A(i) guide for advertisers trying to navigate today’s paid search landscape

The rise of conversational search engines will amplify consumer buying intent - making more room for advertisers to actually make sales.

Kate Cox, CMO at BrightBid, believes that not only will the Search Wars disrupt Google’s 92% market share, it will drive PPC inflation down and shake up the way we search forever.

We are experiencing a shift in the way search engines look and behave. Conversational search is the new frontier. Microsoft and Google are in a race to deliver more relevant results with greater accuracy - all whilst keeping answers personalised. This is where natural language processing (NLP) comes into play. 

This technology isn’t exactly new but its innovative user-friendly interface is and has already sent shockwaves across the search landscape. Microsoft’s $10bn investment in OpenAI’s ChatGPT - coupled with Google’s release of Bard, its own AI-based communication tool - demonstrates the leading tech firms’ belief that conversational AI can be the differentiator in Paid Search and make it a competitive fight. 

Providing page-after-page of search results in the form of a list of web links is no longer enough. Granular, more informal queries are replacing the high-volume seed keywords that users have traditionally relied on. The search engine that masters this practice to provide the best customer experience (CX) will surely be the one that lands the knockout punch. 

Consumers’ desire for personalisation remains paramount. A 2022 study found that almost 9-in-10 consumers are happy for their browsing history to be used to generate personalised offers. The large language models (LLMs) that drive Bard and ChatGPT utilise a ‘Q&A’ format, enabling Google and Bing to better understand the intent behind every search. This subsequently provides access to more useful data points compared to the outdated, syntax-style search.

Search engines currently classify intent through their evolving best practices. these can be broken into three categories: 

  • Informational - locate content relating to searches informational needs

  • Navigational - directing users to a specific website; this includes branded and generic searches

  • Transactional - finds specific items to purchase

The majority of searches fall into the informational category - and this is where the problem lies. Most search engine results pages (SERPs) deliver responses to users’ queries at the top of the page. And these top-of-the-funnel, ‘zero-click searches’ occur whilst consumers are early in their consideration lifecycle, meaning there are little-to-no click throughs to websites. 

All of this results in searches providing minimal commercial value to any other business except Google and Bing who are the only ones able to mine zero click data. SparkToro’s data shows that zero-click searches account for 65% of all searches. Paid search, on the other hand, accounts for less than 2% - yet accounts for over 28% of global ad revenue

Whatsmore, Microsoft estimates that over half of the 10bn daily searches are unanswered due to users’ inability to properly use search engines. The tech giant believes that utilising conversational AI can expand its intent data, thereby resolving this problem and turning  zero-click searches into ones with different shades of intent that can be commercialised. 

The secret weapon of a search marketer’s dreams? 

The question on every marketers’ lips is rather straightforward: how will conversational AI’s introduction impact paid search advertisers? The benefits of search engines employing this technology are fourfold:

  • Reduced cost-per-click (CPC)

  • Changes to bid automation 

  • Market share fluctuations

  • Chat’s rise to the fore

Advertisers have been plagued by CPC inflation since the pandemic. Over 90% of industries (LocalIQ, Sep 2022) experienced a rise in cost-per-lead on Google between October 2021 - September 2022. Increased competition in the PPC world - coupled with a greater number of conversational, high-intent queries - should drive CPC down. A break on excessive expenses will be a welcome relief for advertisers and may prompt a rethink in budgetary allocation. 

Leveraging bid automation solutions that work in tandem with AI can empower advertisers to bid on the different levels of intent - using the likelihood of conversion to sale as the guiding factor. 

Bing has long been overlooked by advertisers that have relied on Google’s admin and support. And this comes despite its great value CPCs and CPA (cost per acquisition) which often provide better Return on Ad Spend for advertisers than Google. Bing is already a bigger player in the 2 largest economies in the world : with 27% share of search in the US and a strong showing in China where Google has effectively withdrawn. 

Microsoft’s speed in the conversational AI space can be the catalyst to Bing gaining greater market share - as well as more investment from advertisers. It is already trialling new ad formats and although Microsoft still needs to convince marketers of the positioning, it demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to improvement on the status quo. 

Google’s fear of errors creeping into its algorithms will cause it to be slightly slower to react. Conversely, Microsoft hasn’t been afraid to jump in at the deep end. Bing’s new interactive chat experience has revolutionised complex queries. Picture a scene where a consumer is planning a holiday. The search engine can create itineraries whilst also providing access to hotel and travel options - all with a personalised feel and a better citation of sources. Leveraging this new search real estate is the foundation for paid search specialists to better serve businesses and customers alike. 

Who will land the final blow? 

The Search Wars will undoubtedly be a close fought affair - after all, it is the pre-eminent names of the tech world going head to head. Predicting how the next few years of search may be difficult but one thing’s for sure. The introduction of conversational AI will breathe fresh life into search, 

Google has been the world’s heavyweight title holder since search first rose to prominence. Bing’s use of ChatGPT, however, could see Microsoft land a few big punches of its own.

By Kate Cox