Agencies Need to Liberate Search From Its “Tactical” Silo

After having engaged in hands-on pay-per-click (PPC) for 16 years, and SEO for 20 years, I’ve personally witnessed the evolution of the search marketing ecosystem. And I continue be amazed by how differently some agencies and marketers treat search marketing.

At many organizations, SEO and PPC search tend to be thought of as “tactical” disciplines. Even social media – the new darling of the marketing ball – is often relegated to a tactical silo within some agencies or on the client side. For companies that aren’t currently able to simultaneously dominate both the paid and organic portions of the SERP, this situation has to change. Someone at the agency – or on the client side – needs to take charge of the overall strategy, both the digital strategy and the overall marketing strategy.

For those agencies and in-house search engine marketing (SEM) managers who are listening, here’s what has to be done:

1) Develop a PPC and SEO data strategy. Keyword “Not Provided” is an inconvenience, but doesn’t eliminate the value of understanding the correlation between search intent and post-click behavior. Keyword data informs the SEO, social, and even the broader marketing strategy of any modern integrated campaign. Understanding how keywords (and keyword themes) represent your brand’s storytelling efforts can provide valuable strategic insights for all of your marketing efforts.

2) Regard search as a metric, not just a form of advertising/media. Searchers are often prompted to begin query sessions because of exposure to some other marketing touch point (for example, a mention in a news story, an appearance in a TV drama, a remark of a friend, or other offline event). This fact makes search a valuable strategic tool in terms of evaluating or testing the effectiveness of a brand’s online and offline marketing campaigns, as well as earned media (PR) hits.

Two important corollaries follow from point two:

  • Social media fails if you generate interest at the social media touch point and fail to capture the curious searcher.
  • Display media must work both to drive search behavior and as a retargeting vehicle to assure that relevant messages are reinforced.

3) Use PPC search to get you the answer to a marketing question FAST. Have a new product idea, new positioning statement, new tagline, or new ad copy? There’s no better audience than the highly interested searcher. You can test these things not only at the landing page but even in the SERP. There can be extraordinary value in this kind of “virtual focus group” research; one can argue that results from this kind of consumer study – which measures actions, not aspirations or assertions – are far more valuable than many kinds of qualitative consumer research studies.

4) Use PPC search to both harvest demand and create demand, depending on the mix of keywords and landing page messaging you select. While there are those who claim that there is no real brand lift on an unclicked ad, research from the IAB points otherwise. Plus, you only pay for the click, so any branding you get at the SERP is a bonus. Landing pages can also be crafted to emphasize education on attributes and have branding messages.

5) Realize that PPC listings in the SERP don’t only increase your revenue; they take revenue from the competition. In many businesses, customer acquisition results in a high lifetime customer value. Any time you miss an acquisition opportunity in search, chances are that opportunity is going to the competition. Search, in other words, is a strategic asset – both offensive and defensive – in the battle for market share.

6) Recognize that video search is a missing part of many marketing strategies. While you may not be able to sell immediately from sponsored video advertising (which isn’t generally PPC), it is an important part of educating consumers and prospects. YouTube, for example, has more than 1 billion users per month, watching 6 billion hours of video. Failing to have relevant content available to these users (who typically use search to access video content) is a major overlooked opportunity.

Search marketing is complicated, there are many moving parts, and the search engines revise their auction media marketplaces so rapidly that it’s perfectly understandable why many can’t see beyond the tactical aspects of search. The good news is that there are some agencies – and some in-house SEM teams – that have not only mastered the details but are prepared to fully embrace search’s strategic importance in driving all marketing success today.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.