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In 2021, There are Ten Main PPC Trends to Keep an Eye on

In 2021, what will be the major trends in PPC marketing and paying social? According to 32 top experts and Prism Digital Marketing, a PPC Marketing Company, there are ten patterns you should be aware of.

PPC marketing is fairly volatile in a typical year.

However, 2020 was not a typical year.

Nobody could have expected last year that we’d be grappling with the effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic well into 2020.

Rather, our PPC experts were discussing topics such as automation, audience targeting, and privacy.

Hopefully, 2021 won’t throw too many curveballs at all of you who use PPC and paid social ads.

So, what are the most important PPC patterns for 2021?

According to 32 experts, here are the top 10 PPC developments to watch in 2021, ranging from paid search to paid social to remarketing and beyond.

  • Bye-bye, Data.

According to Julie F. Bacchini, President & Founder, Neptune Moon, data obfuscation will be a continuing trend in 2021.

“Between Google Ads limiting access to search query data to the coming obliteration of tracking cookies as we know it, digital marketers are going to have to adapt in a pretty major way again in 2021,” Bacchini said. “The bottom line for 2021: be ready to be flexible.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Amy Hebdon, Founder of Paid Search Magic.

“It’s been a slow burn for years, but this is Google Ads’ worst year on record for shifting away from transparency and limiting the data we have to make the best decisions for our accounts,” Hebdon said. “Barring any regulatory interference, we can expect Google to continue on this path indefinitely as it maximizes its own revenue and earnings.”

Google, according to Brad Geddes, Co-Founder of AdAlysis, will continue to hide data as it shifts its focus to machine learning.

“I expect that trend to continue where Google forces advertisers to rely more on Google’s machine learning and data than on their own expertise,” Geddes said. “While this trend may help the small advertiser, Google will continue to hurt the larger and more sophisticated advertisers with these changes.”

So, how can PPC marketers thrive in this situation?

“Imperfect data is no one’s favorite, but wise marketers will need to use incomplete data to see the signal from the noise,” said Mark Irvine, Director of Paid Media, SearchLab. “Rather than focus on the loss, wise marketers will still need to see what’s working best with the 80% of information they have and learn how to guide their campaigns to target more of that audience.”

That, according to Irvine, means:

  • With responsive ad assets, you can write more “positive” ads than “poor” ads.
  • Examining search query patterns rather than individual search words.
  • Rather than managing bidding directly, you’ll be guiding automated bidding.

It also means doing more for less, according to Michelle Morgan, Director of Client Services at Clix Marketing.

“Companies are going to rely on PPC to drive larger portions of their revenue, while at the same time the channels are taking away functionality and data transparency,” Morgan said. “So we literally need to have a bigger impact for our clients with less control and insights into performance.”

The decline of hyper-specific user-level targeting, according to Ben Wood, Strategy Director at Hallam, would force more marketers to return to contextual targeting approaches, emphasizing the value of convincing creative.

“The importance of effective persuasion techniques to sit alongside the precision targeting most of us PPC marketers have become more familiar with will be emphasized,” Wood said.

  • Recognize the Target Market and the Stages of the Buying Process.

The days of PPC marketers manipulating every ad and every offer solely based on words are over, as Aaron Levy, Group Director, Tinuiti, puts it.

What does this imply?

“We’ll be forced to look at the whole picture of the audience we’re aiming for,” Levy said. “While I mourn the loss of data we were so used to from our friends at Google and Microsoft, I for one welcome the opportunity to be a better marketer, moving beyond just language-driven ads.”

According to Kristopher Jones, Founder & CEO of, the most active PPC marketers in 2021 will be strategists based on their target audience.

“In an era where there is less control due to automation and AI, what matters is who sees your ads to ensure you’re driving qualified clicks,” Jones said.

According to Melissa Mackey, Search Supervisor at gyro, advertisers who align their PPC marketing efforts with the buyer journey will be ahead of the pack in 2021.

“Expect to spend time as an advertiser thinking about your client and how they decide to buy from you.

  • How long does it take to complete the process?
  • What are their points of contact?
  • What data do they require?
  • What might they be looking for?
  • What criteria do you use to determine success at each stage?”

Many other PPC experts, such as Jonathan A. Kagan, VP of Search at 9RoofTops, agreed.

“The number one thing for everyone to do is get control of your audiences,” Kagan said. “Know who your target audience is. Know who is worth prospecting versus who is most likely to convert. Separate them, and manage them independently.”

Marketers will need to adapt their strategy and think more about reaching the right audiences as less knowledge about a potential customer’s goal becomes accessible, according to Justin Freid, CMI/Compas’ Chief Growth and Innovation Officer.

“A tactical example of this is how we have seen high adoption of Bing’s ability to integrate LinkedIn data into their targeting,” Freid said. “Yes, intent is important, but knowing you are targeting a qualified lead/customer is of equal value. This will also help us begin to look at the LTV (Lifetime Value) of customer vs. a single sale driven through paid search.”

Purna Virji, Microsoft Advertising’s Senior Manager of Global Engagement, hopes that in 2021, PPC will return to its roots, placing consumers and communities first and marketing with an intent.

She emphasized two main areas for connecting with your customers:

Keywords: The aim here is to target potential customers based on their specific needs, which correspond to the keywords they use to fulfill their distinct dimension of diversity.

Images: Choosing imagery for a positive and inclusive consumer experience is an integral part of the process.

What exactly does it all imply?

Kirk Williams, ZATO’s owner, put it this way:

“The company that puts a lot of money into learning:

  • Who their target market is.
  • What they are concerned with.
  • What they do with their time.
  • They get to know what they want to hear.

…can then create a PPC marketing strategy that targets certain audiences (social) and the ways in which they search (search).

This will include information on:

  • Content and creation of landing pages.
  • Creative ads
  • Audiences, keywords, location, smartphones, and other targeting metrics in Google Ads.”
  • More Automated Systems

Ad networks, like it or not, are taking more control away from PPC marketers.

This pattern, according to Steve Hammer, President of RankHammer, will intensify in 2021.

“This will force us to rely on feeding better data back into the platforms,,” Hammer said. “That better data will need to factor much more than just binary metrics, even where we used to use them. Leads will need to consider quality and feed values back based upon this, or the platform will automate for those easy low quality leads.”

Righteous Marketing’s Robert Brady predicts that more automation in PPC will continue to grow in the future.

“So if you want greater success in your PPC efforts, get familiar with how the automation works,” Brady said. “Humans are still needed, but the platforms want their algorithms to have more leash.”

Results are the ultimate target, according to Pauline Jakober, Founder & CEO, Group Twenty Seven, regardless of whether they’re achieved by automated, manual, or a combination of both controlled strategies.

“For areas of automation where we have lost control, PPC pros will likely have to accept, adapt, and move on,” Jakober said. “However, the positive side of this forced adaptation is that it will give PPC pros more cycles to focus on strategies that build brand awareness and brand affinity.”

Meanwhile, Frederick Vallaeys, Co-Founder of Optmyzr, stated that one of the major lessons learned in 2020 was that, when used wisely, automation can potentially save the day when anything else fails.

“For example, advertisers will spend more time building checks-and-balances for the machines rather than doing account maintenance with automations like Smart Bidding and Responsive Search Ads handling tasks previously done by hand,” Vallaeys said. “Advertisers will look for ways to get notified when these systems deviate from expectations, either due to shortcomings of the tools themselves, or because unplanned events in the world are messing up the best-laid plans.”

  • Diversification Would be more Important in the Future.

According to Brooke Osmundson, Director of Paid Media at NordicClick Interactive, one unintended result of Google’s loss of control is that more businesses will likely move their PPC dollars to other search engines like Microsoft Ads.

“This platform still gives marketers the robust data it needs to make sound strategic decisions,” Osmundson said.

One of the most critical things PPC marketers can do in 2021 to set themselves up for success, according to Christine Zirnheld, Digital Marketer, Cypress North, is to diversify their skill set beyond Google Ads.

“As Google continues to move away from actionable data and more toward machine learning, it will be vital for advertisers to be well-versed in other advertising platforms that allow them more control over their spending, reach, and messaging,” Zirnheld said. “In order to do the best work we can for our clients, we simply can’t rely on Google Ads as heavily as we once did.”

Simply put, according to Amy Bishop, Owner & Digital Marketing Consultant at Cultivative, “diversification is crucial for a winning PPC strategy.”

“The more diverse your media mix, the more nimble you can be,” Bishop said. “A diverse strategy puts you in a good place to capitalize on opportunities to scale and/or redistribute budget as needed in the wake of an unforeseen shake-up.”

JumpFly’s Senior Account Director, Nikki Kuhlman, agreed.

“Test other platforms that help drive overall business,” Kuhlman said. “I’m starting to see this with clients more and more.

“I’m very much a ‘traditional’ PPC account manager, but have been talking with clients about diversifying their advertising beyond Google Ads Search and Display, and Microsoft Advertising. I’m also talking about testing YouTube, Verizon Media’s native ads, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, even TikTok if the audience fits,” Kuhlman added.

  • Use First-Party Data to Your Advantage

According to Christi Olson, Microsoft’s Global Media SEM Lead, the way data is sourced is about to change. This is due to improvements in global privacy policy and browser-specific limits on third-party cookies.

“Search marketers will need to focus on data in 2021 and work with their companies and agencies to develop a data strategy to maintain privacy compliance and usability of data in this new landscape,” Olson said.

“With how dependent marketers have been on cookie-driven targeting technologies, I believe that developing new solutions not reliant on cookies is the key 2021 priority for marketers,” said Ilya Cherepakhin, Head of Performance Marketing, Milestone Inc.

“Businesses are able to get greater accuracy because they can segment first-party data with great customization – as closely as needed to manage business goals and align with wider organizational needs, and brand objectives,” Cherepakhin added. “While daunting, creating first-party, data-driven solutions are well worth the investment since they benefit multiple digital channels.”

Search engines no longer want you to monitor something important, according to Ed Leake, Managing Director, AdEvolver & Midas Media. So being able to recover a significant portion of your traffic data is huge.

“With server-side analytics, you greatly increase tracking accuracy and for the most part, the web browsers can do nothing to stop it,” Leake said. “Improving your first-party data, much like last year, should be a priority”.

  • New Opportunities on Instagram

President of AKvertise, Akvile DeFazio, recommends keeping an eye on Instagram.

“It is only a matter of time before they open up more ad placements for additional inventory through IGTV and Reels as they continue to quickly gain organic popularity,” DeFazio said.

Susan Wenograd, Nextiva’s Director of Paid Acquisition (and Search Engine Journal’s Paid Media Writer), agreed, adding that ad formats like Stories have performed exceptionally well, and that they’ve launched Reels to compete with TikTok formats.

“They are going to continue to find ways to monetize the real estate on the platform,” Wenograd said. “They also need to entice creators – something they haven’t historically done a great job of. …We will likely see continued experimentation here.”

  • The Value of a Big Picture Strategy Would Increase

The business is always changing. According to Bishop, knowing when to push and when to pull is a crucial skill set.

“As digital media geeks, most of us love to get lost in the data. But having a creative mindset and the ability to go big picture is important,” Bishop said. “As the cost of inventory rises, you have to determine how to make your investment work smarter.”

The best defense in 2021, according to Amy Hebdon, Founder of Paid Search Magic, would be a successful offense.

“The better your campaigns are structured, the less important negative ‘whack-a-mole’ is to the success of the campaign,” Hebdon said. “Group your campaigns thematically, and have ads and offers that specifically appeal to your audience.”

“Target your market based on their preferences and behaviors, not just observed variance in the data,” Hebdon added. “And, of course, make choices that align with your objectives, not Google’s scores and recommendations.”

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  • The Ad Message Must Be Perfect

In 2021, how well you communicate your message will be critical.

As Irvine previously said, writing more positive ads than poor ads would be more critical than ever.

Arianne Donoghue, Founder of Tempest Marketing, was one of many PPC experts who agreed.

In 2021, according to Donoghue, a renewed emphasis on knowing who the consumers are as individuals, rather than data points, will be critical.

“The right person – at the right time, in the right place – but with the wrong message, is a missed opportunity,” Donoghue said. “The creative is what drives that emotional connection and ultimately gets someone to engage. We often forget that.”

That’s why, according to John Lee, Learning Strategist at Microsoft Advertising, ad writing and execution skills have never been more critical – or needed.

What is the reason for this?

“Complex, dynamic, and responsive ad units. Think RSAs, DSAs, and native/responsive display ads. These ad types are amazing and are driving growth in our industry,” Lee said. “And success requires developing new skills around planning, creative writing, and testing.”

  • Continually Test

“Get comfortable not being comfortable,” said Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media at Hennessey Digital, in PPC Trends this year.

Hopefully, 2020 prepared us for that if nothing else!

The most important pattern for 2021, according to Hopkins, is to always test and never be satisfied with what you think you know.

“We need to treat our campaigns as a kid with a new allergy – put each variable up to scrutiny and only allow newly ‘proven’ tactics to be part of your marketing mix,” Hopkins said. “If there’s one mantra we digital marketers need to have engraved in our hearts – it’s to test!”

  • An Outstanding Mobile Experience

Are you surprised to see this on a list of 2021 PPC trends? Don’t be that way.

Brands who want to win in 2021 must have a user-friendly website. According to Duane Brown, Founder & Head of Strategy, Take Some Risk, this is and will be a big field for 2021.

“Despite the years of mobile being a thing, many brands still don’t have a website that has a great experience on mobile,” Brown said. “Many people have never visited their own site on a mobile device, let alone multiple devices.”

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