2021 Paid Search Trends to Keep On Your Radar

January 18, 2021
Andrew Schulz
Andrew Schulz

2020 was an unpredictable year. It pushed us to think differently how we communicate and interact with one another. Typical marketing trends were thrown out the window! Creative thinking was more important than ever, and adapting quickly was often the key to success. The same can be said for paid search trends.

Campaign managers saw it all – data points changed dramatically, seasonal shifts came at new times, and certain benchmarks no longer applied, to name just a few. What does this mean for paid search trends in 2021? We see a continuing shift away from the keyword and more automation.

Death of the Keyword

You have heard it before. It is discussed every year, and now we are joining the conversation. So, are keywords dead? The answer is still the same: not yet. Keywords are not going away anytime soon. However, as Google focuses more on automation and privacy, the effectiveness of keywords will change more than ever this year

2021 Paid Search Trends

Image Source: Google

Google Shopping Takeover

2020 changed the way we think about digital strategies, and this was never more true than for e-commerce. Logistical challenges and low consumer confidence impacted conversion rates across many campaigns. Still, retailers continue to invest in and prioritize high performing ad formats such as Google Shopping. In recent years, Google Shopping ad spend generated close to 80% of retail search ad spend. Even with uncertainty around consumer spending, this keyword-less strategy will continue to be prioritized in the retail space. Spending on traditional, keyword-focused text ads will continue to decline.

Good-Bye Search Terms

In another push to change the use of keywords, Google started limiting the search query data in the Search Terms report. Campaign managers have less visibility into new keyword opportunities and irrelevant cost-driving queries. In fact, Google is removing search terms for close to 30% of account budgets. As Google continues to take control away from campaign managers, there could be cost implications that will deter the use of traditional keyword strategies.

Not So Exact Match

Expansion of close variant matches can be expected to continue. One of our larger volume accounts generated 1,324 unique close variant matches last year. We have also witnessed Google completely change the intent. The exact match keyword ‘rent my garage’ was triggered by a query for ‘garage for rent.’ The user intent is completely changed. What does this mean? Negative keyword management is now more important than ever. But with limited search term data, negative keyword sweeps are now more complicated than before.

2021 Paid Search Trends

Image Source: Practical Ecommerce

Why, Google, Why?

In this New Year, we can expect the effectiveness of the keyword to change more than ever, as Google continues to change campaign managers’ control over their accounts. We can expect less data, which is hard to write since that is the foundation of any paid search campaign. But why?

First is privacy. A lot of the changes we discussed are moves to protect user privacy. As third party cookie restrictions increase, it will be more important than ever to evolve how we use data strategies.

Next is automation. The eroding value of the keyword is a result of Google’s push for automation and Smart technology. We can expect even more automation in 2021. We wouldn’t be surprised if Google moves to Smart Shopping only this year, and there is not much we can do about it.

Planning ahead and increasing the use of automation could result in stability and cost savings. Last year was unpredictable and as digital marketers we are expected to continuously evolve. Understanding the changing landscape of paid search ensures we are set up for success.