The Future of Digital Ads: The State of PPC Part 2


Last month in The State of PPC Part 1, we took a look at what you might have missed from the last year of updates to Google Adwords. This time, we’re looking ahead to the future of pay-per-click advertising. 

A Better Mousetrap 

Right now, PPC advertisers have two main ways of finding out what ads to serve: keywords and cookies. When a user types a keyword into the search bar of Google, they’re served ads triggered by that keyword, along with the results of their search.

When someone visits a website that’s part of the Google display network, they can be remarketed to directly on the webpage through the use of cookies. 

These two methods pretty much make up the world of PPC, but they have their limitations. For one, keywords don’t always provide much context. Imagine, for example, someone searching for women’s jewelry on Google. Because their keyword was “women’s jewelry”, they’ll probably be served ads intended for women who are looking for jewelry. 

Instead, what if the user was a man looking for an anniversary present for his wife and had no idea what to get her? There would be no way for Google to know to serve broader anniversary gift ads instead of just jewelry ones. In this case, serving anniversary gift ads might ultimately lead to a purchase, when maybe he would have otherwise ultimately abandoned his search for jewelry, deciding it was too expensive or running out of other gift ideas. 

There are problems with cookies, too. They only track successfully a little over half the time, and they don’t track on mobile devices. This is obviously a huge problem as the Internet continues its rapid shift to mobile - more than 60% of adults access the Internet with more than one device, and usually the second device is a smartphone or tablet.

Though we can track a good amount of data using cookies, we still don’t know exactly what the person is interested in, where they are, or who they are. PPC, at the end of the day, is a crap-shoot compared with targeted methods, such as email marketing. As a PPC advertiser, your audience is basically an anonymous blob that has a few fuzzy identifying characteristics, but no name or face. 

Identity-Based Marketing

Imagine instead, a world in which advertisers know exactly to whom they're serving ads. Not only do we know that Joe is actually a man searching for women’s jewelry, we now know his name is Joe, we know he’s married, and we know he has a 15th wedding anniversary coming up in 2 days. 

The types of ads that can be served in this case are game-changing. Not only can the ad be extremely relevant and targeted, the copy in the ad itself can be automated yet personal and tailored to Joe. Plus, there may not even be a need for keywords or cookies to trigger the ad at all - instead, advertisers can anticipate Joe’s needs, and serve him an ad that they think will help him.

“But this is creepy! I’m not comfortable with advertisers knowing this much about me and using it to serve me ads. Plus, this would never happen!” Well, guess what? It’s too late. The identity-based marketing revolution has already begun. 

Facebook Atlas

Back in 2013, Facebook acquired a legacy ad server known as Atlas from Microsoft for nearly $100 million. At its core, Atlas was about measurement and was used by advertisers and agencies to track the effectiveness of display ads. Last year, however, Facebook unveiled the relaunch of Atlas. An entirely new product written from the ground up, Atlas now allows Facebook to measure cross-device and cross-platform and to leverage display targeting capabilities powered by a persistent Facebook ID.

What this means is that through the use of Atlas, advertisers can track your persistent Facebook ID, allowing them to know exactly who you are. And depending on what type of information you have on your profile, the above scenario about Joe the procrastinating husband may not seem so farfetched anymore. 

So What Does This Mean For The Future?

Atlas still has a long way to go before becoming the norm, and it also relies on you having a Facebook account. However, expect the future of digital ads to become a lot more personal and relevant just to you. In fact, it’s probably a safe bet to expect the entire internet to get a lot more personal as we gather more and more data and find better ways to do so. Is that scary? Absolutely. Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily, although that remains unclear. Wouldn’t it be nice on some level to have anticipatory ads pop up, offering you deals on things you were going to buy anyway?