The Future of SEM and Programmatic Advertising

Posted on May 18, 2020 by Nuno Andrade

According to research [Statista, Oct 2019], ad revenues for Google will go over $55 billion in 2020. That’s billion with a “b” and “55” as in a lot of ad dollars. If you stacked $55 billion in twenty dollar bills, you know how high your stack would reach? 186 miles. That’s quite a stack.

Where are all those ad dollars going? How does Search Engine Marketing factor into your overall marketing strategy? Are there any lessons to learn from the past in regards to advertising spends in digital?

We sat down with Professor Tim Penning, Ph.D., Advertising and Public Relations Major Coordinator at Grand Valley State University to discuss the future of Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization.

Media Culture: What about advertising today is the same as it was 100 years ago, or 50 or 20 years ago? If anything?

Professor Penning: What works, what appeals to the consumer, it’s always been the same. It’s a benefit, or a comfort, an emotion or an experience that they desire. Your product or service needs to satisfy that need. That won’t change. What is changing is the path to get there. Every few years I read a new study that claims that “advertising is dead.” I ignore it, because it will never be.

Advertisers today have to be more sophisticated than they ever have been, but the need for advertising has never been greater.

MC: What are some of the most important SEM tools for advertising today?

Professor Penning: The rise of programmatic advertising is so important, it’s a game-changer. Advertisers can now deliver ads to the people they most want to reach where those people are and when they are online. It’s a powerful tool, but it can’t just be managed through Google. Advertisers need to invest in a dashboard that manages all of their programmatic campaigns, so their efficiencies are on point.

I’ve consulted with our marketing department, and I was most struck by how quickly systems can be obsolete. If you’re running an ad campaign that was devised a year ago, it’s lagging. You need to update it every six months, maybe every quarter. The planning phase is probably more important than the implementation phase.

MC: Is the website still a viable property for advertisers and where do they need to advertise to drive traffic?

Professor Penning: We are seeing an increase in zero click-throughs, meaning more people are landing on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and not leaving that page. For example, a user searches for a restaurant review and gets the ratings on the Google results. Or, a Rich Result is answering the user query, such as “How large of a gas tank does my car have?” And so on.

As we see that increase, websites will need to optimize for Rich Results and Featured Snippets and expand their content to answer important questions related to their core business. SEM will be the best way, in my view, to attract that audience, but the focus needs to first be on firming up the website as your property to nurture.

MC: What can be done to “save” the website?

Professor Penning: Well, it’s incumbent on marketers to populate their website with information that Google can’t pull to the surface and list on a featured snippet. So, you’ll need to focus on content and content marketing, that’s going to be so important. People want the content, and if it’s important or interesting enough, they will click through to a website.

MC: Are there any concerns that Google won’t match user needs for search and discovery?

Professor Penning: It’s important not to overlook Amazon. In the last year, Amazon has gained a significant market share of advertising dollars in the SEM space. As Amazon continues to ramp up its e-commerce efforts and creates partnerships with large retailers, more search traffic will migrate to them.

MC: Is mobile and programmatic advertising changing the consumer expectation for advertising?

Professor Penning: Yes it is, and it’s interesting to see how consumers are really driving the changes in advertising like they never have before. In the “Mad Men” days, advertising was slick and manipulative, and it evolved into a form of art that demanded attention. It was the bully in the room. Today, consumers are the dominant figure in the relationship.

We see now that consumers are nearly blind to banners and any content that appears to look like an ad. Due to this, advertisers and content managers will need to understand human behavior as it exists online, and that increasingly means people are standing somewhere with devices in their hands. It’s a small screen, but a big opportunity.

When consumers are searching online they are driven by “selective attention.” That means they only focus on that stimuli that is related to their goals. We can’t pay attention to everything, because our brains can’t possibly take it all in. So, we have become (and this has happened rather quickly over the last decade) experts at brushing aside unwanted stimuli. We’re left with what we comprehend as being useful to achieve our goals. Whether that is to find a map, locate someone, or watch a video.

MC: How can advertisers penetrate the selective attention of consumers?

Professor Penning: Your message has to breathe in the space where the consumer is, and it has to be customized to that experience. Not personalized, but customized.

The difference between personalization and customization is crucial. Users are tuning out personalized advertising. “Hey Dan, you can save on college tuition!” That message is being ignored, it doesn’t mean anything. But customization, like through programmatic advertising campaigns, they are tailored for that individual’s habits. When that happens, it doesn’t even feel like advertising.

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