Year by year, the data, tools and opportunities available to online marketers are increasing, and 2016 promises to be no different. We asked Ian Carrington, our Managing Director, Performance Solutions, EMEA, to give us his perspective on where advertisers looking for a competitive advantage should direct their efforts over the next twelve months.

This year, there are three areas where I think it will be vital for performance advertisers to focus their attention: Measurement, Assets and Automation.

Enhance Measurement

Since digital measurement went mainstream a little over a decade ago, last-click attribution has been the mainstay, and it has served most businesses well. But businesses can't stand still. In 2016, those that haven't already acknowledged the new reality of multiple devices and channels will need to reexamine their approach. Users are happily hopping from mobiles to tablets to desktops during the research and completion of a single purchase, but the old measurement models are ill-equipped to deal with this seamless movement. I appreciate that there are still concerns about things such as cross-device accuracy, cookie dependence, and ad blockers, but the time has come to stop letting these anxieties hold you back.

The simple truth is that digital media has better data than any other channel. This has been the case for years, and every year the quality of the dataset gets stronger. Cross-device measurement in AdWords is based on information from millions of signed-in users across Google’s properties, and if you’re not already using it, start now. Signed-in user data is as robust a method as you can find in digital media today and will give you a huge advantage in understanding the complete customer journey. Likewise, if you have a presence on the highstreet you should be using AdWords Store Visits and, if possible, integrating your offline sales data into Google Analytics. Otherwise you’re missing out on powerful and actionable insights into the connection between your online advertising and offline sales.

One of the hardest things to get right about measurement is how you handle the data itself. Fortunately, this is one area where a constant flow of innovation has made things easier, and next year will be no different. When measuring, you need to establish a single source of truth. This means you’re always going to the same place when you want to look at your numbers, making your reporting more efficient and less prone to human error. Once you’ve established a suitable home for your data, you need to put it to work. Use cross-device and attribution data to adjust your bids, build remarketing lists from your on-site analytics and offline CRM data, expand your audience targeting to similar affinity groups - there are countless ways your data can give you an edge. The key is to stop worrying about perfection and start using the datasets you already have.

Build on your Assets

The second area where I think there’s real advantage to be won in 2016 is Assets. By this I mean all of the outward elements that define a customer’s online interaction with your brand. In the coming year, the businesses that succeed are going to be the ones who become obsessed with creating and continuously improving assets that meet the needs of their customers. Good business has always been about good service, and digital is no different - understand your customer’s frustrations, desires and unmet needs, then build products and experiences that address them.

So what might this obsession look like in practice? Payment is an area where even the slickest of e-commerce experiences can grind to a halt, so I’m hoping to see more sites adopting safe, simple third-party payment systems. Users are familiar and comfortable with these payment options, and often already have accounts - integrating with them can reduce friction and enhance the customer experience through features such as one-click checkout. In a similar vein, development libraries and toolkits such as Google Polymer are making it easier and cheaper to build rich, app-like websites that increase engagement and conversion - if you’re not already exploring ways to supercharge the interactivity of your site, now is the time to start.

Mobile apps are already a key asset for many businesses, so I’ve saved my last word on this subject for these crucial pieces of real-estate. 2016 is going to be all about extending the reach of mobile, by looking at indexing and deep-linking to improve acquisition and retention. Then, for those of you who already feel you’re on top of your mobile fundamentals, I’m hoping to see some serious exploration of new mobile technologies and business models. There’s no shortage of disruptive start-ups out there who are as happy to annexe your customers as they are to develop new revenue streams, so constant innovation and reinvention is as much about defending your established base as it is about looking for new opportunities.

Harness Automation

Finally, as more users come online using more devices, and as measurement capabilities advance, the digital landscape is becoming increasingly complex. Every day, as many as 15% of all Google Search queries have never been seen by the system before, and the query is just one of several variables such as time, location, device etc. that have to be processed before you can provide a truly personalised ad experience. So, how do you cut through this complexity? In 2016, the answer is going to be Automation.

Dynamic ads that automatically tailor themselves to queries, devices and contexts can help you be there for your customers in every moment that matters to them, while AdWords can help you push your investment further with true auction-time bidding. AdWords’ automated systems analyse a rich set of signals in real time, covering time of day, operating system, remarketing status, browser version and many more, calculating the conversion probability of each and every query and ensuring that the most effective and efficient bid is made every time. Automation isn’t about handing over the keys to the kingdom to a black box - it’s about algorithms handling the precise, finicky stuff, at a speed and precision no human can match, freeing you up to focus on strategy and planning.

A new year always throws up new challenges and new opportunities, and I’m sure 2016 will be no different. But master these three areas and you should have a foundation solid enough to ensure success no matter what the next twelve months brings.