'Google is streets ahead but keeping measurement as a black box prevents the trust of advertisers'

Ahead of the deadline for entries the 2016 The Drum Search Awards, judging panel member Simon Vaughn, a PPC manager at Direct Line Insurance Group, shares his thoughts on the key issues facing the industry.

The Drum: Paid search shows signs of slowing growth (down from 12 per cent year-on-year in Q4, 2014 to 3 per cent a year later). What in your opinion is behind this trend?

SV: Paid search is now a mature channel and firmly in companies media plans so I’d expect the growth to slow. The auction mechanism means that over time advertisers find a level that is profitable for them and the competition stagnates as it matures. The search engines will prevent this by changing the landscape to shake things up.

The Drum: The growth is display advertising is often cited as one of the driving causes in the downturn in paid search. Given that Google is the clear market leader in search advertising how do you see it reacting as a result, and what are the wider implications for the industry?

SV: I think that with the advent of programmatic, display advertising is getting easier & cheaper to buy and makes it more accessible to everyone, but I also believe advertisers are absorbing more wastage in their campaigns because of this. When advertisers start to look at highly targeted advertising through display and measuring true profitability we will see budgets being reduced. Google being the market leader knows that search performance is secure and will look to capitalise on the display opportunity.

The Drum: However, despite the growth in display, compared to search budgets, many cite the increased ‘intention data’, or signals, of search as more valuable. How would you cite this seeming anomaly, or would you argue increased data sets, etc, are more valuable now?

SV: There is great potential in display by leveraging data, especially first party data but search is one of the few channels where customers are actively seeing a product and are at self declaring that they are in-market.

The Drum: Adobe claims 38 per cent of paid search is now mobile (in terms of where it is spent). How do you think brands should respond to this?

SV: Mobile is still a difficult question, the landscape and mechanic aren’t any different from desktop but allocating value to those visits is increasingly difficult with multi screening. There needs to be a step up in technology for a unique user view, rather than a unique browser view. Google is streets ahead but keeping measurement as a black box prevents the trust of advertisers.

The Drum: The launch of the Google-led Accelerate Mobile Pages (AMP) is arguably the most critical development in the web over the last few months, as many cite this as its rear guard action over the move towards a more ‘closed internet’ app-based ecosystem. Would you necessarily agree? And what are some of your thoughts on how this trend will affect both media owners, and advertisers going forward?

SV: Speeding up the mobile web can only be a good thing, it’s also a clever move for Google to be integrated into the ecosystem. This is just one in a long list of steps Google has taken to weave itself into the web. GA is an obvious callout in this and as publishers become more reliant on Google there is less incentive to ever switch. This gives Google an unadulterated view of people’s behaviours across the web and not just on their properties. The benefit of this is more highly targeted advertising.

The Drum: Additionally, Google’s normal search function will integrate AMP from February 2016. What will the likely implication for media owners be, given that Google has said that “AMP pages may get a ranking boost and perhaps a ‘fast’ label designation”. What is your initial reaction to this?

SV: As I previously mentioned, Google makes it easy for companies to use their free tools at the cost of sharing data.

The Drum: And if this does this mean that AMP pages get a search ranking boost from Google – there is also speculation that such pages could also be given a “fast” label on Google’s search results. How would you advise media owners?

SV: Most Google users won’t care about a “fast” label as content will still be king. However this is Google’s game and people need to play by their rules to stay in it.

The Drum Search Awards in partnership with Google and Bing are accepting entries until the deadline on 4 March. Enter at thedrumsearchawards.com or for further information contact Katy.Thomson@thedrum.com