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You’re welcome to The Machine

What’s the latest on the direction in which search advertising is heading? An observant online marketer tweeted a few weeks ago: “Did you miss it? ‘The Death of the Keyword’ … has been predicted since at least 2014. And I think, yesterday, we finally saw it … the first time Google has ever used the word ‘keywordless’ in an official communication.”

It’s surely inevitable. Search advertising may have begun with precise (‘exact match’) targeting of adverts to searches, but the trend to making the relationship broader has been inexorable. Shopping ads and ‘Dynamic Search Ads’ have been offering keyword-free or keyword-light advertising for a long time. Google thinks it knows better than we do where our ads should run.

Complete control

However, advertisers want control, and we strongly support that. I know from conversations with Google people over the years that there are many people within the organisation who don’t understand why we wouldn’t cede control to big data. They think that performance is everything – but in the real world there are other factors, including our justified fear as advertisers of allowing someone (or thing) we don’t necessarily trust to decide how our business is being presented to the world.

Broader, less controlled search advertising has a place, particularly in research. But it needs to be fenced off. If it’s thrown in with highly targeted (e.g. ‘exact match’) advertising, it will eat up a disproportionate part of the budget. For those who don’t feel they have the time to maintain a controlled search advertising campaign, consider giving it to an agency to manage, rather than handing things over to the machine.