An Unbiased Look at Search?

unnamed-21 The days of search as a must-have line item within your marketing plan are gone.

The evolution of Google into a media goliath has raised search up onto a platform that may not be strong enough to support its own weight. As the popularity of search and Google’s advertising platform grows, so does the thought that search is the magic marketing bullet. With paid search revenue expected to top $70b in 2016, search is no longer the hidden gem for businesses that it once was. Indeed, minimally competitive categories are rare and advertisers in all categories can face competition that is irrational in its pursuit for top positioning.

For this reason it is important that search go from a must-have-at-all-costs channel to one where a sound strategic approach & rationale is needed. These 3 considerations will help develop that rationale.

1. Determine the role search plays within your marketing plan.

Search can successfully be both a direct response and branding vehicle. Identifying what role it plays in your marketing mix will help determine the importance you put on it and begin shaping the sound rationale and approach. If your end goal is a sale or a specific action (e.g. registration) and that is the focus of all marketing efforts, then looking at search as a direct response vehicle only is the right approach and budgets should be determined based on this.

But if there is value to a visitor that doesn’t make a purchase or take a key action, a more complex hybrid approach as well as a strategy for determining the value of this visitor is necessary. It is not enough to say someone is a qualified visitor, prove it. Put a plan in place for determining what makes someone qualified and how they contribute to the bottom-line and you will also be justifying any investment.

 2. Understand the true volume within the category.

Search is a demand driven platform. No matter how large a search budget or what the objective, if there isn’t the volume to support it then the budget will sit dormant. There is a large misperception that because someone types a phrase into a search box, others must be doing the same and therefore the opportunity is infinite. For this reason it is important to understand what the true size of the landscape is based on your objectives outlined earlier.

If the primary focus of search is a singular action then the opportunity may be limited, but becomes much more straightforward. . If awareness and branding are added to the mix then the category opportunity increases and becomes more difficult to measure the further we go up the funnel. We must identify what makes a non-action-focused visitor qualified to further refine and validate our investment in this channel.

3. Know the other channels in your marketing mix.

Channel allocations don’t follow a neat, linear progression. No channel should be looked at in a silo, but instead should be dissected into smaller segments to know how your budget should be spent. Before maximizing all search, identify and prioritize other channels that are more efficient at driving immediate actions. This will help shape where your second dollar should go.

Much discussion occurs surrounding attribution modeling to determine exactly what effect different touch points have throughout the consideration cycle. Understanding how different stages influence the final action will help shape your marketing plan and better inform what the opportunity is within search and where you should be investing.

The old saying, ‘when you’re holding a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail’ is very applicable when talking about search. For the past 10 years it has been perceived as a must-own channel and with the help of Google, budgets and expectations have become inflated. Search will always be a top-performer, but it’s important to identify what the true breadth of the opportunity within search is.

This column was written by Chris Tuleya, Vice President, eDR, at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for their column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.