Methbot, fake news and five other reasons SEM/SEO interest will surge

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Based on what I’ve seen across my diverse set of clients, and talking to others in the industry, I’m predicting 2017 will be another great year for paid search. One of the reasons is a bit unusual: a flight to quality online media driven in part by “fake news,” “Methbot” and advertisers’ realization that they prefer not to have their advertising associated with those sites, don’t want their advertising positioned with that content, and in some cases have ethical concerns about supporting the publishers.

So, let’s look a bit further into this flight to quality. I’ve spoken to a number of advertisers who are concerned about being associated with, or seen as supporting, fake news sites with their display media buys. To some extent, the explosion of fake news has created a flight to quality within not only display advertising, but across the overall digital budget.

Meanwhile, Facebook has eroded the perception of data accuracy for any of its reporting. This may have a chilling effect on Facebook spend growth. (Although most direct response advertisers rely more on their post-impression and post-click metrics than they do the suspect data coming out of the FB interface. Brand advertisers may be more sensitive to the measurement issues and push for third-party measurement or perhaps for MRC certification/audit. Therefore, I think any deceleration in ad spend growth at Facebook is probably temporary.)

That’s great news for paid search — because when we think about trustworthy sites and publishers, where the context of the page won’t reflect poorly on the advertiser, there’s nothing better than SEM. I’ve even spoken to advertisers who proactively raised SEM budgets while cutting back on display surgically (with an eye to low-quality and fake news sites).

Therefore, while SEM and SEO have been around for a long time, and at this point it’s hard to imagine a surge of interest in SEM and SEO, I believe that the flight to quality is just one of a variety of factors that have aligned to renew interest in search marketing in 2017 and beyond.

Let’s look at the additional interest acceleration factors I’ve identified.

  1. Better bot filtering and more humans. Despite the challenges that Google has had fighting bots, particularly within the Google Display Network, the lion’s share of search traffic against which Google sells advertising originates from Google itself. That gives Google much more control over identification of bots or other suspicious search activity. Just recently within the digital video and display sector, White Ops discovered a Russian bot farm defrauding advertisers of billions.
  2. Mobile search growth continues to rise domestically and internationally. Further growth may come from consumer satisfaction with voice search results (displaying a SERP). At some point, Google is probably going to roll out some kind of audio ad that consumers can select within voice search and as part of the call extensions/click-to-call functionality.
  3. Mid-sized marketers have finally gotten their mobile-friendly websites relaunched and are ready to spend. Sure, the top sites went adaptive/responsive, and perhaps even implemented AMP within a short time frame. But there are thousands of sites that are only recently adaptive and responsive, and those marketers can’t afford to ignore the mobile searcher.
  4. Increasing use of engaging ad formats. PLA ads for retailers are just the beginning, and the level of customizability with PLA extensions keeps escalating. Local inventory availability will further drive investment into PLAs, and I fully expect there to be some new ad unit announcements by Google within the next eight months. But that’s a guess and a prediction based purely on prior behavior and the changing landscape.
  5. Search covers the bottom and top of the marketing funnel (if you still believe in funnels). Even though the classic marketing funnel has leaks, it’s clear that not everyone is in the “ready to buy” mode — even when they have engaged in search behavior, which is a great barometer of intent. Each keyword has its own success metrics, easily observable — as well as a halo effect on your overall campaign — as those who did not buy or engage with you based on your primary marketing objective.
  6. Better retargeting within the digital marketing channel. Search is a great way to build an audience, and that audience, when retargeted, exhibits great eventual conversion metrics in nearly every case. So, retargeting adds value to the original search click, justifying increased spend on search as well as retargeting.

There are probably more factors that will occur to me after this article publishes, so please share your own opinions on which other factors (or which of the ones I’ve listed) will have the greatest impact via social media.

Will search be the beneficiary of all the bad news out of the rest of the digital ad sector? I think so. What do you think?

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