search. This is obviously one of many ways Google may choose to further monetize page content.
Local paid search product
I wouldn’t be surprised to see “local” become a paid product a la Google Shopping (Remember when Google Shopping was free?).
Recently, Google has made some changes to their local results with Local Business Cards, and the carousel looks eerily similar to Google Shopping.
I believe Local Inventory Ads (LIA) are Google’s first kick at this can. LIA ads (shown in the example below) highlight how far the nearest store is to you and show specific store inventory.
The monetization of local could certainly convert into significant revenues for Google (or the other search engines).
Paid messenger ads
As chatting and instant messaging become more popular (and ultimately another marketing channel), we could easily see shopping results introduced into our chat conversations. Facebook may already be thinking of this with what those in the industry are referring to as the “Messenger Bot Store.”
Google is working on a new chat service, as well. It will reportedly allow users to not only message friends, but also to perform searches. Users could text a question, and a chatbot would respond to the question in the same conversation thread.
This is obviously designed to keep people using Google search, and it’s possible that Google hopes to be able to monetize it in some way, shape or form.
2. Voice search & natural language
Another huge theme is natural language search. Today, we’re mostly in touch with digital personal assistants like Cortana, Siri, Google Now and Alexa (for Amazon Echo).
At a recent influencer event in Bellevue, Microsoft talked about the seamless integration of search/digital assistants into Microsoft Office, as well as into our everyday workflow/tasks.
The search engines are working hard on understanding behaviors in different contexts. It will be particularly interesting to see how Google monetizes this, as it could move people away from actually “searching” on devices like mobile phones and desktop computers.
Here’s an example of what Cortana, location targeting and e-commerce could do once the e-commerce bit is rolled in (though this is still a way off):
Cortana notices that traffic is delayed on your way home, so it suggests stopping by a sporting goods store (en route) to pick up runners that recently went on sale. The “pick up runner” to-do item is stored on your phone and/or computer, has been recently searched for, or you’ve previously bought the same (or similar) runners.
This type of advertising will pull data from a lot of different sources (past purchases, personal preferences, search queries and so on) but will mostly be mobile and very personalized.
It’s a particularly hard puzzle to solve because the various pieces of information must be considered in real time. No one in the space has really pulled ahead in this area.
3. Expanded app advertising
There is quite a bit of chatter these days (both online and at conferences) about app indexing and deep links for search engine rankings. With app indexing, users are able to see and engage with app content in search results, even if the app isn’t installed on their mobile device.
The line between app experiences and desktop experience is getting blurrier. If this ends up becoming relatively seamless, I can see Google (and other engines) attempting to place advertising around deeper app content.
Currently, universal app campaign advertising is very limited, and advertisers can basically only encourage people to download a specific app on search, display and YouTube. With this, I assume we’d be able to advertise in apps just as easily as we do on the content network.
Naturally, the same logic could be applied to other platforms, websites, devices, marketing channels and so on.
The above are just a few of my predictions for the future of paid search. What trends do you see happening in paid search, and where do you think they might lead?