Paid search won’t last forever. And even though it’s the backbone of my own business, I can honestly say I’m glad. That’s because, as with any tech-driven industry, it means something even better will have replaced it. So how long will paid search survive? And what will drive its eventual redundancy?
The near future
The near future is all about automation. To get remarkable results in paid search, or any biddable media channel, automation is essential.
At Brainlabs, tech has allowed our account managers to automate approximately 75% of the manual elements of their role, like dealing with search query reports, setting up and monitoring tests, building campaigns and syncing Google with Bing. They spend their time on more sophisticated tasks like cross-channel strategy, stakeholder reporting, new-market analysis and complex competitor strategies.
Over time, even 75% won’t be enough. Soon it will have to be much closer to 100% in order to remain competitive.
The medium-term future
Anyone who works in the marketing industry will probably be a bit unimpressed by the mention of this technology by now. But machine learning will, eventually, change the game for paid search.
One day, machine will be able to make better decisions than humans about bidding, targeting, and even ad copy. A lot of this hinges on the progress of deep learning, a type of machine learning which imitates the way the human brain learns by creating neural networks. If an AI were to be developed that could use deep learning to process data in such a way as to identify patterns in consumer behavior, and over time, learn from previous experiences to develop something akin to industry know-how – that would be a huge deal.
A little further down the line, there may be AI that can outperform humans in running a PPC account. There have already been attempts, like ‘Albert’, that got a fair amount of press this year as the first fully automated media buyer. And IBM’s Watson Advertising, which automates media buying as well as a number of other marketing services.
But it will be a long time before an AI can consistently outperform a media agency.
The long-term future
One day there’ll be no more paid search in its current form, because there’ll be no more searching. As artificial intelligence develops, why wouldn’t the way people navigate the internet evolve? Digital assistants will one day be able to handle the majority of queries. For browsing activity that requires a screen, the route there will be via a voice query rather than a keyword and we should get the right answer first time instead of clicking on multiple ads.
The AI behind Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant is not there yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The launch of Google Home and Amazon Alexa, likewise, seems anticlimactic in the context of a future in which AI will probably drive the most startling progress in human history. But they are just the forerunners to a much greater development in consumer technology, in which every home device is part of an integrated network.
Wearable technology, virtual reality, nanotechnology, human-computer integration – these are all technologies that are in their infancy at the moment, but, once mature, will fundamentally change the way people interact with the world. And, most probably, make search engines seem incredibly old-fashioned as a means of finding information.
What, then, are Google, and media agencies like my own, and all the companies who rely on paid search to do? The same as always: keep on playing the cards that are dealt, and be ready to adapt when it’s needed.
Brainlabs is in its seventh year now. Every year since I founded it there has been speculation about the decline of paid search, the death of the keyword and the rise of voice search, but instead PPC has kept on growing.
For anyone working in this incredibly fast-paced industry, there is a lesson we can take away from the incredible growth of paid search. To have any future, you need to be able to continually adapt, and relentlessly innovate.
Daniel Gilbert, chief executive officer, Brainlabs
Tel: 0203 790 7427