As the role social media plays in our lives changes, it has a knock-on effect with every other digital interaction between brands and users. And social commerce will only continue to grow, make no mistake about it. Google’s growing emphasis on Product Listing Ads is no coincidence; the online buying process is changing and that means you need to change with it.

The big question for many of us is what does this mean for PPC as we know it? Google has just removed right hand column ads in search results – partly to accommodate more Product Listing Ads, we suspect. So the impact has already begun, but what can we expect further down the line?

A change in user intent

Since the early days of social media marketing, the general rule has been something like this: if people notice you’re trying to sell to them, you’re doing it wrong. People don’t log into Facebook or Instagram to be bombarded with ads. The casual browsing people have in mind when they open up their favourite social app is a world away from the high-intent Google search that triggers an AdWords auction.

How times are changing though! Referrals from social alone grew by almost 200% between 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile, ads are becoming less intrusive and more engaging. And then you have social networks queuing up to integrate buy buttons into their platforms – not just for the fun of it either.

The fact is user intent is changing on social media. Users aren’t only more open to promotional content and other social commerce features; they’re taking to them. Fifty-three percent of shoppers aged 18-34 say Facebook keeps them up-to-date with the latest shopping trends. While 25 percent of millennials will check out a product if their friends share it on social media.

Essentially, social commerce is here and users are ready to lap it up.


So what does this means for PPC?

Well, in terms of the social side of paid advertising things are certainly on the move. Change is on the horizon for AdWords advertisers too and Google is among the pack of firms pushing buy buttons into its platform.

So we’re anticipating a lot of talk about search vs social over the coming years. But the two aren’t exactly competitors to begin with – because of that all-important user intent. Social users aren’t actively looking for the product; they’re casually browsing until something peaks their interest. And if a product peaks their interest enough, then they could well go ahead and buy it – but it wasn’t what they had in mind when they logged in or opened the app.

Search users, on the other hand, are actively looking for something. Sometimes they’re itching to buy the product before they can finish typing out their query and all you have to do is be the first brand they see. That’s a kind of user intent and high-quality lead you can’t really get from social. So much like the old SEO vs PPC debate, the search vs social will be largely trivial. The two won’t be having it out, but rather they’ll be working together as part of a balanced marketing strategy.