Here’s why PPC now looks more like paid social and what it means


One of the great tragedies of the digital marketing world is that “PPC” folks and “paid social” folks don’t see themselves at the same marketing table – even as ad networks push them closer and closer. 

Advertisers who are “Google-first” or “Meta-first” tend to struggle to make the leap to the alternate platform. Yet, as paid media (i.e., more than just SERP and feed-based) becomes the norm, advertisers will need to get comfortable translating their strategies across platforms. 

Ad networks have already begun to blur the lines through account structure settings, audiences, and creative. As the landscape of digital channels and the demands of brands evolve, we’ll delve into: 

  • Examining how the trend towards socialization has altered targeting methods 
  • Offering insights on how to navigate these changes effectively. 

Despite the common misconception that equates PPC solely with Google, this article considers PPC to include all forms of paid media, not just Google’s platform. 

PPC mainly aims to capture user intent. This could be on search engine result pages like Google or Bing, through contextually targeted videos, or on third-party sites where content and ads are linked contextually.

Historically, keywords have been central to PPC strategies, serving as the core of most campaigns. However, in recent years, the role of PPC keywords has evolved, increasingly resembling that of audiences.

This shift warrants a closer examination of the differences between PPC keywords and audiences.

A PPC keyword, by today’s definitions, is defined by the user’s search query and the degree to which the keyword matches the intent or syntax of that query. 

The effectiveness of a keyword also depends on the chosen match type, which may factor in various elements like audience signals, the relevance of the landing page, and other variables. 

For instance, broad match incorporates a wider range of factors, including audience insights. Conversely, phrase and exact match only look at close variant syntax matching. 

While this discussion won’t delve deeply into the specifics of match types, it’s important to acknowledge their role in the increasing integration of audience data into keyword strategies.

For a long time, platforms like Google and Microsoft prioritized keywords and negative keywords over specific audience targeting or exclusion. Keywords alone sufficed for targeting, with audience segmentation seen as an optional enhancement.

As keywords started embodying audience traits, understanding audience behavior and strategically integrating them into campaigns became crucial.

This shift mirrors the broader trend of PPC becoming more “socialized,” emphasizing audience insights and targeting for better campaign optimization.

Audiences in PPC

One key factor driving the socialization of PPC is the strategic use of audiences, which are essentially groups of individuals categorized based on certain criteria.

By including or excluding these groups in your campaigns, you send clear signals to the advertising network about your target audience. 

Aside from location-based targeting, audiences represent the primary targeting method in paid social media. These audiences can be people who:

  • Engaged with your brand.
  • Have shown interest in related topics. 
  • Possess certain characteristics deemed relevant to your business.

This evolving landscape has prompted platforms like Google and Microsoft to introduce broad and highly specific audience targeting options. In industries with limited personalized advertising, adopting less personalized targeting strategies is crucial.

Exclusions are now the main targeting method:

  • Avoiding certain placements and topics.
  • Excluding specific audience groups.
  • Using ZIP codes as exclusions rather than targets.

This move to broader targeting, while still being able to exclude, shows how PPC is becoming more socialized. It’s vital to grasp and adjust to audience behavior and regulatory changes for successful campaigns.

PPC account structures, A/B testing strategies, and scaling successes have evolved significantly. 

Traditionally, most structural decisions in PPC are made at the campaign level. While Microsoft allows adjustments at the ad group level, foundational decisions usually happen at the campaign level. 

However, there’s a growing trend toward the structure of paid social campaigns, where crucial strategic decisions occur at the ad set level.

Microsoft has long enabled granular decisions at the ad group level, allowing for more nuanced control compared to campaign-level choices. 

Google’s Demand Gen campaigns have also expanded targeting and exclusion options at the ad group level. 

This shift is significant as it moves from traditional campaign-wide strategies toward a segmented approach, similar to paid social platforms.

Performance Max campaigns embody this evolution, with asset groups intended to marry audiences and creative. 

This concept resembles the ad set structure in paid social advertising, where assets are grouped and targeted at specific audience segments distinct from other groups.

This management style diverges from traditional PPC methods, which typically prioritize organizing campaigns by keywords, match types, or bidding strategies rather than focusing on the target audience or specific user intents.


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Bidding beyond CPC

In paid social and PPC, it’s crucial to consider the evolution of bidding strategies. 

Traditionally, PPC and other forms of paid media heavily relied on cost-per-click (CPC) bidding, where advertisers paid for each click their ad received. 

However, with the rise of video and visual content gaining prominence in the advertising landscape, the CPC bidding model has become somewhat antiquated.

The move to diverse media formats requires a comprehensive approach to paid media, incorporating text, visuals, and other ad types to foster overall growth. This holistic view of ad campaigns enables a nuanced understanding of how various formats can advance a brand’s goals beyond just clicks.

Moreover, it’s important to reconsider how auction prices are interpreted across channels. There’s a misconception that higher auction prices mean higher quality traffic, while lower prices imply lower quality. This bias can undervalue video and image ads, which may have lower auction prices due to their format but are not necessarily less effective.

Traditional PPC and modern paid media practitioners should reconsider the value of lower auction prices in paid social. Rather than disregarding them, ensure the meticulous setup of tracking mechanisms like UTM parameters for accurate attribution. Recognize the significant impact visual content can have on performance in transactional search advertising.

Embrace these insights lets you optimize campaigns across paid media channels, achieving better outcomes with cost efficiency and accurate attribution.

Here are five practical steps you can take today to adapt and thrive in this evolving landscape.

1. Reevaluate your channel strategy

  • While integrating paid social into broader paid media strategies is crucial, don’t neglect historically successful channels. 
  • Instead, adapt your approach by assessing audience targeting, creative formats, and bidding strategies to match evolving dynamics.

2. Embrace audience-centric targeting

  • Focus on understanding relevant audience segments for your business in paid media.
  • Experiment with targeting options to discover the best ways to engage your key demographics.

3. Innovate with creative content

  • As visual and video content gains prominence, take a creative approach to your ads. 
  • Explore diverse content formats and test to see what resonates best with your audience. 
  • Stay updated on social media trends to guide your creative choices.

4. Optimize for multiple bidding strategies

  • Move beyond traditional CPC bidding.
  • Explore alternative bidding strategies that might be more aligned with your campaign goals, such as cost per acquisition (CPA) or return on ad spend (ROAS). 
  • Test different bidding strategies to help you discover what works best for each channel and campaign type.

5. Leverage advanced tracking and attribution

  • As paid media channels blend, it’s crucial to have robust tracking and attribution models.
  • Ensure your UTM parameters are correctly configured.
  • Consider adopting more sophisticated attribution tools to accurately measure the impact of each channel and campaign on your overall marketing objectives.

By implementing these action items, you can better navigate the complexities of the socialized paid media landscape, making informed decisions that drive growth and efficiency in your marketing efforts.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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