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B2B paid search forecast: What to expect in 2021

30 second summary:

  • Google surprised marketers with a few changes in 2020 – an updated search query report, new ad extensions, and a new audience targeting to name a few – that forced advertisers to tweak their SEM strategies and tactics to maintain or increase their ROI.
  • In addition to traditional search and ad campaigns, B2B advertisers also test and invest in various types of campaigns and perform well with discovery campaigns.
  • Following the changes Google made to the search query report in September, dynamic search ads can complement existing search campaigns and improve click-through rate, CPC and ROAS.
  • Expect higher adoption of auction bids, dynamic extensions, and dynamic search ads.

2020 was a difficult year for many industries, but demand remained strong for the B2B industry. Paid search budgets increased in many cases as B2B companies invested more in digital marketing. The end of the first quarter hurt performance, but by the second quarter things began to normalize and we observed the usual seasonality for the rest of the year.

In addition to the pandemic, Google surprised us with a few changes – an updated search query report, new ad extensions, and a new audience targeting, to name a few. All of these changes forced advertisers to adjust their SEM strategies and tactics to maintain or increase their ROI.

After a busy 2020, here are 6 PPC trends B2B advertisers should be watching in 2021:

1. SEM campaigns are diversifying

Given the strong competition in B2B, advertisers need to differentiate themselves in order to attract the attention of their target group and increase demand. B2B advertisers test and invest in various types of campaigns in addition to traditional search and ad campaigns. B2B advertisers perform well with Discovery campaigns – with a higher click-through rate than ad and a more efficient CPL than search. We therefore assume that they will increase their investments in this type of campaign in 2021.

Quick tip

Be patient when launching discovery campaigns. Let it run for a few weeks without making any changes, as the bidding algorithm learns during this time and you will see fluctuations in all metrics. After that, you can prioritize the audiences that are performing well. The performance improves constantly after 4-5 weeks of start.

2. Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) are becoming increasingly popular

DSA campaigns are becoming even more popular with B2B advertisers following the changes Google made to the search query report in September 2020. Now the report only includes terms that a significant number of users searched for, and advertisers are losing visibility for low-volume keywords. DSA campaigns, which can drive traffic and generate leads, are an efficient way to find new keywords . Their search reports can help reveal gaps in keyword coverage. DSA can complement your existing search campaigns and improve CTR, CPC and ROAS.

Quick tip

For lead generation accounts with strict lead and CPL goals, create separate campaigns for DSA so you have more control over the budget. Start by targeting your SEM landing pages so you are in control of potential queries and headings.

3. PPC managers rely on automation

More and more B2B advertisers are using automation tools and machine learning to improve performance, increase efficiency, and save time. Some of our favorite automated features – automated bid strategies, responsive search ads, and ad rotation optimization in Google Ads – will continue to grow in popularity in 2021. We should also try to optimize and scale their paid search campaigns with higher acceptance of auction time bids, dynamic extensions and dynamic search ads as B2B advertisers.

Quick tip

When evaluating automated lead generation account bid strategies, don’t worry about higher CPCs as you will likely pay more for higher quality clicks. If you’re seeing a high volume of leads with a low CPL, you’re going in the right direction. And always set your target CPA based on the last 30 days average, even if that’s higher than your goal. Otherwise the lead volume will be reduced.

4. The investment in YouTube ads increases

Online video ads have become increasingly important to B2B marketers during the COVID-19 era. B2B buyers are more likely to use online video ads to make purchasing decisions: 64% of B2B buyers have increased their use of online video and 51% increased their searches, according to eMarketer. We expect B2B advertisers to increase their YouTube investments and launch video campaigns in 2021 to generate both brand awareness and leads. In addition, B2B advertisers will invest more in video content creation – and YouTubes’ new betas will make it easier to create that content.

Quick tip

For a full funnel video strategy, prioritize 6, 15, and 30 second videos as short videos will be the most engaging for users. Also, avoid high-selling videos and try to create videos that show your brand’s personality so you can connect with your audience.

5. Mobile investments are falling

Lower mobility due to COVID-19 has reduced the number of mobile device buyers while increasing the time in front of computers, which has resulted in strong desktop growth. During the pandemic, desktop traffic for paid searches increased by 60%, while mobile traffic was down 7% compared to pre-COVID times. In addition, the conversion rate for desktops increased by 4%, while the conversion rate for mobile devices decreased by almost 19%.

Quick tip

Use automated bid strategies to save time and prioritize the best performing devices. When evaluating mobile device performance if you continue to use last-click mapping, be sure to read the Conversions Supported report.

6. Paid search messages are becoming increasingly customer-centric

B2B buyers are looking for new solutions to speed up their purchases and expect more from their solution providers, according to the 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study. So we’ll see more ads from B2B companies highlighting features, functions, customer service, product training, and implementation support to attract and retain B2B buyers. For successful SEM campaigns, promoting relevant content that meets the needs of the industry is a must.

Quick tip

If you’re running lead generation campaigns and would rather use a form to drive traffic to a landing page, use site links and callouts to highlight the additional services or training you’re providing to your customers.

With new campaign types and messages to be tested, as well as other automation functions and tools, 2021 promises to be fun for B2B advertisers.

Lucia Rodas-Estrada is Senior Search Director at Merkle | DWA.

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