Cross-Channel Integration Key to Search Success

The most successful search engine marketing initiatives are those that integrate with other marketing channels. That was a common theme expressed by a number of experts gathered for the Search Engine Strategies conference this week in New York.

“It’s time to start thinking of search as an advertising vehicle, and not just as a direct response channel,” said Ron Belanger, VP of search at Carat Interactive.

He pointed out that mass media consumption habits are changing, and with them the mass media advertising model. Instead of conducting campaigns across multiple media in a vacuum, it is more effective to use the strengths of each channel to complement each other. For instance, a campaign could use search to help consumers conduct research online and then drive them offline to make a purchase.

“It’s harder to send a single message to a mass audience, and the response vehicle is not as immediate — they research more, and consider more before making a purchasing decision,” Belanger said. “When they go online to validate a decision, they will go to search.”

To take advantage of this changing consumer behavior, savvy advertisers are putting money into search that had been set aside for other media. Print and television ads have long been considered better for communicating a branding message to buyers in the consideration phase, but search ads can now catch people as they research and consider a purchase.

Belanger said that 50 to 75 percent of Carat Interactive’s clients have a portion of search spend that is not tied to specific CPA (cost-per-action) goals. The ads are expected to create a latent conversion at some point in the future, or to build brand.

“With changes in the way consumers are seeking out content, we need to change the way we think of search and bring it out of the vacuum,” said Chris Copeland, managing director of SEM firm Outrider, part of WPP Group’s Mediaedge:cia media buying agency. “The most successful way to do that is to speak the same language.”

For instance, while other media measure audience in gross ratings points (GRP), most search marketers don’t have any idea of how to create a comparable metric. He points out that there is not such a big difference in the language and goals of search marketers and offline direct response marketers, who measure success in similar metrics. The gap is largest between search marketers and companies like consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers who do not sell direct, and are focused on measuring success in terms of brand awareness.

Integration of search with other forms of marketing lets businesses interact consistently with their audiences across all channels, while also creating efficiencies from complementary efforts. Copeland believes the main reasons advertisers do not integrate is a lack of time or understanding, or an unwillingness to share a marketing budget or the spotlight.

The unwillingness lies on both sides of the table, he said, with search marketers hesitant to drive offline conversions that they might not get credit for, and offline marketers unwilling to turn the spotlight to another channel that might outperform their own.

Some categories of marketers are farther along the integration path than others, such as multi-channel retailers and travel players, according to Copeland.

The path to integration should take a three-phase approach, said Andy Beal, VP of search marketing at Websourced. The first step is to match paid search efforts to existing traditional marketing initiatives. Then marketers can map out the next 12 months of campaigns planned in other channels to prepare complementary paid search campaigns and optimize the appropriate organic listings.

“The challenge is to get marketers to look at their value to each other,” Copeland said. “Doing anything in a vacuum is limiting its true potential.”

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