AI Set to Revolutionize Paid Search Marketing: 3 Pre-Game Tips for Playing to Win 

June 7, 2023

As presented during last year’s I/O developer conference, Google will be using generative AI to radically overhaul the search experience.

Instead of 10 blue links, users will get something more like a “cockpit” displaying content pulled from all corners of the web and structured to address the user’s search query. For example, a search for a product would result in a summary of top purchase considerations along with a list of products ranked according to these considerations.

Even if not yet fully understood, the implications of this news for search engine marketing are huge. Google has by far the greatest share of the search market, and now the Google search experience is set to change radically. Yes, Microsoft has already made a similar move by integrating Open AI’s GPT model with Bing. But this upcoming move by Google will be the one that matters.

One clear consequence – that I’m already observing – of AI coming to search is that organic search marketers are pivoting hard towards creating authoritative, unique content. With AI instantaneously dissecting limitless quantities of text to identify key takeaways, it isn’t enough to reword and publish the same information as everyone else and rely on your brand image or domain authority to differentiate yourself. When Google kicks off their AI search game, I expect this trend towards creating one-of-a-kind content to become the default SEO strategy.

Regarding paid search, however, we’ll have to wait for this kick off before we see what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to predict the timing here. Google is known to build buzz around their innovative plans and then walk them back a few months later. And I think Google is not in a hurry to potentially self-disrupt their ad-supported search model, a.k.a their money printer. I would not be surprised if Google simply waits for competitors with less to lose, like Microsoft, to test the AI search waters before diving in.         

In the meantime, based on where I see paid AI search marketing is headed, I have three tips to help you make the most of this inevitable but not necessarily imminent disruption:

First, understand the rules of the new game: success in paid search will mean success with Google Performance Max campaigns.

Google Ads Performance Max campaigns utilize machine learning to optimize ad performance across multiple Google properties.

Because Google’s upcoming AI-powered search experience will synthesize all kinds of web content – much of it from Google properties – Performance Max campaigns will soon be the only real option for advertisers aiming to reach search audiences at scale. In other words, paid search marketers not going for this option will not be paid search marketers much longer. 

Overall, Performance Max automation will make it easier to be average at paid search. I expect you’ll be able to get pretty good results simply by letting the system crunch your data.  

If you think like I do, however, you’ll want to treat this Performance Max-centric paid search future as an opportunity to put yourself ahead of the competition on a playing field that is new to everyone. 

To do so, you’ll need a skill set quite different from the one you developed with other types of Google Ads campaigns. You won’t be making data activation decisions per se, as Google’s “black box” will handle them for you. 

Instead, your focus should be on training the system and ensuring that it receives high-quality data. The time to start getting up to speed on that is now.

Second, get ready to “incept” brand stories built by AI and told through search.

Currently, you use your own creative content to tell your own brand stories.

In the not too distant future, Google’s AI-powered search engine is going to be using your creative content – which you may in fact have developed with separate AI tools – to construct a story for search users. That’s what the tech is designed to do, i.e. pull information from multiple sources and provide it with meaningful context by replicating human-style thought patterns.  

Obviously, you won’t be able to have full control over what this AI-generated story looks like. But I predict that you will be able to “incept” it to some extent. (Here I like the analogy from that sci-fi movie Inception in which people influence but do not fully control other people’s dreams.)    

I can’t yet say exactly how this inception process will look like in practice. I think a good starting point would be to build a library of multiple types of creative assets with a consistent and cohesive message. If you do your homework and present your offerings in a genuinely relevant context, Google’s AI should at least recognize this context and hopefully bring it forward. If you don’t contextualize your offerings, on the other hand, you’ll be taking a bigger gamble on how the AI contextualizes them itself.

Third, add “AI operationalization” to your digital marketing team’s talent mix.

There’s a lot of talk about AI eliminating jobs for humans, but I’m certain that it is creating new types of roles for them. 

I’ve been seeing the role of prompt engineer – someone who gives an AI system specific instructions to achieve certain results – mentioned in the news quite a bit recently, for example.   

I don’t think this story is just about prompt engineers, though. We’re still in the early days of AI adoption, and it takes a lot of human “AI operationalization” work to bake the tech into the diverse workflows of B2C digital marketing teams. 

Especially after Google launches the AI-powered search experience it has promised, paid search workflows are going to be a pain point for digital marketing leaders who did not see the writing on the wall.. 

My recommendation is to start adding or building this capability now so you’re ready when the paid search AI levee breaks. I don’t believe you can be too early here.

In closing, whether or not you’re going to be playing to win in paid AI search (the wait-and-see approach is entirely reasonable, by the way – just look at how Google is letting Microsoft go first with AI search), I encourage you to keep a close watch on the generative AI space in general. The new tools being launched are often free to try, and playing around with them will help you think about how AI can potentially shake up your own approach to search marketing.