2017 Search Predictions: Roundtable with Industry Leaders

By Tinuiti Team


Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, Christmas is just around the corner, and 2017 is rapidly approaching. The year is ending as quickly as it began. Despite its suddenness, 2016 was chock-full of change, especially in search.

We saw the discontinuation of right side ads in the SERP, the introduction of Expanded Text Ads (coupled with the inevitable disbanding of their standard predecessor), and even subtle tweaks to Product Listing Ads – and that’s only naming a few.

There was plenty to try to keep up with and retailers can finally take a second to stop and reflect on the year.

But only for a second. 2017 is nearly here. If you want to be at the front of the pack, then you need to be looking ahead.

What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

We asked a panel of leading search experts to answer the top questions in every retailer’s mind:

    1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?
    2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?
    3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?


The 2017 Search Prediction Roundtable:


Ken Barber, VP of Marketing at The Search Monitor

Ken barber has more than 12 years of experience creating & executing sales-focused
digital marketing plans for ad agencies, start-ups, and tech companies. As VP of Marketing, Barber specializes in lead generation, client marketing, and campaign measurement and optimization. The Search Monitor helps advertisers and their agencies better understand online advertising so they can improve campaign performance and attract new customers.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

Right-side text ads disappeared from Google in 2016 as they continued their emphasis on a mobile-first layout. Competition for the top spots has become more fierce, and in 2017 we’ll see advertisers getting more creative in how they occupy the top spot.

In particular, we expect search advertisers to increase their coordination with their partners (e.g., affiliates and resellers) to dominate the limited results and push competitors down the page. This could mean dividing up keywords, coordinating offers, or setting rank restriction rules for partners.

Google has not been timid about its desire to prioritize mobile over desktop. For example, they’ll be creating a separate mobile version of their index which will likely get updated first. Competition for the top mobile result will only increase in 2017. In fact, many mobile searches only display one ad above the fold. We expect a greater focus on using tactics such as mobile bid adjustments and expanded text ads to box out competitors.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

Retailers can grow their revenue quickly in 2017 by focusing on their total-page search visibility. Searchers see a whole page of results, and even though the data shows they mostly skip over the ads, these paid impressions can help boost organic clicks. Repetition is a key principle of marketing, so page domination is a revenue necessity.

This starts by looking at how often your company’s products appear for important keywords in PPC, SEO, and, if you’re running them, Product Listing Ads. It’s the combination that matters. For example, amazing PPC results can offset weaker SEO, and vice-versa, and appearing simultaneously in PPC, SEO, and PLA is search marketing gold!

Calculate your visibility measure at a keyword level using data for reach, frequency, and ranking. Then, compare it to other advertisers on the same keywords. This is vital—your visibility score needs to be comparative.

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

Mature businesses have devoted significant resources into building their brand. They know that their branded clicks typically generate the best results from low CPCs. Businesses need to protect these valuable clicks by stopping unwanted advertisers from using their valuable trademarks in paid search.

Our ad monitoring platform has found many instances of competitors using trademarks in ad copy to boost clicks, whether accidental or on purpose. When these competitors are removed, the results are impressive. An agency client (Chacka Marketing) shared results showing how their client (Avery Office supplies) saw a 34% increase in branded clicks and a 51% drop in campaign costs when they removed unwanted advertisers from their branded keywords.

In general, mature businesses need to study their competition closely. As the saying goes, keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. They should be receiving a frequent list of their competitors’ keywords, landing pages, most commonly run offers, ad extensions, etc. They should test a competitor’s tactics on their own audience.

Monitoring can be highly time-consuming, so let recent advances in crawler technology scour online ad hourly and send you reports on what they’ve found. They can even be programmed to simulate searches from different cities/countries which can reveal a competitor’s geographic strategy and opportunities to gain share.

Tim Peter, President & Founder of Tim Peter & Associates

Tim Peter works with Fortune 500 leaders, SMB’s, and startups alike to deliver innovative, effective tim-petere-commerce, digital marketing, and online customer service initiatives. An expert in digital transformation, customer experience, and marketing strategy, Tim creates comprehensive marketing and customer services solutions for client needs.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

Two highly-related factors will play a huge role in 2017. The first is the continuing growth of mobile search and the second is the rapid increase in voice searches. While mobile’s been talked about for the last several years, many businesses still haven’t done enough to accommodate visitors using mobile devices. With Google splitting its index early in 2017, expect that to change as companies, large and small, start to lose their position in search.

Similarly, we’re seeing big leaps in the volume of voice searches thanks to tools like Google Assistant and Home, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa. And, it’s really only just beginning. At least 10% of all searches happen via voice and numbers from Google and Mary Meeker suggest that somewhere between 20%-25% of all searches come from voice. Given that those numbers were essentially zero as recently as 2015, expect lots of change in both customer behavior and Google’s response throughout the course of 2017.

The key for marketers is to focus heavily on the key questions your customers will ask — via touch, type, and talk — and ensure you’ve built out the right content, in easily digestible formats, to answer those questions while your customers are on the go.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

Three ways: Mobile, mobile, and mobile. Google’s going to update its mobile index more frequently than desktop, in large part because that’s where all the growth in search volume is happening. And, according to Google, “…76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day”. If you don’t show up in mobile search, you should expect a fall in foot traffic too.

For many retailers, search should represent a key tool to drive people into your stores. Focus on content that highlights available inventory, hours, prices, your service experience, and for e-commerce effectiveness, payment and shipping options to increase reach and close the sale. On the paid search side, look at testing additional top-of-funnel terms that turn into repeat visits to catch customers who might typically head straight to Amazon and miss your site altogether as a way to drive improved results overall.

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

Mature businesses often have an advantage over newer businesses in terms of the amount of available content to work with. However, sometimes that content predates current use and doesn’t match with terms most commonly used today by your customers. Conduct a detailed content audit and look for trends in declining use of evergreen content to determine whether existing assets need updating, refreshing, or retirement to keep search volumes high.

Also look at updating snippets for pages that already rank well to drive increased traffic and conversion. Finally, search isn’t a “set it and forget it” exercise. Look at your longer-term paid search trends to see where opportunities exist to gain new insights and make your budget go farther.

Jostin Munar, Senior Retail Search Manager at CPC Strategy

Jostin Munar is a driven team leader for CPC Strategy’s Google Shopping Specialists within their Account Management department. He specializes in product development and client services across search and social platforms.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

In my opinion 2016 was the year of Social eCommerce and I don’t see that trend stopping in 2017. We’ve barely began to scratch the surface of the power of conversions through Social channels. I believe that there will be more and more brands and products emerging through sites like Kickstarter who are able to build a great following. From there, shares on Social platforms propel brand and product lift and a new player within the eCommerce space arrives.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

I believe in 2017 that retailers should look to grow their business through upper funnel / non-branded searches. Retailers should look to understand how their customers are finding their site and products. Once customers are engaged, applying strategies around email, remarketing, and social platforms are key components for scaling. All three of those key components should have matching messaging depending on where customers are in the funnel.

Also actively reengaging their current customer list should be ongoing. That customer list should act as hot leads. For example if someone bought a shirt, do they need pants? Maybe a jacket? Retailers should try to understand if customers are buying “X” are they also buying “Y”? Can they create lists and audiences around these common themes?

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

If you’re a mature business and you’re already applying great strategies I would look to this nifty little ad format that Google recently released out of beta: Google Sponsored Promotions. The placement of this new ad format is directly within Gmail’s promotion section. People surfing their promotion section are already in the buying mood, so if your ads are captivating enough you should be able to capture additional conversions here. Additionally, retailers are only charged once someone actually clicks to expand the ad. So if a customer never clicks on the ad you’re not charged but can continue to stay in front of the appropriate audience.

Casey Armstrong, Director of Marketing, Content & SEO at BigCommerce

Casey Armstrong is the Director of Marketing, Content & SEO for BigCommerce, a leading ecommerce casey-armstrongplatform that has processed billions of dollars in transactions for their customers across the world. Prior to BigCommerce, Casey held executive leadership and marketing positions at leading ecommerce and SaaS companies, including Watchmaster and Mavenlink, along with his own projects, which have attracted hundreds of millions of visitors.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

The biggest trend I am monitoring is the increasing focus on mobile and the mobile experience. As mobile activity has surpassed desktop, Google is leading the charge with their very public promotion of AMP and the upcoming mobile-first index, which will allegedly be the primary source for content and ranking signals.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

Retailers should focus on providing a better experience and increasing conversions from their mobile search traffic. A common complaint with the increase in mobile traffic is the drop in conversions because of the checkout process on small screens. Merchants selling online need to embrace this mobile pain point and look for opportunities to stand out from their competition who are not taking this evolution as seriously. Not to just promote BigCommerce, but that’s why we are developing mobile-first themes, and building integrations focused on 1-click checkout with Apple Pay and others. Let’s optimize the mobile experience for your future customers shopping where and when they choose.

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

From the mobile experience to technical fixes to onsite optimization, start by optimizing what you’ve already built. SEO is hard and continues to get more competitive every day, so improve what you have to get 100% control over before looking elsewhere.

Josh Brisco, Senior Retail Search Manager at CPC Strategy

Josh Brisco is the Retail Search Operations Manager at CPC Strategy. With over 6 years of experience in thejosh eCommerce industry, his background includes management of high profile and large spend accounts, a detailed understanding of the field, and oversees CPC’s search department in, not only implementing new programs, but also in closely monitoring large changes in the broader realm of paid SEM.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

We will continue to see search volume and subsequent spend going towards mobile for sure. Google in particular continues to create new functionality and ad extension formats exclusively for mobile, so hopefully we can continue to see increases in ecommerce performance to go along with the overall shifts in search volume.

Another area where I think we can expect to see a fair amount of change is in the way of audience-based marketing for search. Newer capabilities like customer match (email list remarketing for search), similar audiences for search, and the recent inclusion of demographic modifiers (age & gender) into search campaigns, should enable to advertisers to more narrowly define their targeting outside of just the search query. This in turn should ideally unlock higher funnel spend that may not have performed well in the past without a more audience-centric approach to further dial in the ideal purchasing audience.

Lastly, the ongoing shift in paid SERP real estate is increasingly skewing more heavily towards Shopping results; which can only mean that this ad format will continue to gain steam, while text ads will conversely lose relevance in the ecommerce space. While this should not be seen as a bad thing for retailers who are heavily leveraged in text ads, it does speak to the ever increasing need to have a strong Google Shopping management in order to maximize the effectiveness of this growing channel.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

Clearly having a highly optimized mobile site experience will continue to factor heavily into whether a business succeeds or fails in the increasingly mobile heavy ecommerce space, so that should be priority #1 if mobile site performance is not a current strong point.

Additionally, heavily leveraging all audience targeting capabilities as mentioned above. Again, to unlock spend in areas that may not have been profitable in the past, but also to dominate impression share for mid to bottom-funnel searchers most likely to convert.

Lastly, by looking past the last click. It is easy to focus solely on the most easily attributable return metrics, but this can often seriously inhibit overall business growth as ad spend is not more accurately being attributed to conversions.

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

In speaking to the last point above, I truly feel better attribution modeling, a robust understanding of customer lifetime value, and a more well rounded approach to ecommerce (the confluence of search, Shopping, remarketing, social, email, etc working together) are things that really enable businesses’s search efforts to grow past current plateaus and on to the next level.

While there are no magic bullets here, the ability to to better attribute top of funnel, non last click, and initial customer acquisition costs, to future revenues, can vastly broaden a retailer’s new customer base, increase existing customer retention and generally boost business far beyond what more basic paid and organic search programs can do alone.

Bill Slawski, Director of Search Marketing at Go Fish Digital

Bill completed his undergraduate program at the University of Delaware and attended bill-bigLaw School at Widener University School of Law. He helped a couple of friends put a newly formed business online in the mid-90s and learned how to promote their Website as search engines started appearing. He started studying Search Engines and their whitepapers and patents, and working with agencies to help their businesses succeed. He is the Director of Search Marketing for Go Fish Digital and he blogs about search at SEO by the Sea.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

Search Engines are paying more attention to Structured Data on Websites, and to the use of Schema on those sites. Searchers are searching for entities (specific people, places, and things) more frequently, and both Google and Bing are busy building Knowledge Graphs that may include those entities. Search Engines are learning from Knowledge bases more about the meanings of different words and using that knowledge to build indexes of the Web that better capture the meanings of those words as they appear in searchers’ queries. Search Engines are getting smarter, and they are working on providing better answers to searchers queries.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

Retailers should be concerned about their visibility in Search Results, and what appears in those results when someone searches for their name, and the products they offer on their websites and talk about them at places where their audience might join them in conversation such as social media sites.

Does a knowledge panel show up for them? Does it include snippets from reviews about them? Do products that they offer show up in product search results? Do informational pages about the goods and services that they offer appear when their customers (and potential customers) search for them? Do pages that offer transactions that engage and persuade their audience appear in those search results? Do those audiences feel comfortable about their brand, and the image they have made on the Web, and possibly upon other channels?

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

These are some suggestions that I would have for mature businesses:


Stephen Kerner, Retail Search Manager at CPC Strategy

Having relocated from Santa Barbara, where he owned and operated an event planning company, Stephen hasstephen-headshot been a major contributor to the CPC Strategy team for nearly 4 years, building an impressive resume along the way. With a dedicated passion for social media and digital advertising, Stephen has become an instrumental member of CPC’s Search team.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?

I think we are going to continue to see DSA campaigns get more and more popular and robust. Followed by ad extensions that make ads more engaging. We are already starting to see this with Visual Sitelinks, Price Extensions, etc. I think the entire SERP is going to have a lot more visual aspects to it. Because of this the and the adoption of mobile, the top spot is going to get more competitive which on mobile is the only spot that is visual sometimes.

2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?

Look at attribution, all too often people get stuck looking at last click. Online marketing is really understanding the customer’s journey and the path people take to converting on your site.

3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

Take advantage of what Google is rolling out. Use DSA if you aren’t already. Don’t be afraid to test and explore new keywords. Hire CPC Strategy.

Lewis Brannon, Paid Search Manager at CPC Strategy

Lewis Brannon manages retail-focused digital ad campaigns for various clients across a diverse group oflew-headshot verticals. At CPC Strategy his focus has been on growing and improving the Search Marketing Department through the standardization of operating procedures, initiatives to improve scalability, reporting & analytics tool creation and testing, bid automation product development, and cultivation of client services.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?


2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?


3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?


Final Takeaways for Search Predictions in 2017

And there it is. It’s next to impossible to say, with certainty, how things are going to shape up in 2017. But we can now, at least, take an educated guess based on previous trends and insights from leaders in the industry.

1. What trends are going to shape search in 2017?


2. How can retailers best look to grow their business in 2017 with search?


3. For mature businesses, what search development tips would you offer?

For more information on 2017 search predictions, please contact [email protected]

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