Should Marketers Bid on One’s Own Brand Terms?

We delved in to the relationship between generic search terms (non-brand) and brand search terms in my last column, which left us reflecting about the critical role that non-brand search term coverage plays in attracting and engaging newer audiences and thereby aids in bolstering bottom line metrics such as product views, price comparisons, conversions, revenue, and more. You would recollect that we examined queries related to brand term search bidding for brand searches conducted in search engines.

In this column, let’s address those queries using valuable data streams gleaned via deep-end Web analytics tools that work in tandem with front-end bid management tools.

Hordes of brand marketers pose this query (and quite passionately) about brand search term bidding, believing they can save significant marketing dollars. They ask: Why should I bid for my own brand term searches when natural search results can cater to those queries?

Yet another argument, though relatively uncommon: My brand has excellent equity (and recall) as users can directly type the URL of my website, so why pay attention to brand term searches at all?

The answer is an emphatic, “Yes, you should!” Millions of consumers constitute this one world; smart marketers should not give in to educated guesses when it comes to behavioural impulses inside the consumer minds.

Let’s take a quick look at the oft-neglected fact that consumer behaviour cannot be subjected to macro guidelines or cookie-cutter approaches.

What would happen if we switched off brand term bidding?

We conducted an experiment to understand the impact of brand term bidding black out for a set period and chose a smattering of client campaigns across verticals to understand the impact. Given that it is a daunting task to cover the specifics in entirety, we will narrow down the focus to the impact that such an activity can have on a marketer who uses search marketing, digital channel heavily for demand or revenue generation purposes.

We chose a basket of key brand terms (within the larger brand term basket in the engines) and suppressed search bidding for these words (read: bids were set to a certain low figure). The primary impact noticed looked heartening from the marketer’s view point although for us, the bleary-eyed search-trench-rats; it was a matter of time before the top lines (given below) would contrast sharply with the bottom lines.

The charts, above, highlight the huge positive impact noticed from a conversion rate and CPC perspective. Conversion percentages shot up, CPC touched unheard of levels (and so did other external metrics such as ad ranks, Click through rates etc). Remember that with the most popular key brand search terms ‘off’, the other brand terms in the basket were the ones that came to play in the above scenario.

Zooming to the bottom line level (visitors, conversions, revenue, etc.), the scenario that developed was so alarming (given below) that the ‘adventurous experimenters’ had to make a dash for the nearest console to frantically pull the levers of brand term search bidding back on full steam.

The charts, above, bring forth the massive drop in visitor stream to the marketer’s website as well as the resultant conversions on the site during the period the above experiment was conducted.

It took a concerted effort from the team that worked on the experiment to re-establish the bottom lines back to the health-zone; not only by boosting all key brand terms back to the radar of the ‘searchers’ but also other tactics to recover the missed opportunity during this period.

But what happened to the natural search results?

Key brands terms that were suppressed still had natural search results coming high up on the ranks of the search engine. Did they not ease in the hole that was left by paid search bid suppression?

The red highlight zone in the “Natural Search” conversion volume trending clearly shows there was a total absence of any positive impact during the same period the brand search term bidding was suppressed. Readers may even note there has been a downward trend in conversions during this period. Does this trigger enough curiosity as to what transpired here to warrant an explanation?

Simply put, the suppression of key brand terms from the larger brand term basket caused paid search communication to be wiped out totally from the radar of the ‘search audiences’ who were conditioned to seeing relevant messages against their search queries relative to the natural search results thrown up. This ‘black out’ caused a sudden departure from the normal behaviour where audiences ‘perceived’ that the propositions they were searching for were no longer available (and hence the absence of ads); causing them to wander off to the nearest competitor.

What does this mean for marketers?

  • Brand term searches are done by audiences who are either lazy to type out the URL of your website; are not sure of your website URL; or are researching your brand (and product) in the macro environment.
  • Given that the ‘need’ and ‘search triggers’ behind each brand term search are multifarious, natural search results that appear against brand term searches “need not” be relevant to the original search trigger of the user/users. This impact is what has been highlighted earlier in this article.
  • Hence when users search, they’ll gravitate toward paid search communication that is highly relevant and addresses their original ‘search needs’ or ‘impulses’.  If they do not find relevance through paid or natural search, they either lose interest or gravitate to your competitor.
  • Therefore, to turn off brand term bidding in such a highly competitive environment (where your competition is crouching in the shadows to pounce on the right chance to bid on your brand terms), would most of the time be detrimental to your demand generation objectives.

So the critical task of a search marketer is to not only have a robust keyword basket, but tightly-knit ad group clusters based on ‘search needs’ tethered to highly relevant ad copy (read: messaging) in order to make the “overall search experience” both quick as well as high quality – to ‘behaviorally’ direct users through two doors (natural and paid search) in to relevant landing pages of your website.

Keep in mind that the extent of impact of ‘brand term bid black out’ varies across categories but as mentioned before; for marketers who use search as a prime demand generation channel (online commerce), the above is of utmost relevance.

Incidentally, this brings us to the discussion of natural search vs. paid search turf as well – while reserving this discussion for yet another time as I sign off; suffice to say that the road to a harmonious matrimony between the two lie along the route map that has been elucidated above.

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