Search works. Period. End of story.
Despite that truth, every year it seems like many brands cannot wait to put dollars elsewhere. The annual industry spend projections seem to frequently trumpet a rise in media investment in alternative digital channels. They project that some channel is going to replace search or, at the very least, take a chunk of growth away from search. The reasons are varied, ranging from consumer behavior shifts to media inventory accessibility and programmatic ease in buying those alternative channels. The reality is search is as unsexy today as it has ever been to talk about. It’s still largely text and it’s still primarily predicated on an explicit consumer action that takes the influence element out of the media. Search is not measured on exposure and engagement, but rather on cold, hard revenue.
If we can all agree for a minute that people still go to Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and that they search for products, places, and people – and acknowledge that they now do these things on their mobile devices, on YouTube, and will do it on Facebook and Twitter increasingly more often – then we simply need to determine how to make those hand-raisers the centerpiece of our digital strategy.
As brands ready for 2013, here are a few ways to maximize the role search should play for your brand:
- Campaign architecture. The single biggest impact you can have on an existing campaign is through account restructuring. Regrouping keywords based on messaging and Quality Score, adding and subtracting from campaigns, and proper application of negatives and match types can give you a 20 percent-plus lift without doing much else. The dirty truth is it takes work. Agencies rarely do it except for when they take over an account from someone else, and it’s a time-consuming, less glamorous activity. But, like search itself, it works.
- Testing. When Google introduces product listing ads (PLAs) or Yahoo announces ad formats for organic results, how quick are you ready to jump in? Whether it’s an ad format or a third-party system for creative or bidding, there are any number of tests. The basis for any test should be to improve or increase your campaign. Many brands want something beyond search because they feel like search is tapped out. Testing can be a solution without leaving the channel, but a testing rigor must be established and applied.
- Find “like” media opportunities. If search works for you, figure out why and go find non-traditional opportunities. If search works because people are expressing intent in your brand, then find channels where you can generate more intent. If they are expressing category interest and you need more exposure, then go find inventory with similar targeting opportunities. More and more businesses are being created using search principles and more channels are using hand-raising as selection criteria for ads.
- Search should drive other media. The single greatest way to get more searches is to buy more TV. That has been a consistent for a decade and it’s not stopping. If search is the deal closer for you, then find media outlets that give you a higher propensity for future searches to take place. If you are buying audiences and targets, or investing in social, then do it with a data connection to your end goal of search conversion. This will also allow you to best determine what you will and won’t spend per click in the search channel.
In 2013, social, mobile, and audience-based buying are all going to command attention and media dollars. The effectiveness of those channels will be scrutinized and brands will invest substantial time and money in the potential. That’s all important and valuable, but it does not diminish from what search has done for your brand and will do into the future. Sometimes the old dog doesn’t need a new trick, sometimes you just have to feed that big dog and let him continue to eat.