The top 3 PPC marketing search engines of 2018

by Debra Wang and Vladimir Bradic, 26 Jan 2018

In a world of digital giants, it seems impossible that anyone could topple behemoths like Google and Microsoft. But in the words of Jurassic Park, “Life expands to new territories…life (always) finds a way.” Lately, it seems some new players are taking that to heart and jockeying for a seat at the top.

Here are three advertising search engines that are doing just that. While they may not be on your PPC marketing plan, you may want to consider them, because they’re not going extinct anytime soon.

1. Amazon: eCommerce Powerhouse and PPC Goldmine

It’s no secret that Amazon has terrorized the retail and literary world for years with its mere existence. Its ability to tackle and disrupt any industry was back on display last year, as it sent shockwaves through Wall Street and sent grocery stores scrambling when it picked up Whole Foods for a cool $13.7 billion.

At its core, the fuel to Amazon’s success is its Prime membership option. Prime members are not only growing in numbers, but cementing purchase behavior that starts and ends without ever leaving the Amazon ecosystem.

There are 182 million self-reported Active Prime Users in the U.S. who made a confirmed purchase in the past 12 months, with an additional 4 million subscribers signing up just this past holiday season.

92% of users who start their journey on Amazon will end up purchasing on Amazon; studies have also shown Prime members spend more with every subsequent year and are less likely to shop anywhere else vs. non-Prime users.


To state it clearly, ignoring Amazon would be ignoring a large swath of customers and revenue.


Due to Amazon’s unique nature and structure, advertisers that want to link up with it will quickly find several notable differences. The two biggest differences are that, first, Amazon requires all paid media advertisers to be Amazon vendors (with a 2-4 week waitlist to become a vendor). Second, and perhaps most important, Amazon is an ecosystem that lives and dies off of good reviews...a LOT of good reviews. These criteria can be time-consuming to achieve.

Here are some other differences to contend with after you’re in with Amazon versus other search engine marketing platforms:

  • Currently, there are only three different ad units, two for search and one for display, with character limits up to 50.
  • Targeting, campaign management and reporting options are still rudimentary. We expect Amazon to quickly adapt and evolve their offerings, but for now, targeting is limited to keyword, interest, category or product. Once created, campaign settings, like budget management, cannot be changed — a new campaign would need to be created. And reporting is based on Amazon click trackers only.
  • Double-listing: Amazon allows advertisers to submit their listings into auction for each placement within one user search. This means that with the right keyword, product and search bid combination, one could own all three sponsored placements at the top of the page. Given the relatively low number of advertisers, the ability to own the page is high, and will only decrease as more advertisers jump on board.

As Amazon continues to refine its advertising capabilities, advertisers need to follow wherever consumers are shopping, which ultimately could drive a larger hole in Google and Bing’s wallet.


2. Pinterest: Strong Visuals Lead to Big Purchases

Where Amazon is formidable, Pinterest is visually beautiful and impactful. Never before has one channel been the inspiration (and motivation) to move, act and, ultimately, purchase.

Industry critics were skeptical about Pinterest’s ability to monetize their user base, but since its paid search launch in late 2017, it’s proven to have true advertising, and staying, power. An eMarketer study supports Pinterest’s claim that visuals are key, saying 75% of U.S. internet searchers look for visuals before making a purchase.

Pinners are a fanatical and engaged lot, contributing to over 2 billion monthly searchers. 93% of Pinners use it to plan for things they want to buy and start shopping on Pinterest for up to two months before using other platforms.

Pinterest is the perfect ecosystem for advertisers to find consumers that are still open to suggestions and highlight which non-brand keywords have the highest potential to carry over into their other keyword-driven media channels. 87% of Pinners purchase because of Pinterest; 97% of searches are non-brand; and only 69% of brands purchased were a part of the initial consideration set.

These are consumers who are willing to invest the time to research and root out the obscure but perfect solution to their searches, long ahead of the intended purchase date.

Advertising options on Pinterest are more robust than Amazon’s, as they have looked to find seamless ways to integrate paid advertising and sponsorships without disrupting the current user experience; however, both a product SKU minimum and a monthly spend minimum are required to advertise.

Ad formats on Pinterest are more varied, too, with Promoted Pins, Google Shopping feed integrations and even promoted videos targeted through a wide range of audience segmentation, such as Location, Demographics, Device, Keyword, Interests, Look-A-Likes, Customer List and Remarketing.

Performances from these early Pinterest adopters are music to digital marketers’ ears. Studies are not only showing that these sponsored ad placements are driving positive ROAS, but also as much as a 30% lift in incremental sales versus the next best performing channel. They also show users exposed to Pins had a larger shopping cart purchase versus purchases not exposed to Pins and that 70% of incremental sales were generated from new customers.

As Pinners are used to investing the time to find the “Pinterest perfect” item, advertisers should take a hard look and see if Pinterest would be perfect for their PPC media plans, too.


3. YouTube: How Video Ads and Personal Branding Make Meaningful Impressions

According to Alexa, YouTube is the second most visited site not only in the U.S., but worldwide, and is the second largest search engine on the web. With more than 1 billion users, YouTube is available in 70+ countries and 60+ languages. Given its geographical reach and pure volume, it’s surprising that YouTube is sometimes an afterthought in a PPC marketing campaign instead of an active part of every consideration set.

While one of the most obvious barriers to YouTube is the need for video content, YouTube is and has been evolving to offer marketers better capabilities to match the right message to the desired action. These various implementations can be seen in its key features for targeting, video ad formats and measurement options:
  • Targeting - In addition to standard demographic, interest and behavioral targeting, YouTube is also segmenting visitor engagement based on their purchase intent through Custom Affinity Audience tools – this allows you to create your own audience by adding interest groups and URLs that match the relevant group of potential clients. Moreover, brands will have an option for a personalized approach to audience targeting by bringing their own data to be included or excluded from a specific campaign, as well as layer on Similar Audiences to find new, qualified consumers who resemble your current highest value customers. In this sense, audience segmentation rivals that of any display plan, uncommon for most PPC partners.
As Google continues to explore ways to capitalize on all the data and learnings captured across all of their different arms (ie Gmail, Google, Youtube, Maps etc...), we expect even more advanced audience targeting to be released in the near future.
  • Video Ad Formats - YouTube offers three types of formats—:06, :15 and :30+ videos, each designed to target specific audiences based on device. Each format plays to different strengths and weakness and, as anything in media, should require constant and ongoing testing. In one study, Google showed that even with its longest ad format, as long as the viewer watched at least 30 seconds of the video, he/she was 23x more likely to visit or subscribe to the brand channel. In order to enhance users’ engagement with video ads, YouTube offers a variety of interactive features specifically designed with your brand’s goal in mind. From an increase in visits to your website, to making the shopping experience more efficient, YouTube’s Interactive elements help ensure customers are just one click away from making a purchase on your site.
  • Measurement - View counts alone are not enough to measure the full success of any campaign. Backed by Google, YouTube has robust partnerships with various other reporting tools that can drive a deeper understanding of the customer journey, like Brand Lift, Google Analytics and YouTube Analytics. KPIs can be segmented into three different buckets: awareness, consideration and action to align with whatever brand goals are needed.
Similar to Amazon and Pinterest, YouTube has the audience size combined with the ability to target customers in a visually engaging format while also measuring each step of a customer’s journey. As these digital giants continue to try gaining and maintaining their edge over the others, existing partnerships are changing in an attempt to force users to stay within one platform/universe. Amazon recently removed Google products from its e-commerce platform, and Google dropped support for YouTube on Amazon's online platforms. In a telling sign of the times, Jeff Bezos of Amazon recently toppled Bill Gates as the richest man on the planet, with an estimated net worth of $105 billion, a solid 13% higher than Gates’ $93 billion. Pay-per-click ad plans that only partner with Google and Bing are soon to be a thing of the past, so make sure you’re not overlooking these niche universes of consumers and their purchasing journey.    

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