PPC Search: Create, Influence, Capture, and Harvest Demand

Search marketing has evolved and the time’s right for marketers to move beyond harvesting demand generated elsewhere. Capturing and harvesting consumer or business demand already in play is easy and can be done passably using rudimentary Web analytics or campaign management technology. Instead of being demand harvesters, marketers (those with brand budgets, in particular) must use search the same way they do other media: to influence consumers positively toward eventual purchase and create new demand for the brand and perhaps for their industry category as a whole.

Much of the traditional advertising we experience alerts us to a problem we didn’t know we had or increases our awareness of the severity of a problem we have. Perhaps the ad is simply trying to convince us that we should take action to avoid a potential problem, such as wrinkled skin, a home burglary, ownership of a crappy car, a dull Saturday night. Advertising often tells a story that provides a solution to that problem. And most advertising is designed to create demand, influence existing demand for a particular brand choice, harness that demand into action (purchase intent), then enable the retailer to harvest that demand.

Most marketers have done a great job harvesting customers from the clickstream driven from search impressions. Those search impressions and their resulting clicks don’t just happen spontaneously; they’re the result of media, advertising, marketing, buzz, store visits, news, or something in the searcher’s life that stimulated a search. Perhaps his coffeemaker broke that morning, or perhaps another medium was involved. Remember: It’s not just your own marketing or PR activities that stimulate search behavior. It occurs at a macro level as a result of all the activities, information, and communication a consumer touches or is touched by. That’s why search marketers must be aware of the overall consumer response ecosystem.

Most SEM (define) campaigns are primarily directed at harvesting demand. Don’t get me wrong, harvesting demand generated through other means is a great business, but it doesn’t fully maximize the marketing opportunity we have in front of us. Search, paid search in particular, has inserted itself into the last step of the consumer purchasing process only recently, and some marketers consider any paid search dollars spent on brand terms to be a toll the search engine charges marketers. It’s easy to see why one would adopt that mentality. Other marketers actually empower or permit affiliates to harvest customers for them. As marketers and advertisers, however, we look at the overall process of taking our customers through the buying cycle.

As more keyword-driven inventory becomes available, marketers will have an ongoing opportunity to revisit their media effectiveness criteria and definitions of success to facilitate the kinds of marketing and media decisions that create demand, influence individual buyer decisions, and help harness recently created demand.

For PPC (define) search and contextual media, marketers must develop proxy metrics for the brand lift, purchase intent lift, and overall brand favorability that occur, not so much from the PPC search impression, but from the user clicking through and interacting with the site. This metric will vary among marketers, and some have postulated that page views or time on site are great engagement indicators that should be used. These metrics shouldn’t be used in a vacuum, however, particularly when data can be collected to determine if there’s been a holistic impact on the overall segment of consumers touched by a campaign.

When expanding the list of post-click behaviors considered instrumental in the creation or influence on consumer demand, the marketing team must take into account more than just the keyword. Keywords may be an indicator of consumer intent, but they don’t tell us much more about the consumer. The consumer audience we can target in PPC search and particularly in contextual and behavioral media can be selected based on many of a media buyer’s tried-and-true targeting options: age, gender, geography, daypart, and so on.

Microsoft’s adCenter was the first platform to allow for incremental targeting by age and gender, but Google recently added age and gender targeting for the content network. When setting up campaigns, you’ll now have a combination of data to validate and improve a campaign as well as the application of targeting variables that have already proven to beat a run-of-network mix.

As more marketers take a holistic approach to buying PPC search and media, we may see a steady escalation in keyword prices, particularly in specific segments. So if you see your position dropping, it may not be a crazy competitor bidding irrationally. It may be an extremely smart, forward-thinking rival.

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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.