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This idea is not new; however, the term “natural language search” has become more popular in recent months. The idea is simple: Searchers ask full questions when searching online, not just keywords, so your ads should reflect this way of searching. 

For example, in the past you would see a keyword-based search that may say “Ernest Hemingway hometown” and then perhaps another search that said “Farewell to Arms date.” Now, however, it is much more likely that a searcher will type or say “where was Ernest Hemingway live when he wrote A Farewell to Arms?”  

It’s also worth noting that this trend isn’t just Google – Bing has also moved toward NLS and there is evidence to suggest that both not only can handle NLS in their results, but actually prioritize it when it comes to Ads (more on this later). So, this begs a few questions for businesses: is NLS here to stay, and if so, how can a business best optimize Ads to keep up with the trend?

Why the Shift to Natural Language Search (NLS)? 

According to Wordstream, their Google Ads research into the best ad types revealed that ads in the top 15% repeat just two words per ad.” In other words, when writing your ads it’s important to write them the way that someone might search, and that doesn’t always mean using keywords. NLS became popular for two reasons: 

  • Voice search is now accounting for a greater share of overall search traffic, particularly on mobile where 20% of queries are currently done with voice search (see some of the fascinating voice search statistics here). Think Siri and Alexa. 
  • Google BERT was an algorithm update that, for the first time, gave Google a better way to understand searcher intent when NLS is used. This update happened in October 2019, and once again, those in the industry believe that this signaled that Google is looking to prioritize ads written in natural language. People want to ask a question on the go in a quick and easy way, so Google worked hard to make that happen and has now officially found success. 

In addition to simply getting more clicks when your ads are written in this style, you can expect more qualified leads. NLS lends itself to more long-tail keywords, and while these may have a lower search volume historically for your company, they almost always have a higher conversion rate. 

Fortunately, optimizing your ads for NLS is pretty easy to do. In the past you likely thought about what someone would search for in Google, then you would pick out a keyword and try to double-down on that keyword in your title, descriptions, URL, and snippets. With NLS, you’re eliminating that second step. 

Below are a few things to keep in mind when focusing on NLS in your ads:

1. Don’t Repeat Words in Your Ads

Make sure that you don’t repeat words in your ads. This signals to Google that you are still stuck on a keyword-based strategy where you would try and use your keyword as much as possible, which isn’t the way Google is trying to move. They worked hard to offer better results based on NLS, so you can count on the fact that they’re using that technology as much as possible. 

2. Utilize Google’s Expanded Text Ads Third Field Option

This new policy launched in 2017 and gives you two headline fields to use and a third optional field. The optional field allows you to include additional text in your ads, so use it for more visibility. Think about the different ways someone would search for your product or service and include those in your ads (while still ensuring you aren’t repeating any words). Below is an example from Wordstream with this in mind: 

Expanded Text Ad example

3. Natural Language Processing (NLP) 

There is quite of bit of buzz in the industry about natural language search, but also natural language processing (NLP). The two ideas are slightly different – NLP is a tool created by Google that allows businesses to gain insights from data using machine learning, also known as the BERT model. This API tool is based on the technology Google uses in search algorithms and can offer insights into customers via social media, emails, and more. 

In other words, this technology enables anyone to train their own state-of-the-art question answering system to create better NLS Ads. The best part? The tool is free. Check it out here. The image below is a snapshot from Google explaining how the tool works:

4. Always Consider the Intent of the Searcher

This is primarily an SEO tip, but it can work for PPC as well. 

Every company wants that zero position, right? Part of this is to understand what type of content the searcher is after – images, a list, a video, etc. Your best bet is to come up with the NLS you want to rank for and then look to see what pops up and write or record similar content. For example, if someone searches for “best elliptical machines,” they are most likely looking for a list. Create a piece of content with a numbered list as the main body of the piece. If someone searches for “boho wallpaper ideas”, you may want to focus on your images and utilize your alt-text correctly. This will help you rank organically, but it can also help you come up with titles and better landing pages for your Ads and helps you avoid what we call ad blindness

5. Combine Keywords with High Potential for Phrase Match 

So you thought you were done with keywords? While NLS would like you to think that, keywords do still matter (just not as much as in the past). When evaluating your ads, try to identify keywords that have a high potential for phrase match with natural phrasing. For example, something like “learn social media marketing from a social media team with real social media experience” can be improved. At the core of that statement, you are offering a chance to learn about social media, so think about how you can utilize phrase match with a better Ad based on NLS. For example, “Grow your business x% with our expert-led social media marketing course.” Visit SpyFu for more great examples

6. Extra Tip: The Speed of Your Landing Pages Matters 

The whole idea of NLS is to get users their answers quickly, so the speed is more important than ever. Google expects those utilizing voice search to be on the go, so a slow landing page isn’t going to cut it if you want to see success in the long run. You may get the clicks with the tips above, but your bounce rate won’t be great. Learn more about how to increase PPC landing page conversions here

Final Thoughts

As to whether or not this trend is here to stay – absolutely. The sooner you can begin revising your Ads to meet this new way of NLS way of searching, the better results will come your way.