Back to Top

2021 SEM Trends

Search Engine Marketing trends to watch in 2021

Despite growing concerns about privacy, tracking visibility, and ad fraud, digital media budgets in the U.S. are expected to grow this year by 21%. And in a recent survey of media buyers by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, paid search spending will see a 26% growth year over year.

SEM has proven itself as an important tool in the marketers’ arsenal for its ability to get in front of the right customers at the right time. As we enter 2021, these are the five SEM trends that we believe will have the greatest impact in the coming year.

More comprehensive integration of search targeting into social platforms

The integration of search and social will continue to grow. And with good reason. Last year, we talked about the changing nature of the customer, from being just another number to a person with much more nuanced expectations. Those expectations include more relevant experiences when interacting with a brand or company.

By integrating search targeting into social platforms, the best of both can be leveraged. Search is intent-based, helping people find what they’re looking for at any given moment. Social media allows marketers to increase awareness and engagement on the platforms where their customers and prospects are spending time. With less psychographic data being available to advertisers due to ever-growing privacy concerns, search functionality allows for a more anonymized way to target users who are actively looking for information on-platform.

Less control of messaging and targeting in search

Two major factors are at play here, giving marketers less control and visibility in performance. Google will continue rolling back and reducing the search term data available to advertisers. In addition, responsive and dynamic search ads usage will grow in 2021.

Back in September, Google updated its search query report to include only terms that were searched by a significant number of users. Advertisers­–especially those with smaller budgets–now have less visibility into which search queries trigger their ads, even if they incur a click or conversion. This obfuscation of data reduces the search behavior being reported on, limiting advertisers’ ability to finely target their audiences and resulting in less actionable data on their ad spends.

In addition, Google’s automated responsive and dynamic search ads gives advertisers less control over how and when ads get triggered, as well as some messaging content.

Even less domain diversity in healthcare and financial search results

Google introduced the E-A-T Quality Rater guidelines in 2018 and has been updating them since. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness and is of paramount importance in verticals like healthcare and finance.

E-A-T is applied to pages or topics that could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety … otherwise known as “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL.

Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines say that content must be factually accurate to demonstrate a high level of E‑A-T, limiting search results to content that meets those standards. With fewer, more select accredited sources, the search landscape will continue to shift toward less domain diversity in the results pages.

Attribution will become harder to track

ROI and other key performance indicators will be more difficult for advertisers to evaluate, due to legal and technical changes in the area of consumer privacy.

The CCPA and GDPR currently restrict what consumer data can be collected, stored, and shared. And we can expect stricter data privacy regulations in the future. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 65% of the world’s population will have its personal data covered under modern privacy regulations, up from 10% in 2020.

In addition, the “cookieapocalypse” looms large, with Apple now blocking all third-party cookies by default. Google has announced that it will also block all third-party cookies by 2022. Without cross-site tracking, mapping the consumer journey becomes increasingly complex. Marketers will be challenged in measuring the effectiveness and roles of various platforms and channels in the conversion process.

Voice search will continue to grow–but not at rates forecasted

Voice search has been the big prediction over the last few years. So will 2021 be the year for voice search? We see it growing but still representing only a tiny portion of the overall search landscape.

Voice search is helpful in certain situations, and that’s how people use it most­–while driving, to find local businesses, to check the weather. In-home smart speakers have created the voice commerce channel, especially for routine and repeat purchases.

However, when people are doing research–considering a new purchase, comparing mortgage rates, or conducting a job search while exploring a company’s website–traditional search methods still reign. A voice search doesn’t offer the same experience or deliver comparable results.

BNO can help put your company in front of your best prospects­: active seekers. Talk to us about designing and implementing a SEM strategy to meet your objectives for 2021 and beyond.