To coincide with the release of Econsultancy’s Paid Search Agencies Buyer’s Guide this week, I’ve been talking to some leading UK search agency experts about what 2011 holds for the sector. 

I’ve no doubt that paid search is going to become sexy again – we’ve seen PPC products and technologies emerging such as Google’s location-based ads, Product Listings, Extensions and Sitelinks.

Additionally, Bing and Yahoo! continue to challenge Google, while new opportunities for paid search are becoming apparent, ranging from mobile through to social media.

It looks to be an exciting year ahead for what some marketers regard as a stale channel, despite its effectiveness and accountability. But what do those on the frontline think?

What key trends do you think will be seen in paid search through 2011?

Justin Hayward, Make It Rain

The look of PPC ads will change dramatically in 2011. We’re already seeing map info on PPC ads and Google Product listings being shown. Looking ahead, there’s also Google Voucher which is in BETA, again allowing the top listings to have a bigger ad which is accompanied with an image and offer. If the user doesn’t visit the site but prints the voucher, advertisers will still be charged a CPC. Potentially, these types of changes will mean that top positions will become even more competitive, due to the depth of content being included and ad space becoming restricted.

Edward ‘Teddie’ Cowell, Guava 

There will be much better integration with other forms of online media buying and advert retargeting, as well as an increase in different formats for search-targeted paid ads. Alongside this, I expect to see a greater use of localised targeting of paid search and improved integration with Google Places which is on its way very soon. There’s also a possibility we might see an evolution of the “Cost-per-Click” pricing metric better suited to how users interact with ads on Local, Mobile and other devices.

Rob Shaw, Epiphany

A key trend for 2011 is that paid search advertisers will begin to give greater emphasis to Facebook as part of their advertising mix. The advertising platform for Facebook has gone from strength to strength this year, with greater targeting opportunities and more transparency about results. Twitter might also release an advertising platform, which will be met with a large scale uptake from advertisers.

Sri Sharma, Net Media Planet

I’m expecting to see a large uptake of video advertising, specifically within YouTube. Considering that the site now has 35 hours-worth of video content uploaded every minute and the ability for marketers to target videos, categories and demographic audiences, it’s easy to see why video will become relevant to paid search in the near future. We’ll also likely see an increase in advertising within video through Google’s display network, as it allows overlay of textual and display adverts on video content as it is watched. 

Where do you think the biggest opportunities lie within this market next year?

Rob Shaw

Google will remain the key player for most advertisers, with an array of feature releases that we have seen this year and will no doubt continue have a dominating presence in 2011. However, with the Yahoo!-Bing merger creating a stronger rival to Google, there will be an increase in activity on these platforms too. Furthermore, advertisers will be given the opportunity to think outside the box and find unique ways to impact their audiences in 2011.

Justin Hayward

There’s a huge opportunity with enhanced PPC listings, which include map information via the ad extension. Google Boost is in BETA in the US and is very likely to reach the UK early 2011. This function will allow advertisers to utilise their Google places page within the PPC ads. This opens up the potential for small businesses – and even for those who don’t have a website. The places page is equipped with business information, images, videos and independent reviews, all extremely rich data on one page.

Sri Sharma

Online and offline will continue to move closer towards each other, with mobile supporting this massively. Already, uptake in mobile search is growing fast and although currently a slow process, more mobile transactional websites are appearing and therefore will want to drive traffic… both online and offline, for example footfall in stores.

Teddie Cowell

Two words: local and mobile. In a more extended sense marketers need to consider the targeting opportunities which come from these two elements working together.

How do you think social search will evolve?

Rob Shaw

Social search is an area that will undoubtedly grow further in 2011 with the continued growth and popularity of previously mentioned social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter. The way we are searching and seeking out information is evolving at an incredible rate… recommendations and feedback from partners carry huge weighting, and websites such as Facebook and Twitter allow an excellent platform in which to do this. 

Sri Sharma

Facebook will launch ‘like’-based search into its own search capability in an effort to try and take on Google for user share. It’s unlikely that Facebook will build a proprietary search engine but its developments might still potentially pose a large challenge to the search engines. 

Teddie Cowell, 

People have very different interpretations of the meaning of “social search”. In terms of the Wikipedia definition, utilising social signals to increase the relevancy of the search results we receive is a very important progression for search engines. However, I think search engines are still very much in the early trial-and-error phases of doing this, as they need to work out which signals are valid, which aren’t and how to use them. 

What challenges will face PPC marketers in the coming 12 months? 

Teddie Cowell

Keeping up with the way users internet experiences are shifting to other devices and how that impacts the status quo in terms of pricing models, ad formats and metrics.

Sri Sharma

We will see increasing CPCs from Yahoo!/Bing alliance in the UK and internationally. We are already seeing this, as they just launched in the US.

Rob Shaw

The fast-evolving mix of options available in paid search will also become one of the biggest challenges of 2011, meaning advertisers will have to learn new skills and techniques to stay ahead of the competition.

Justin Hayward

The recent launch of Google instant will have a big impact on PPC performance. After three seconds of the ad being seen an impression is counted. The key actions are to make sure that negative terms are utilised to prevent your ad being shown for irrelevant searches. 

Are there specific areas of paid search that marketers need to focus on?

Sri Sharma

Facebook advertising: but not as a means for direct response, rather for engaging with a customer. Facebook advertising will probably be used to drive new ‘likes’ to brands Facebook pages, where varying levels of engagement can be achieved within the platform, instead of driving traffic to third-party sites. 

Teddie Cowell

Definitely Facebook. Guava’s Swedish and Danish offices already invest more on Facebook ads than Google ads because it performs better in those territories. It’s something to keep a close eye on.

Rob Shaw

Google TV may well be one to watch next year, certainly in the US. We may see advertising go full circle with the television again and becoming the dominant force… only this time, it will be far more measurable and targeted. All indications point to towards Google’s intention to push this service hard – and the concept of search and a browser built into future TV sets really isn’t that difficult to envisage.

[Image credit: B a m s h a d]