Impact of Tactical Promotions on Search

In my last column, we discussed the value of establishing a consistent paid search communication exposure for your brand term searches. We also looked at the fact that natural search does not take the place of paid search communication for brand terms, so it’s critical to have a brand search strategy in place.

Now here we are in the midst of the festive season where marketers are aggressively vying for maximum share of the consumer mind. In this case, I will use paid search as the key channel for online demand generation (product sales) while engaging in other activities such as display advertising, social media seeding and interaction, and third-party content sponsorships (complemented in the real world via print advertising). Like any other travel brand, we engage tactical promotions periodically in order to drive incremental demand and/or clear distress inventory.

Ever wondered about the nature of impact that a tactical promotion in non-SEM media might have on SEM program?

Given that the task of an agency is to constantly justify ROI, you might think tactical promotions will always trigger higher demand, but this is not the reality. To understand this better, let us delve into a few scenarios portrayed by the chart below.

Y axis depicts visitors to site from SEM and the X axis, bookings driven by SEM to the site as a percentage of visitors from SEM

The first glaring aspect is that even though PPC campaigns did not actively promote these tactical offers, clear crests are noticeable in the Visitors/Impressions Percentage metricduring the periods where tactical promotions were deployed. This may be interesting for many readers because the ‘search audience’ seems to be responding to ‘non-promotional’ communication in paid search as a result of promotional communication in non-SEM media.

The second point is, although all the tactical promotions were straddling weekends (Fridays onwards), where the search traffic is known to be in a significantly low-trough state (readers may note the low impression levels during weekends), the visitor volumes were buoyant enough to be comparable to weekday visitor volumes owing to the spike in impressions to visitor throughput rate. This is another interesting observation that there was almost a complete absence of ‘promotional communication’ in paid search. What this means is that users who have been exposed to multiple media communication tend to suddenly become more responsive to normal paid search communication, agnostic to whether corresponding promotional messaging appears in SEM or not.

Now that we have examined ‘surface metrics’ such as impressions and visitors to the site, let’s dive in to the in-site ‘conversion’ metrics. How do tactical promotions in non-SEM media affect conversions via paid search stream?

Y axis depicts visitors to site from SEM and the X axis, bookings driven by SEM to the site as a percentage of visitors from SEM.

From the chart above, we find that there was an overall upside to conversion rates during the time there were non-SEM promotions. But variance was evident in terms of the actual degree of conversion rates that depended on the strength of the offer, the destinations packages that the tactical drove, the competitive clutter, and the coverage that the promotion garnered via non-SEM media.

Notable among the crests were the early promotion periods during August as compared to the later periods (Sept. to Oct.), and this fact is attributed to the competitive clutter levels commenced to grow towards the later period in the chart. One could also speculate that when the tactical promotion has a lower duration (read: Saturday/Sunday) instead of a longer period straddling the weekend, conversion rates tend to be better. I think the speculation would not be grossly unfounded either.

So what does this mean for marketers?

  • Search marketing is not an island. It is a powerful tool that needs to be deployed as an ongoing demand generation channel online.
  • When you utilise multiple media as touchpoints with your audience, do remember that the next destination your audience will gravitate towards is the search box in search engines. So to cast the net wide (but relevantly) and wait for your audience to stream in as a result of multimedia impact is a strategy that no smart marketer should overlook.
  • Even when you do not have tactical ad communication in your paid search program, the audience still tends to click on your ‘always on’ SEM communication and convert as a result of the non-SEM media impact.
  • The extent to which your tactical promotions work depends to a large extent on the relative competitive landscape, the season you advertise in, and many other factors, therefore, remember not to wring the necks of your poor SEM agency for conversions not coming in.

There are a few questions that might arise at this juncture:

  • But should I not take extra efforts and include specific tactical communication in the SEM program? Will it not lead to a very high incremental conversion?
  • Did they click on your natural search results and convert? If so, what percentage of overall users did your sponsored SEM ads drive versus natural search?

We will attempt a deep dive another time. I wish all of you a fantastic festive season and see you in 2011!

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