State of Paid Search: 2017

In an advertising landscape that is rapidly evolving, paid search remains a workhorse in the field. The user experience has certainly changed, and search engines have to adapt to remain viable resources for users in their decision-making process. Although some of these changes were announced last year, they are finally coming to fruition. Below are insights and updates in the search advertising realm that will make an impact in 2017.

Google Reigns Supreme

According to a recent eMarketer report (Net US Search Ad Revenues, by Company, 2016-2019), Google owned 75.8 percent of the search market in 2016.  That figure is expected to increase this year and reach 80 percent by 2018 as competitors struggle to find ways to compete with Google’s dominance and expertise in mobile search.

What can you do?

Obviously, when conducting a paid search campaign, you want to be on Google. However, don’t let the 80 percent number dismay your search efforts on networks like Bing and Yahoo. Although their market shares are decreasing, they may still be a viable option, especially for desktop only campaigns. Consider the competition and search volumes on your keywords to see if it could be beneficial to allocate a proportion of the budget across multiple search engines.

Going Mobile

Google’s mobile search revenue is forecasted to increase 29 percent in 2017 (US Ad Spending: The eMarketer Forecast for 2017), accounting for more than half of total revenue. To feed this growth, Google has introduced or improved many AdWords elements to further enhance the mobile experience. Since January 2017, Google only allows their new expanded text ad format. These ads allow for 47 percent more text and are optimized for mobile formats. With bigger ads and multiple ad extensions available, mobile search ads can occupy as much as 40 percent of your phone screen. Ad extensions are great features to provide more information with your text ads and many cater to the 'on-the-go' nature of mobile search users. 

What can you do?

Ad positioning is vital for mobile success.  Mobile ads occupy the majority of a user’s screen, so monitor your bids and average positions to see if you can improve positions. This works across devices too! Set up a performance report by device and apply bid adjustments to cater to your mobile, tablet and desktop performance desires.

For result-driven mobile traffic, be sure to consider all ad extension options that are suitable for your campaign’s needs. Click-to-call, location, app and message extensions all allow users to interact or convert right from the search results page.

Expanding Exact Match

Recently, Google announced changes to their exact match keyword targeting by expanding close variant matching. Close variants, which have previously existed in the form of misspellings and plurals, will now allow exact match keywords to include rewording, reordering and removal of ‘function’ keywords (prepositions, conjunctions and articles).

For some, this is great news as it will cut down on time spent mining through rows and rows of search query reports to ensure every variation of the keyword is included. On the other hand, many users with a more “hands-on approach” to their accounts view this as Google taking away their control of which search results from their ads appear.

What can you do?

Google hasn’t announced when this is fully coming into effect, but it would be beneficial to start analyzing your exact match keywords to weigh the impact of losing function words or reordering of your keywords. Add any irrelevant or unwanted variations as negatives to your campaign.

Demographic Targeting

As online advertising has evolved and targeting options improved, search fell behind other methods of digital advertising because it could not apply demographic information. Search engines are getting closer to providing more targeting capabilities to better suit your campaign’s needs. For search campaigns, you can now adjust targeting by age group and gender of the search user.

Google’s breakdown of demographic targeting is as follows:


  • 18-24
  • 25-34
  • 35-44
  • 45-54
  • 55-64
  • 65+
  • Unknown


  • Male
  • Female
  • Unknown

It is very important to point out that there are still some shortcomings in Google’s demographic targeting. For demographic targeting to be successful, users must be signed into their accounts with the search engine. Unknown users still account for a large portion of traffic, but this is the first step in narrowing the wide reach of search ads.

What can you do?

Demographic performance can be found in the Audience tab of your campaign navigation. Analyze and compare this performance to your target audience and business goals. Demographic targeting options can be applied on the ad group level.

If you or your client has specific target demographics, you can apply targeting options and bid adjustments with the ‘Target and Bid’ option to only reach those users. Remember, Unknown users can make up 40 – 60 percent of your traffic, so be sure to watch for a dip in traffic.

A safer bet to test first, if you do not want to restrict traffic from any age range, would be to test bid adjustments with the ‘Bid only’ option.

What’s Next?

These are just a few examples of impactful paid search updates that have and will come into play this year. Search is a constantly evolving field and there always seems to be new and exciting announcements.

Lastly, be sure to check out Google’s Marketing Next live keynote on May 23 for more product announcements and innovations geared to improve customer productivity.

Have any questions? Feel free to reach out in the comments!

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Brandon Trautman

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