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AI and search advertising: What are the opportunities and myths?

IAB UK

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November 20, 2023 | 5 min read

While artificial intelligence has long been used to optimize search ads, it’s clear that we’re entering a new era of capabilities

The advent of generative AI is a game changer - but what are the possibilities for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns today? And what are the common myths that we need to watch out for? IAB UK members including Microsoft Advertising, EssenceMediacom, PHD, MG OMD and Skai share their views.

AI as an essential copilot in everyday work

Ryan Covel (senior client solutions manager, Microsoft Advertising): “Generative AI is reinventing search, and using generative AI as advertisers provides us with options. It can create new and purposeful value, allowing advertisers to improve storytelling, connection, and engagement with consumers. I work with advertisers who use generative AI tools to create ad copy, conduct keyword research, provide visual ideas for image-based campaigns, and also use its automation capabilities to analyze campaign data and optimize decisions. With the rapid changes to the PPC landscape, these tools will become an essential copilot in our everyday work. They will enhance our strengths, and provide additional support for our weaknesses.”

Human critical thinking remains essential

Diana Saranova (global head of search, EssenceMediacom): “A common concern is whether AI will replace search teams. While AI is revolutionizing addressable media with targeted reach and improved business outcomes, it's important to remember that AI operates based on the data we provide. The critical thinking, experiences, and contextual understanding that humans bring to the table are central to this process. Generative AI can boost human productivity by automating certain tasks, but it's not poised to replace human teams in the near future. The human element remains crucial in overseeing, interpreting, and strategizing based on the insights AI provides.”

We can scale optimizations faster than ever

Shiblu Ahmed (head of biddable, PHD UK): “The power of AI has set the foundations of what modern search looks like, driving the biggest changes in PPC campaigns in the last decade. AI allows us to scale our search optimizations faster and more efficiently than ever before. Through the utilization of Smart Bidding, Broad Match and Responsive Search Ads we are able to leverage billions of combinations of signals to set the right bid, delivering the best message for every search query. As a result, we are already seeing 169% growth in new leads at a 51% lower Cost Per Lead (CPL) for one of our clients.”

Anticipating future user behavior

Michelle Urwin (VP, marketing, Skai): “In PPC advertising, AI has the potential to be a game-changer. Using natural language processing it might refine keywords and ad copy, increasing relevance. AI can also adjust keyword bids dynamically, optimizing budgets and improving audience targeting. Machine learning could anticipate future user behavior, offering valuable campaign insights. Furthermore, AI could give a competitive edge by analyzing rivals' strategies. Overall, incorporating AI into PPC campaigns could offer substantial benefits, potentially boosting ROI and competitive positioning.”

Oversight and direction is indispensable

Jimisha Thakrar (head of organic performance, MG OMD): “Generative AI has so many benefits for search. Whilst it can be used to streamline parts of the process which allow more time for creativity. The most common myth I’m seeing in the space at the moment has to be around Generative AI eliminating the need for humans. This is not the case. While AI can automate certain tasks, it doesn't replace human expertise, especially in creative fields like content creation or strategic decision-making involving your website. Humans remain indispensable for oversight, maintaining quality standards, and providing the crucial direction needed for innovative endeavors.”

Don’t think of AI as a large database

Francesco Curatolo (head of paid search, Havas Media): “A common myth is thinking generative AI tools are large databases - as popular AI tools like ChatGPT have been used to provide informative content in response to a prompt, users often associate them with search engines or library databases. However, generative AI tools are powered by artificial neural networks, which were originally designed to model the biological neural networks in our brains. As such, they do not perform searches over a massive database, but rather interpret prompts through billions of interconnected neurons to analyse the meaning and context and eventually produce an output, just as a brain would do.”

Delivering creativity in new ways

Melanie Meikle, (paid search director, Merkle Media): “Whilst the full potential is still to be seen, Generative AI Image creation such as in Google Ads will help many of us to deliver on creativity in new ways. This could be particularly useful for advertisers where lack of creative capability or resource has limited their ability to update creative assets in the past, say for Pmax or Display campaigns. I’m interested to see more of this come to fruition!”

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