Introducing the ‘Sergeant Pepper’ of Search Ads
07 February 2020
The Beatles produced great albums before 1967. For four years, they’d been making music that was more innovative and creative than anything else out there. However, up to 1967, they’d always created that work within a format that everyone expected. Their albums, like everyone else’s, were collections of loosely related tracks, each of which stood alone, could be performed as a single, and could be played on-stage at a gig. These were the parameters of popular music as everyone understood them. They were the rules of conversation between bands and their audiences.
But what if you didn’t play by those rules? What if, instead of sitting down and writing conventional songs, you decided to create an experience of an album that went off in all kinds of different directions? What if, instead of giving people 12 tracks that they could decide whether to like or not, you gave them an almost infinite range of musical moments that connected to them on a deeper level but were all connected to the same core message?
If you were The Beatles, you’d create ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’–which is exactly what they did in 1967.
If you’re a search marketer getting ready for 2020, then you’d take a long look at Dynamic Search Ads. And you’d start to realise that you have one of the most creative, innovative and mind-expanding advertising tools imaginable on your hands.
The limits of search marketing consciousness
An important skill of the search marketer is the ability to map all the different routes that a searcher could take to your site. This is a creative exercise, but it’s a creative exercise that’s limited by our own consciousness–by the range of situations, intents and queries that we can imagine or empathise with.
We anticipate which keywords and phrases people are likely to use and we premeditate how we’ll respond to those queries in the form of search ads. Because time and resources are limited, we focus on the keywords and phrases that feel most important to us, that best suit our agenda, or which seem most sensible and most likely. We pick a finite number of our best tracks, our most likely singles, upload them to the compilation album that is our company’s presence on search, and hope they connect. It’s a perfectly sensible, commercial way of operating–but it only touches a portion of searchers and a portion of their experiences.
Imagine you are marketing a website that sells warm, outdoor jackets. The people for whom your products are relevant could be searching for warm jackets, winter jackets or snow jackets–or they could be searching according to what they plan to do in a jacket: skiing, mountaineering, walking, ice climbing, horse riding… The list goes on. Of course, they could also be searching by colour, by style or by features, such as hoods or removable layers. And, in many cases, they’ll be searching by specific brands. It all depends on how a particular person is thinking about warm jackets at that particular moment. Which need has prompted the search? What’s motivating them? How much thinking have they already done? How specific are they about what they want?
Search marketers do a great job of trying to empathise with searchers–but there’s still a limit to how many potential questions we can anticipate and prepare for. It’s just impossible to imagine all of those variations. We can’t get inside our searchers’ minds–we’re stuck inside our own.
Constrained by what we’ve imagined before
What we need is a way to discover new questions, needs, ideas and intentions that could lead people to our business–but aren’t doing so yet. We need insight on the conversations that we’re not yet a part of, but could be. The trouble is, it’s hard to get that insight when your search traffic is defined by the keywords and phrases you’ve previously come up with. If you’ve focused the keyword campaigns for your jacket-selling site around snow and ski, then that’s the traffic you get and that’s the traffic you optimise your strategy around. People searching for jackets for horse riding or mountaineering or fishing trips will find those jackets somewhere else and you’ll have a very limited understanding of what that opportunity could have been. We’re constrained by how we’ve imagined people interacting with our brand, rather like those musicians and record execs in the early 1960s with their finite line-up of singles on each album.
As search marketers in 2020 though, we do have a choice. We can stick to the searches that we’re already thinking about and premeditate search ads to respond to them. Or we can find something to help expand our imaginations, show us searchers’ intentions we could never have possibly imagined and immerse us in all those conversations that we were locked out of before.
Thinking differently through AI
For The Beatles, expanding their consciousness involved techniques like transcendental meditation, which they travelled to India to learn shortly after recording ‘Sergeant Pepper’. Search marketers today don’t have to go anywhere near as far. They can tap into the previously unimaginable by experimenting with AI.
This is where Dynamic Search comes in. Quite simply, it’s an AI system that takes search to the next level by taking what you consciously create and then expanding it to fit situations, audiences and search intents you’ve never imagined. It’s a translation service that looks at the content of your website and matches it to all of the relevant things that people search for. It creates search ads based on that content, automatically and in real time, whenever somebody searches a relevant term. It’s still your marketing and still your message, but freed from the limitations of how you’ve imagined delivering it.
Expanding your mind, while keeping your identity
A Dynamic Search Ad uses the power of AI to discover new areas of potential for your search marketing and starts those conversations for you. Crucially though, it always does this in a way that reflects what you are about as a business. Dynamic Search Ads are generated from what you say about your products and solutions on your site. Their role is to take what’s true about your business and find the best form to package that truth in, so that it’s accessible and available to every relevant searcher.
At Microsoft, we believe that this is crucial to making the right use of AI to bring marketers and audiences closer together–and to remove friction. You don’t achieve this if the algorithms that put AI-driven ads together don’t connect to the rest of your business and your paid search strategy.
If your translation service goes rogue and starts telling audiences just what they want to hear, then things quickly fall apart. The people that arrive at your site don’t recognise the experience they were promised. You pay for clicks that don’t have any value. And you don’t get any meaningful insight into how what you do relates to what people need. If automatically created ads are free to create any experience that their algorithms think searchers will respond to, then all you are doing is creating noise in your data. You don’t get The Beatles and ‘Sergeant Pepper’, you just get a lot of confusion.
This is why we’ve introduced the option to fix a static title for Dynamic Search Ads, so that the core proposition you present to searchers is consistent and deliberate. It gives you a degree of creative control in presenting what your destination has to offer, while the dynamic capabilities of AI bring out the most relevant aspects of that for a given search. That’s the balance of AI that makes sense for both marketers and their audiences.
Highlighting new creative directions
And when you have this balance right, you empower Dynamic Search Ads to play a vital role within your search strategy. They are a discovery engine and an insights engine. They surface new, relevant keywords while acting on those keywords. These new opportunities appear in your search reports, along with the results that help you identify whether they are an opportunity you want to expand on.
Let’s say your next search report for the jackets site shows you that a dynamically created ad around ice-climbing jackets drove a significant amount of traffic in your last reporting period. That’s maybe a use of your jackets that you hadn’t anticipated; or if you had, you’d thought it was a niche area with limited potential. This new insight changes things and you can use it to develop your search creative to address the needs of this specific audience. The Dynamic Search Ad has done its job–it’s introduced you to a new type of conversation. The stage is now set for you to consider other ice-climbing related keywords, craft bespoke ads that talk about how your jacket’s features are particularly suitable for allowing free movement, storing climbing gear in pockets that can be accessed easily and providing safety through a colour scheme that ensures you’re visible in the mountains.
Dynamic Search Ads automate creative where no creative yet exists–but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking over the responsibility of thinking creatively from you. Instead, they’re opening up entirely new areas where such thinking can actually add value. And they’re opening up whole new creative paths you can take.
It all rather sounds like a certain album to me…