What’s happened recently in the realms of paid search and social media? Basis Technologies’ Robert Kurtz (Group VP, Search Media Solutions), Jenny Lewis (Director, Social Media Investment), Sofia Petrovsky (Director, Search Media Investment), and Mitch Wills (Director, Social Media Investment) have compiled all the latest news, trends, and resources for easy access.
Google has officially begun phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome. A new feature called Tracking Protection rolled out in January to roughly 1% of users globally, blocking cookies that track users’ browsing history across websites. While this is a small step toward Google's eventual removal of cookies, it is also a reminder for publishers and marketers to move swiftly toward adopting strategies for cookieless advertising. (Want to look into the cookieless future? Our guide to privacy-friendly advertising can be found here.)
An Adalytics report last December claimed some search ads appearing on the Google Search Partner Network (SPN) may have ended up alongside unsuitable content and on websites that violate Google policies. While advertisers are automatically opted into the SPN, they now have the option to opt out on Search and Shopping ad campaigns. Google is also temporarily allowing brands to opt out of the SPN on artificial intelligence-powered Performance Max (Pmax) and App Campaigns, though sources told AdWeek that could end March 1.
A recent study by Authoritas found that Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE) displays links that are significantly different from the top organic search results for most search queries. The AI-generated summaries rarely overlap with traditional search results, with only 4.5% of links matching exactly. This means SGE is potentially surfacing lesser-known websites that might struggle to reach the top 10 organically while bypassing established top-ranking pages, which could impact organic traffic for some businesses.
The TikTok Marketing Partners Program announced new measurement partners: Cross-Channel (for attribution) and Lift (for incrementality). Cross-Channel partners will analyze the impact of TikTok ads across marketing touchpoints before users make a purchase, including multi-touch attribution and post-purchase survey. Lift partners measure the incremental impact of TikTok advertising, focusing on brand lift, sales lift, store visit lift, and tune-in lift.
TikTok and Ticketmaster are expanding their ticketing partnership into more than 20 new markets following a successful beta launch in the US in 2022. Certified artists on TikTok in participating countries can use an in-app ticketing feature to allow fans to buy tickets to their events directly within the platform. No news yet as to if or when this ticketing feature will be accessible to advertisers, but the successful integration could bode well for future event discovery and in-app purchase options for event-based advertisers on TikTok.
In the run-up to the 2024 elections, Meta has shared some of the steps it says it’s taking toward protecting elections online—not just during election periods, but at all times. In recent years, Meta has developed an approach it claims will ensure the integrity of elections on its platforms, that gives people a voice, helps support participation in the civic process, and combats voter interference and foreign influence.
Pinterest has released its annual trend report, Pinterest Predicts, harnessing the power of Pinterest’s predictive trend data to give consumers and advertisers a head start on what it believes will be the biggest and hottest trends for 2024.
Want a monthly digest of all the best digital marketing articles, POVs, and reports delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Basis Scout newsletter!
What’s new in the realms of paid search and social media? This month, Robert Kurtz, Basis’ Group VP of Search Media Solutions, and Colleen Fielder, Group VP of Social Media Solutions, compiled all the latest news, trends, and resources for easy access.
Thousands of subreddits went private this month as users protested Reddit's decision to eliminate free API access for developers, replacing it with a pay-as-you-go model. The protest has seen more than 8,400 subreddits going dark, including major communities like r/funny and r/gaming. While the initial 48-hour blackout is over, some subreddit communities are considering extending the protest indefinitely in response to the company's dismissive response to user concerns.
Reddit maaaay be in for a fight.
Reddit has introduced new ad options, including Contextual Keyword Targeting, which allows advertisers to associate specific keywords with their brand and reach users engaged in relevant discussions, which expands an advertiser’s reach beyond specific communities. Additionally, Reddit is launching Product Ads, which provide product descriptions, pricing information, and a “Shop Now” call to action, aiming to generate direct shopping activity on the platform.
Google is integrating ads into its conversational generative AI platform, Search Generative Experience (SGE), which allows users to converse with Google about their interests and needs. Google can now insert ads that are tailored to the user's specific interests into these conversations. For example, if a user discusses plans for a vacation, Google could insert an ad for a travel agency. Some privacy advocates have raised concerns about the move, arguing that it could lead to a bombardment of unwanted ads. However, Google says this is the latest step in its ongoing effort to make its advertising more personalized, relevant, and engaging.
Thanks, Google, don’t mind if we do!
Google Marketing Live focused on artificial intelligence, with various announcements around integrating AI into Google Ads. Conversational AI can now be used to create campaigns within Google Ads, while Google Search Generative Experience will integrate search and shopping ads. Google PMax and Google Product Studio introduced AI-generated assets and images for campaigns, and Google Merchant Center Next will replace the current Merchant Center. Additionally, new features include brand restrictions in broad match, AI in Smart Bidding, and two new campaign types: video views and demand generation. These AI-driven updates aim to provide better automation, control, and time-saving benefits for advertisers.
TikTok has introduced Open Applications, an audition-like process that enables brands to find creators with unique stories and connections to their brand and provide more collaboration opportunities. Brands can filter and screen applicants based on criteria such as demographics, follower count, and relevant experience, as well as invite specific creators to apply. Verification of a TikTok Creator Marketplace account is required to use this feature.
If you’re going to audition, make sure you stand out.
Meta is developing various generative AI tools to stay on top of emerging trends and capitalize on major shifts in technology. One is a new AI chat option on Instagram that allows users to ask questions and receive advice from an AI system within any direct message. This feature aligns with Meta’s goal to incorporate generative AI into social apps and serves as a starting point for more advanced AI functions in the future.
Meta recently introduced updates to its Performance 5 best practices during last week's Performance Marketing Summit. The framework includes actionable strategies to enhance ad performance, such as simplifying account structure, utilizing automation tools, differentiating creative by audience, utilizing the Conversion API for improved measurement, and implementing Conversion Lift, A/B testing, and marketing mix modeling. Several companies have already seen positive results from implementing these practices, including increased purchases, improved return on ad spend, and reduced acquisition costs.
Want a monthly digest of all the best digital marketing articles, POVs, and reports delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Basis Scout newsletter!
Here’s a question: Why even read an article about how artificial intelligence will change the landscape of search engine marketing (SEM) when you could just...ask an AI? For example:
Robert Kurtz: In 50 words or less, tell me the most important things about how artificial intelligence is set to change search engine marketing.
ChatGPT: AI will transform search engine marketing by enabling more sophisticated targeting and personalization, improving search relevance and user experience, automating ad creation and optimization, and enhancing data analysis and decision-making capabilities. It will also lead to the emergence of new search paradigms, such as voice and visual search.
Well, there you have it—my work here is done (kidding!).
In all seriousness, ChatGPT isn’t wrong: AI will have those impacts on SEM. What ChatGPT failed to mention, however, is that AI has already changed SEM in many of those ways. In fact, Google has used a machine learning tool called RankBrain to better understand the intent behind search queries since way back in 2015. So while the hype around tools like ChatGPT and Bard can make it seem like artificial intelligence is a brand-new toy, it’s actually impacted the world of search engine marketing for a while now.
To help you understand how AI may shape the future of SEM and what marketers can do now to prepare for those changes, let’s first explore a couple of things you may have not even thought to ask about, but are nevertheless critical to understanding how SEM will evolve—namely, how AI currently plays into the world of search engine marketing.
We can categorize the ways artificial intelligence is used in the SEM ecosystem into three main buckets:
The first, analytical AI, has been around for the longest, and is already well integrated into all the main search engines as well as their ad offerings. Analytical AI can quickly process and generate insights from large amounts of data.
The second, which we’ll call “action-oriented AI,” describes AI processes that automatically take an action, often based on the insights generated by a paired analytical AI process.
Lastly, there’s generative AI, which describes AI tools that can generate text or images in response to a prompt—think ChatGPT, Bard, or DALL-E.
Let’s take a quick look at how advertisers are already using each of these three types of AI in their search engine marketing:
Search engines have been utilizing analytical artificial intelligence to improve their products for years. Google’s RankBrain, for instance, analyzes historical search data to predict what someone is most likely to click on—even if their query is one that RankBrain has yet to encounter. In this way, search engine algorithms are already powered by artificial intelligence programs that save engineers time on manual processes like sifting through tons of data and pulling insights.
Search engine marketers are already using analytical AI as well—say, when leveraging ad offerings like Google’s Maximize conversions tool, which employs machine learning to analyze user behavior and determine which users are most likely to convert based on a given KPI. It’s just one of the many ways AI can analyze and pull insights from large amounts of data, with other examples including:
Assessing all the variables that go into SERP ranking and providing recommendations on how to improve
Pretty neat, huh? Next, let’s take a look at how action-oriented AI can take the insights pulled by analytical AI and use them to carry out different campaign tasks.
Action-oriented AI functions are often paired with analytical AI functions to further automate aspects of the campaign process. Once the analytical AI functions have pulled insights based on data, these action-oriented functions can actually execute on those insights, further saving marketers' time.
Let’s return to Google’s Maximize conversions smart bidding strategy as an example. It identifies the specific users searching the keywords you’re targeting who are most likely to convert based on your KPIs, then automatically throttles the dollar amount you’re willing to bid based on that likelihood. In doing so, the Maximize conversions tool uses both analytical AI (to analyze users’ past behaviors and select users who are most likely to convert based on those behaviors) and action-oriented AI (to throttle money to bid on those users) to maximize advertisers’ dollars and save them time.
Google’s Performance Max campaign type is another good example of how analytical AI and action-based AI can work together to automate campaign processes for advertisers. Performance Max combines a variety of action-based AI functions by leveraging AI-generated analytical insights, including ad personalization and the optimization and automation of bids. It also helps advertisers running campaigns on Google Search discover (and target ads to) additional prospective customers who are likely to convert across complementary Google-owned channels like YouTube, display, search, Gmail, and Maps.
Now, on to the AI category of the moment: generative AI! The cutting-edge consumer-facing AI technology can generate media—such as copy, images, videos, and even music—in response to user prompts. Headline-grabbing tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and DALL-E 2, Google’s Bard, and Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion (among many, many others) have already won over millions of users and helped spark a flurry of interest in the tech. Of course, if you haven’t already been playing around with any of these tools, you may still be familiar with the concept of deepfakes, i.e. fake images or videos of real people that are created with generative AI (this fake Tom Cruise TikTok account is a good, if somewhat off-putting, example).
Search engine marketers can use generative AI in a variety of ways, and like analytical and action-oriented AI systems, it can help automate time-consuming tasks. Chatbots like ChatGPT can be leveraged to perform keyword discovery and research, write ad headlines that include target keywords and comply with character limits, or help generate SEO-optimized content—from meta descriptions, to headings, to entire blog post drafts. And, since this type of AI is also the newest to emerge, SEM marketers are still discovering all the ways they can use it in real time.
One thing that’s important to note with generative AI systems is that, unlike many analytical and action-oriented AI tools, they aren’t yet at the level of “set it and forget it”. For example, according to OpenAI, ChatGPT “has limited knowledge of world and events after 2021 and may also occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content.” And there are additional weaknesses to consider: Sure, chatbots can create blog posts that are optimized for the keywords you want to prioritize, but they can’t match the quality or accuracy of human-produced content. Content that's valuable and enjoyable for humans to consume is marked by characteristics like unique POVs, expertise based on lived experience, and relatable humor. Generative AI isn’t able to create content with these qualities (or, at least, not yet).
Now that we’ve covered the three main types of AI and how they’re currently used in search engine marketing, I’m willing to bet you already have some ideas around how AI will shape the future of SEM. While it’s impossible to predict exactly how these forms of AI will change the search marketing landscape, here’s what seems likely:
In general, all three buckets of AI systems will continue to improve upon what they’re currently capable of. For example, analytical AI tools should eventually be able to analyze entire websites and generate SEO strategies to improve SERP rankings, which could then be completed by action-based AI tools. And generative AI is expected to get more accurate and better at mimicking human-generated content. At the same time, search engines themselves will evolve: It's entirely possible (if not outright likely) that, in a few years, chatbot-driven search engines like Microsoft’s new Bing could be the norm.
So, how can paid search marketers set themselves up for success in a future shaped by artificial intelligence? Here are some top tips:
Perhaps the most important thing search engine marketers can do is stay as informed as possible on the latest developments in AI. Read the trade pubs, subscribe to a newsletter or two, and discuss the topic with your coworkers and network.
In particular, educate yourself about the potential challenges and pitfalls posed by artificial intelligence. Generative AI in particular comes with several significant concerns. AI chatbot-generated hallucinations, for example, can create disinformation that can be difficult for content moderation tools to spot and consequently presents a threat to brand safety. In fact, Gartner has predicted that by 2027, 80% of marketers will have (and need) dedicated “content authenticity teams” to combat AI-generated misinformation. There are also many unanswered questions related to copyright infringement—from the legality of chatbots being trained on unlicensed content to who owns AI-generated media, with the US Copyright Office ruling in 2023 that works containing materials created by AI cannot be copyrighted.
That bring us to our next recommendation: Keep an eye on how the regulatory landscape develops. While we can’t predict how governments will legislate the use of these technologies, it’s all but certain that they will eventually take regulatory action, and staying abreast of those developments will be critical.
Finally, marketers should jump at any chance to test and learn about new AI technologies. Working with a partner who has a Google Premiere partnership will be particularly helpful here, as you’ll be able to get in on the ground floor with any new AI-driven search capabilities they develop.
Next, businesses should develop a data-driven culture. As AI technology develops, more and more data-related insights will become available, and businesses will need the infrastructure and the know-how to use those insights effectively.
Data-driven cultures value and use data to make decisions, investing time, energy, and money into employees, processes, and tools that help them to do so effectively. This could mean levelling up your processes relating to data quality and consolidation, performing an audit of all the different sources from which you collect data (social media, website analytics, customer surveys, etc.) and expanding upon that list, or investing in a CDP to better capitalize on first-party data. By investing in AI-powered tools, your data-facing teams will be able to generate new insights, improve accuracy, and automate tasks. Additionally, because they’ll be using AI technology in that area of the business, they’ll likely grow increasingly comfortable with these kinds of tools, which will make it easier for your organization to leverage new AI opportunities as they develop.
Businesses should also pay attention to AI-related skills when hiring new team members and upskilling current team members. For instance, you may want to hire more data scientists, or provide your employees free learning opportunities focused on using AI to improve SEM campaigns. Again, the more you invest in your team’s AI abilities now, the quicker they’ll be able to adapt as new technological developments come down the line.
A common question among search engine marketers today is, “How will SEO evolve as search engines move to chatbot-driven models?” With Bing having already released a chatbot-based search offering and Google racing to catch up, it’s clear that the way people search—and the way marketers are able to connect with those searchers—is on the brink of changing. Whatever the outputs of these new search engines end up looking like, marketers must ensure they can capitalize on coinciding advertising opportunities.
Part of the work here will be keeping abreast of any new ad products that come to market and subsequently testing and learning those as much as possible. Another hot tip: Optimize for Google’s quick answers. My guess is that, if Google was a chatbot, it would likely pull content from the same places it’s pulling those answers, so from an early adopter standpoint, this is a great area for SEM marketers to focus on.
While there’s no predicting exactly how artificial intelligence will shape the future of SEM, there are a few things we know for sure:
Analytical AI, action-oriented AI, and generative AI will continue to develop and grow more sophisticated, impacting search engines themselves as well as the ways marketers can advertise via paid search.
Businesses can brace for these changes by staying up to date on AI news, developing data-driven cultures, and planning for chatbot-driven search engines.
In addition to investing in AI-driven tools and technologies to adapt to this wave of change, businesses also need employees with expertise on how to best leverage those tools and technologies effectively.
Keep all that in mind, and you’ll be well-prepared to meet the changes coming to paid search.
Advanced digital media platforms like Basis rely upon artificial intelligence to help streamline the entire campaign process. Basis Technologies’ media strategy and activation teams are well-acquainted with these cutting-edge AI tools and can help any business make the most of current AI opportunities in SEM and stay informed on the latest developments.
Want to learn more about how our experts can help? Get in touch and let’s chat.