Search Doesn’t Only Happen on Search Engines

People don’t just search on search engines. Think about it — when was the last time you bought something online simply by searching for it and going straight to a site to buy it?

This isn’t a recent trend. Consumers have never acted this simply. They have been much smarter than search marketers have given them credit for since e-commerce was born. It’s only now, as we interact online more than ever, that this is becoming ever clearer and more measurable.

The purchase decision takes place before and after a keyword search — that much is clear. People are searching for information on Facebook, Twitter, and review and price comparison sites for starters, and using the information they find to help them make the right decision.

For example, according to a Forrester survey of adults 16 and up in the U.K. who made a recent purchase, 31 percent used retailer sites, comparison sites, and other websites when starting to research products before buying, and 25 percent used a search engine.

One other clear illustration that these things are important: Google has replicated them all within its search results. For “price comparison and user reviews,” read “Google products.” For “social media recommendations,” check out information on social search results being trialled in Google labs.

Google, in particular, has followed these trends admirably, but hasn’t led them — they already existed. The key is to make the most of this opportunity and see past Google’s dominance, for brands and agencies. So what does it really mean for both?

What does it Mean For Brands?

First, to properly identify the true cause and effect of a range of online activities, brands will need proper tracking and attribution modeling software, which is already an ongoing issue for many. There are a lot of solutions available. The challenge is to find one that works across all of the required channels and can be implemented on your website platform for a reasonable cost. A tag carrier is a good place to start, building in flexibility to use different providers if necessary, and strike direct CPA deals in the display and affiliate spaces where available.

Second, visibility across a range of media is one thing, but the company needs to have a genuine marketing strategy behind their online campaigns — a picture of what they’re trying to achieve before starting, not just an ROI figure in mind. KPIs need to be set for display ads, site sponsorship, paid search, and social media campaigns to reflect the whole online search journey. One key figure rarely taken into account online is the impact on brand recognition and loyalty. It’s not anything new really, complex attribution models have been used for offline media for years.

What does it Mean for Agencies?

Agencies really need to prove their worth. The old argument about search providing a better ROI than other forms of advertising is no longer enough. It doesn’t work in a silo and search doesn’t just happen on search engines.

The real value-add of a good agency is a focus on a set of data and metrics and an understanding of how to improve them. Take that basic principle and apply it to running online campaigns across a range of activities and you have a valuable search agency. Fail, and you’re history.

One specific result of this change is that digital agencies cannot afford to allow PPC, SEO, display, affiliates, mobile, and social media to operate as individual teams. They’re all part of one campaign for one client, so this requires a lot of data and strategy sharing between teams. Sometimes this might mean working closely with a competitor.

Finally, the onus is on agencies to lead clients. This means proving the case by testing different KPIs for different campaigns. Perhaps the best way to visualize this is to go back to the AIDA funnel and think about what activities should sit at each point, the KPIs that would be most relevant at each stage, and build a strategy from there.

Where does Search go From Here?

As a discipline, search will still be focused on optimization of keywords for maximum ROI, but it’s time for companies and agencies to start to put those keyword searches in their proper context within the online consumer journey and consider measuring individual campaigns using a range of different metrics — all of which are available with the right tools.

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