If you’re reading my columns, you probably rely on search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) heavily in your overall online marketing plan. Despite the occasional bout with invalid bot clicks, traffic from the search engine results pages (SERPs) has always been the kind of traffic we love and lust after. Hey, I buy display media (particularly behavioral) and love an “earned media” campaign that’s kicking ass within social as much as anyone. But for steady, high-value clicks, nothing rocks like pay-per-click (PPC) search and SEO clicks. Not that we need a pep rally, but other media is being portrayed as sexy and is getting the attention of marketing departments and distracting agencies with “shiny object syndrome.” So, here’s my list of six reasons why search clicks rock:
- The humans doing the clicking wanted to click. As a matter of fact, banner click intent was recently measured to be missing in approximately half of banner clicks. The study was conducted and reported by Ted McConnell, VP at the Advertising Research Foundation (and an online industry veteran). The study authors indicated that “Half the clickers told us they were curious, the other half admitted to a mistaken click.” In search, we get some mistaken clicks, but I’m confident we don’t have a 50 percent mistaken click rate (now, I’m sure Ted will spend another $480 to prove me wrong).
- Search engines filter bots. The search engines are still imperfect at filtering bots because perfection is impossible, but Google and the rest have had well over a decade to learn how to filter bots. Recently Facebook was again accused of being lax in policing bot activity (a previous lawsuit on invalid clicks is still pending, I believe). This is a fresh complaint.
For most publishers, some if not all of the bot clicks still make it through to your site, but the current consensus is that the search engines do a good job of filtering out invalid clicks for billing purposes. Opinions clearly differ regarding Facebook. Many years ago I served on an IAB working group/committee that strove to define valid clicks (therefore also helping define an invalid click) and the search engines were active participants in that group. Despite conspiracy theories to the contrary, I believe that the search engines wanted to retain a level of trust in their click auctions to keep cost-per-clicks (CPCs) high and marketers interested.
- Signal and intent. Nothing signals intent better than search. Other forms of media are intrusive or clicks are serendipitous (your friend just announced her purchasing of an iPad via a social media platform and you decided it’s time to buy one too). Search clicks are loaded with intent.
- We get to control the level of intent in the search clicks. Think of all the great ways we can tune intent with keyword match types and negative keywords. We can’t perfectly impute buying intent based on “early funnel” vs. “lower funnel” keywords, but we still have amazing control. That control allows us to build landing pages that more accurately address the needs of the visitor. A banner click? Who can guess their intent, even if they clicked on purpose?
- We can control audience with PPC search. Sure, adCenter still lets you bid boost by age and gender, but Google and Microsoft both let us target based on geography and daypart. Those are great proxies for your audience in ways you probably haven’t fully imagined nor taken advantage of. My team and I have been doing some fun work in the area of audience tuning within PPC search, beyond the obvious.
- Frequency capping is automatic. Display and even PPC social suffers from a lack of easy frequency control, particularly for large campaigns trafficked to larger publishers and ad networks. Sure, a searcher might see your ad more than once, or even click on it more than once, but the search is usually a new one (change in intent), and one certainly wouldn’t expect searchers to engage with our listings in a SERP dozens of times a month the same way you see an ad dozens of times a month.
One more bonus reason came to light as I was penning this column. The Wall Street Journal reported that “The Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce Wednesday new rules that close loopholes that currently allow companies to gather information despite a 1998 law that was supposed to protect kids’ online footprint.” Well, as long as you are following the original COPPA guidelines, it’s unlikely these changes will have an impact on search. We expect searchers to search anonymously and when they become customers, we can address regulatory concerns at that time.
I hope you remain as excited about search engine marketing today as I am. The opportunities to refine and improve campaigns are still there. Sure, check out the latest shiny objects, because you never know, one might be the killer app; but stay true to search engine marketing. It may not be as sexy as the new stuff to everyone, but we know and understand the elegance and power SEM holds. Search clicks rock!
Cheering Crowd image on home page via Shutterstock.
This column was originally published on August 3, 2012.