Happy new year, PPC Without Pity readers! 2011 was a heck of a year for search engine marketing, and I’m sure that 2012 will be no less interesting. Of course, this is the time of year where all of us bloggers dust off our crystal balls and come up with some predictions for the coming year. Here are my guesses for some major PPC trends we’ll see this year:
Prediction 1: Tablet targeting takes off.
Marketers have been talking up the virtues of mobile targeting for a couple years now, but I gotta be honest – I haven’t seen the appeal. Unless you’re an advertiser that can condense your user experience to work on a smartphone screen, you probably won’t see good results from mobile targeting. This rules out anyone with a multi-step conversion process, a long lead form, or anyone who uses some kind of custom web tool (that may not work on smartphones) to complete their conversion event. There are a lot of businesses that fall into that category.
However, tablets change the mobile marketing game. They’re small enough to be portable, but large enough to convey a full-screen user experience to website visitors. And I’m sure that the ranks of tablet owners have swollen after this holiday season as people received them as gifts. I expect that in 2012 we’ll see a lot more people tapping away at PPC ads on their tablet screens. Perhaps it’s time to segment out your tablet traffic into separate campaigns, analyze your tablet traffic in Google analytics, and think about how you can optimize your conversion process to look great on a mobile screen.
Prediction 2: Readability and ad-block apps hinder display network performance.
I admit that I’m a power user of ad-block extensions such as Ad Block Plus, and reader bookmarklets like the outstanding Readability. Those of you with iPhones and iPads may have noticed the “Reader” functionality in iOS 5′s Safari browser. These are indicators of a larger trend that’s been percolating since the first banner ad – users just don’t want to see ads and other distractions in their web content. There’s no doubt that there have been some lost ad impressions due to this technology over the years, but with the Reader inclusion in iOS 5 I think we just saw the cultural tipping point where these services went from being neat gadgets used by hardcore web users to entering the mainstream web toolbox. It’s going to be tougher to get your ad message out on display networks with people stripping out ads from their content by choice. It will be hard to tell the exact impact that ad-stripping widgets will have on display network performance, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see image ad performance flatten or decline by a few percentage points in 2012.
Prediction 3: SEO suffers, and PPC thrives.
This year, I switched jobs and took on a role that has me managing both SEO and PPC. I was always tangentially involved in the SEO world, but now I’m getting a first-hand look at the struggles SEO practitioners go through on a daily basis. SEO was dealt a major blow in 2011 with Google’s SSL encryption of user queries, and the subsequent loss of organic search query data in Google Analytics reports. PPC escaped unscathed from this change – we can view all the user search queries we want, as long as someone clicked on an ad instead of an organic result. As I’ve written before, this schism between Google’s priorities for user privacy in regards to organic search versus paid search concerns me. This change showed that Google is willing to throw SEO specialists (and users) under the bus while leaving paid advertisers untouched. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another similar development in 2012 – at least one incident where a Google policy change shows a naked favoritism for paid advertisers over SEO’s. I don’t think that SEO is going to die off by any means, but I do think it is going to get battered around a bit.
That’s it for this year’s predictions. Best of luck in your 2012 advertising efforts, and stick around for another great year of PPC Without Pity!