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Paid Search Strategy: A Smart Resolution for 2019

09 Jan 2019 Cate French

in Media, Paid Search

Advancements in machine-learning and AI capabilities can sometimes cause anxiety among marketers and brands who fear a lack of control. Cate French, Director of SEM, weighs in on why “smart” is a strong strategy for 2019.

As I do at the end of each year, I asked myself what could have done better or done more of in 2018. In my professional life, this year, the answer was easy: I should have been “smarter.”

Perhaps some context is required. One of the biggest and most hotly-debated paid search trends of 2018 was the growth of automation and machine-learning products offered by Google. While Smart Display was rolled out in April 2017, not many advertisers were talking about it nearly a year later. Responsive Search Ads had been introduced in early 2018 but had originally only been made available as a beta to select advertisers. Google’s Marketing Live event in July 2018, however, brought these existing products, coupled with the newer Smart Campaigns and Smart Shopping innovations, to the forefront, all with the promises of Valuable, Transparent, and Trustworthy ads for the consumer.

Although each smart product is different, the premise is the same: an almost entirely automated process with minimal set-up or management, putting Google’s AI in the driver’s seat for everything from ad creative to delivery optimization based on the product or service advertised and the goal the advertiser sets. Simply put, these products are designed to listen, learn, and do a lot of the work.

Record-scratch…wait, what? While all of this sounded great in theory, it was met with a healthy dose of hesitation and skepticism from the paid search world. Many marketers were, and still are, uncomfortable with relinquishing that level of control or with the concept of replacing good judgment with loosely-defined “user intent signals” as determined by a machine. And as a seasoned (read: jaded) paid search marketer, I was certainly one of those skeptics.

My curiosity and interest won out in the end; as soon as preliminary, positive results were published, I started to test. Today, I am a proud smart product evangelist, and I can say that there’s no shame in drinking the Kool-Aid when the benefits so vastly outweigh the risks. Here is my assessment:

First and foremost, performance has been indisputably positive. I have tested and now fully activated both Smart Display and Smart Shopping for two of Stella Rising’s largest beauty brands, and the results speak for themselves:

Smart Display was presented as an opportunity for the brand AHAVA to maximize revenue during a key selling period, with the recommendation to shift non-brand SEM funds to test the sales-driving capabilities of Smart Display. Within the first thirty days of testing, the Smart Display campaign resulted in the following improvements for the overall SEM account:

  • Drove a 54% lower CPA
  • Increased ROAS by 126%
  • Improved Avg. CPC by 56%

Smart Display was launched mid-year for a beauty brand to help boost flagging performance of both traditional and Dynamic Remarketing Display tactics. In comparison to those tactics, Smart Display has achieved the following successes:

  • 69% lower CPA
  • 181% stronger ROAS
  • 79% more efficient Avg. CPC

Smart Shopping was launched at the end of December for this same brand, and in the first two weeks that the campaign was live, it had already outperformed traditional Shopping campaigns across the board:

  • Generated 67% more revenue + 31% more sales + 23% less spend
  • 43% lower CPA
  • 254% ROAS relative to 118% ROAS of traditional Shopping campaigns
  • 50% higher CTR

Still not convinced by the power of machine-learning? Consider these two compelling points:

Most importantly, working really “smart” still requires control and expertise on behalf of your search team. For both Smart Display and Smart Shopping, there is plenty of opportunity to test out different images, logos, and text. Experiment with bid strategies; for Smart Shopping, feed optimization continues to be a critical component of any strong campaign. And really smart search is always part of a larger brand growth strategy.

Allowing Google to take some of the workload offers up time to address that broader strategy, whether investing in optimizing existing tactics or researching even more exciting, new opportunities for brands. Smart Campaigns specifically, more so than Smart Display or Smart Shopping, were created for smaller and/or local businesses, so owners could focus on other aspects of running a company. The same concept applies to paid search marketers: with more time freed up from managing the complex variables of Display and Shopping advertising, we can reinvest that time into deeper optimizations and analytics to grow existing tactics or into seeking out entirely new opportunities to further the growth of our rising star brands.


Working long and hard has its merits, but working smart reaps rewards. Make it a 2019 resolution to test at least one form of smart advertising. More likely than not, the results will be positive. Arguably equally important, it will deliver the invaluable gift of time to focus on driving further growth for brands.

Media Paid Search