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AI & The Future of PPC

The dream of any employer is to have employees who never get sick, don’t take vacations and never ask for a raise. This utopian version of the future for executives may be closer than any of us think with the rapidly growing influence of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in the flagship product of PPC professionals, Google’s AdWords.

Last May, at Google’s Marketing Next conference, the internet giant announced a new slate of offerings to its AdWords platform. Due to roll out soon, Google will allow e-marketing professionals to perform a query to see who, or what kind of surfer, is accessing their website via a pay per click campaign in AdWords[1]. This feature will give far more in market audience insight into the intent of someone clicking on an ad – are they browsing, or are they shopping

How soon is it before powerful AI engines threaten to replace PPC professionals? On any given day, we are interacting with more and more experiences driven by AI – prompts designed to improve customer service, the increasingly ubiquitous “chatbots” to various apps that remove the human element and the possibility for error. Given that Google already uses AI to collect user data and organize our vast digital collections on its servers such as emails and photos, it is not much of a stretch to imagine Google wanting to cut out the human factor in ads that appear on AdWords.

What exactly would this look like though? According to Paul Walsh, CEO of Infinity, it would “(rely) on enabling your systems to collect information and act on it autonomously. In the case of PPC, this would involve collecting performance data and then using a secondary automated system to allocate or suspend activity without needing the PPC manager’s intervention.”[2]

It’s easy to believe AI could be employed to cut and paste together something informative from various sources, like a news story. To that point, in 2016, AI was responsible for writing more than 500 stories that ran in the Washington Post[3]. How is this possible?

This leap forward is happening primarily thanks to an emerging technology called natural language regeneration (NLR). The principle of this is humans and computers can work far more efficiently if we all speak the same language[4]. Given the leaps digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri have made in just a few short years, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the way we interact with our machines will become just as seamless as the way we converse with our clients or supervisors.


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In addition to the dramatic leaps forward in language interaction, Google has been investing more in its Tensorflow processing system[5]. This system keeps track of “targetable” life events and crafts content for individual users based on them. In theory, Tensorflow could be used to create and post ads customized for the user before the consumer has the chance to join targeted email lists. A noteworthy early example of this was how Target and their algorithms figured out how a teenager was pregnant before her father did based on the girl’s buying history and her “score” on a pregnancy profile algorithm[6].

Just as Target and other department stores compile this database of consumer behavior to mine from, Google and its search engine tied into AdWords and Google Shopping does this on a vastly larger scale. It is the scope of this collection of data that allows Google to use attribution modeling features to track customer interactions[7]. By consolidating the data it collects from its catalog of sources, “data-driven models will not cleverly weigh up how each click point in a sales and marketing process contributes to the overall outcome”.

This is where the door opens for AI to come into the picture. Rather than writing page after page of code with if-then statements as like what would have been required before, now armed with terabytes of consumer information and buying habits, machines can “teach (themselves) what to do based on likely possible outcomes given historical data”[8].

Believe it or not, this type of AI “has been present in AdWords since at least 2008, and it impacts advertisers hundreds of times a day when the Quality Score mechanism helps to predict which ads are most likely to be clicked on for every search that happens.”[9] This forces this writer to ask, can ads – something by their very nature meant to evoke an emotion and visceral reaction in the consumer be broken down to a series of functions performed by machines using a series of calculations?

Are advertisements and the creativity employed to make them stand out in a sea of commercials going to be yet another causality in society’s march towards ease and convenience? Where others see doom and gloom and the death of the advertiser, this writer sees an opening and perhaps a fault in Google’s logic.

Yes, it may be possible for Google to automate AdWords and to remove the human element, but at what cost? Part of what makes AdWords so unique now is the advertisers direct influence over the ads and their copy. As such, PPC specialists have already been afforded more characters and extensions to make their ads stand out.

If you remove the human element and let Google “fill in the blanks” for your ads, how long will it be until the average consumer sees through them, tunes them out and regards them with the same contempt as email or automated call ads? It is possible Google ads will always control more important real estate and therefore, draw more eyeballs given their position at the top of user’s searches and Google’s omnipresence in people’s lives – that’s what they are banking on. But, it’s not a given that those ads will always be as vital if they are just the product of a machine in a warehouse.

Which leads to another intriguing possibility for the future of ads if AI takes over as the naysayers are predicting – more viral and unconventional advertisements. As it is becoming more apparent, the next generation needs more than being told why Brand X is better than Brand Y – they need to be entertained and shown why this is the case. Google itself is planting the seeds for this evolution due to its large investment and presence with YouTube. Text ads are never going away, but they may loose their relevance before Google’s AI takes them out of the hands of PPC managers and hands them over to the machines.

…stay tuned.











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