2016 in review: Insights for search marketers from Bing Ads

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2016 marked another year of staggering growth in search as it continues to infuse our lives with more answers, more intelligence and more meaning. It was a year of voice searches, digitized consumer decision journeys, omnichannel shopping, chatbots and disruptive technologies that jolted us forward.

Below are some of the highlights from Bing Ads as we continue to incorporate user feedback into the platform for success into 2017 and beyond, along with some trends we’ve seen on the most competitive and expensive categories of keywords in 2016.

What was new and noteworthy in 2016

Each year, Bing Ads releases hundreds of feature enhancements and new features. It can be difficult to keep up with all the betas, updates and feature releases, so let me highlight a few releases that I was the most excited about in 2016 that you’ll want to make sure you didn’t miss.

Bing Ads 2016 Feature Release Timeline

Editor for Mac

We heard you! After much input and anticipation, Bing Ads Editor for Mac beta arrived in June to delight users with high speed and ease of use. Users raved about the impact on their work; it saves them hours each day. Just like Bing Ads Editor 11, it included bulk edits, managing multiple accounts at the same time and copy/pasting across multiple accounts.

Bing Shopping Campaigns in Editor

We also heard your feedback that managing Bing Shopping Campaigns directly from the UI is not super-easy. In September, we released Bing Shopping Campaigns integration into Bing Ads Editor, allowing you to efficiently and easily manage shopping campaigns.

Shared Budgets

Users expressed their pain with manually updating individual campaign budgets, which often resulted in underutilized budgets. In October, we delivered Shared Budgets, which automatically distributes a single daily budget across all campaigns or a subgroup of campaigns opted into the shared budget. Users can now enjoy smarter, streamlined budgeting without the hassle of constant juggling and recalculating.

Expanded Text Ads

In an effort to standardize ad formats to work seamlessly across mobile, tablet and desktop devices, we launched an Expanded Text Ads pilot in August. Titles jumped from 25 to 60 characters, while descriptions increased from 71 to 80. This extra space gives users a way to create more compelling calls to action and drive higher conversions.

Broad Match Modifier opportunities

We’ve heard our users express interest in expanding their reach and getting more volume. Broad Match Modifier (BMM) is our exclusive, innovative answer that delivers relevant, high-quality traffic with more precision than broad match alone. It leverages marketplace intelligence to suggest the most optimal BMM keywords for your campaign. Users can find three easy steps on the Opportunities page.

Moments in search

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Looking back at 2016, there were moments that captured the spotlight of the world, including the US election, the summer Olympics and the viral sensation Pokémon Go. Discover some of the trends in search that are highlighted by Bing’s key moments in 2016 that you might have missed.

In paid search, one of the trends we saw in Bing Ads was a shift in the most competitive keyword auctions moving from the legal field to rehabilitation and treatment centers.

I know that keyword CPCs can vary a lot based on position and the different modifiers that advertisers place on the keyword. I analyzed our internal Bing Ads data on bidded keywords that received at least 100 clicks during 2016 to remove the one-off instances and outliers of both incredibly high and low CPCs. For instance, one of the most expensive clicks in 2016 was for “houston texas personal injury lawyer” at $167.78.

Then I categorized the keywords by vertical to see what the most competitive keyword auctions are within Bing Ads and what the average CPC was to get into the top spot.

2016-competitive-cpc-keywords

Here is what I found: The most competitive and expensive CPCs are in lucrative industries like health care, education, insurance, legal and financial services.

These industries tend to evaluate customers by lifetime value, not just the value of the revenue from a single transaction or lead generated. The long-term customer value model makes the higher CPCs worthwhile — for example, an online masters degree can cost between $30,000 and $120,000, depending on the school and the program; a drug rehabilitation program can cost upwards of $10,000 per stay; and the legal profession can have billing rates that reach $250/hour. With this in mind, the average ~$40 CPC doesn’t seem as crazy as if you were a retailer whose average order value ranges between $50 and $100.

The most competitive 100 keywords were also spread across the verticals, with 29 percent being in the Education vertical, 27 percent in the Legal vertical, 17 percent in Financial Services and 16 percent in the Health and Medical verticals. What you can’t see reflected in the charts and the graph is the depth of the tail represented in the keywords across each of the verticals.

For example, in the Education vertical, the queries were spread across many different types of degrees and programs, from accounting to construction management. Many of the queries within the Legal vertical included keywords that included specific cities along with variations of lawyer, lawyers, attorney and attorneys. When we look at the spectrum of queries, we can see that the tail is diversifying and that every day there are new queries that we have never seen before.

So what does this mean if you are an advertiser in one of the higher-CPC verticals? If you want to acquire new customers, search is still a great tool for you to do so. Just make sure that you do your research before you get started so you can refine your search campaigns to reach your target market. In my mind, it also goes back to paid search basics and best practices.

So what are the trends in 2016 that surprised you?

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