Reading Keywords’ Future In Interactive Marketing

If you think keywords have any place in the next-generation, digital marketing world, you’d be mistaken. If you haven’t taken notice of recent announcements about keyword restrictions, you really should take a minute or two and have a look.shutterstock_120330325-crystalball

Right now, Google is moving away from providing third parties with the depth of data it once did.

With the change, advertisers will be more dependent on Google itself for data. The once laughed off “never gonna happen to search ads” comparison to organic Not Provided is suddenly less funny.

As is often the case, search marketers focus on what’s right in front of them. We devote a great deal of energy to identifying the here and now and not enough time on what has yet to come to pass. And perhaps understanding how we got here is a good place to start.

Keyword Ghosts


Remember the long tail? There was once a time when search advertisers could buy long-tail or very specific (but low-volume) keywords so the targets of one’s search ad affection could be captured at the moment of exact need. It was cheap and effective.

Search sites would prefer advertisers buy the more generic high-volume terms and big-brand-budget generic terms. Competition is heavy on the big, high-volume words and so are the costs. When you can buy highly-targeted ads cheap (bottom funnel, last-click-to-purchase keywords) and less-targeted ads (high-volume keywords) are more expensive, the media buying model is upside down. The targeted stuff should be more expensive. The less-targeted stuff should be cheap.

The days of buying low-volume, highly-targeted keywords are long gone. While advertisers made easy money capturing those cheap, long-tail words, search sites serving low-volume, low-cost keyword ads realized the price-to-value proposition was backwards and effectively cut off the long tail.

Of course, you can still “buy” low-volume terms (which is to say, you can add them to a campaign) but they aren’t likely to see the light of day because terms that don’t meet a designated threshold aren’t served.

While search sites optimized their own revenue from keyword-driven ads,  the industry beckoned them to find new revenue channels and new ways to spend their billions. So search sites bought websites with big audiences — like Google’s acquisition of YouTube so they could sell ads on videos — but advertisers didn’t want to buy those ads from Google. That’s because they didn’t see the high, direct conversions like they did with search ads. Google clearly needed a way to optimize and build revenue around audience targeting.

shutterstock_176095976-auctionEnter Biddable Media

While search-ad buying has largely remained the same in recent years, media buying has changed dramatically. The entire industry has been overcome with SSPs interfacing with DSPs using RTB tactics via the ad exchange to reach an advertiser’s selected TAGs.

Very few truly understand the space yet, but the targeting and effectiveness measurement capabilities are ever expanding. The ad inventory value proposition is in the process of righting itself after years of a significant list.

A social ad in the form of Facebook biddable media has also taken the ad world by storm. Initially, Facebook ads were placed in the search bucket because of the biddable purchase process for the ads, but because they lacked the direct attribution benefits, they were quickly moved into a more brand-engagement-friendly environment.

Facebook serves as a model for bridging the gap between programmatic buying and search’s intent targeting because it has introduced granular audience targeting. Facebook ads have been refined to the point where, if you are buying them correctly, the targeting capability makes long-tail search look antiquated at best.

There is a bold parallel between media buying refinement and the deep audience targeting we see on Facebook. Using ads to communicate with and lead your target audience to buy lends itself to the next evolution of attribution: assigning an ad value to segments of audiences rather than defined interest.

If you think search is headed anywhere but away from defined interest (keywords) to buying ads at the audience level,  the world is about to leave you behind.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying…

… and love the search targeting bomb. Since I might be missing the latest content creation trend by not turning everything I write into a listacle, allow me offer you three things I love about moving away from keyword-dependent marketing:

1. Organic referral(er) data is a look backward and is fuel for gajilliobytes of useless content bait. It’s turned the web into a sea of crap content. It’s the same stuff regurgitated a billion times because that’s what the rear-view mirror sees. “Content is King” is really a euphemism for pandering to the afterthought. Content isn’t king. Content marketing is king; but, marketers have turned to building ad farms with their content bait, and that’s not good for anyone.

2. Marketers and content owners will need to move away from “how I got here” to “why I should go there and what should I do there,” and that’s going to be good for everyone.

3. Online marketers should be celebrating the end of keywords. It’s the first step in a move away from the race to the bottom of the content heap. In the not-so-distant future, we’ll have a much better way to truly understand how people are interacting with information and our ads.

In the paid search world, keywords are a barrier to truly interacting with an audience-level media purchase. For now, ad tags and reports will need to be updated, and we’ll have to adjust on-the-fly landing pages.

And, if history has any lessons to teach us, the big changes will occur in a progression so as not to alarm the advertising populace and allow them to prepare — one little phrase at a time.

 (Stock images via Used under license.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Branding | Channel: Search Marketing | Display Advertising | Display Advertising: Programmatic Media Buying | Search Marketing Column


About The Author: is CEO of Motivity Marketing. Motivity ‘s focus is helping companies in the world of connected marketing move forward with greater impact and return than they may ever have thought possible. Kevin takes an active role in guiding the day-to-day strategic execution of client initiatives.

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  • Ben Jacobson

    I found this article to be spot-on, Kevin! Two question for you, though, to help me wrap my head around the wisdom.

    1. In the keyword-blind future that you envision, how do you see Adwords determining what ads to place on SERPs? I get that user-specific data and networked publication audience data are becoming more prominent over time, but I don’t get how Google can ever replace the search query as the signpost that points most clearly to ad relevance.

    2. You recommend that marketers change perspective and “move away from ‘how I got here’ to ‘why I should go there and what should I do there.’” Can you please elaborate on this point? Are you essentially saying that messaging needs to focus on the benefits to the user instead of trying to resonate with whatever marketers think they know about the user based on referral data? If so, how do you foresee keyword-blind marketers of the future going about optimizing their messaging to be as relevant to context as possible?


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