Research into Search and Branding: A Recap

Search is sometimes pigeonholed as a direct response only discipline, lurking at the end of the conversion funnel with no impact on brand awareness. Jeremy Hull recently wrote about the value of paid search impressions in assisting conversions; this article will recap some studies that have investigated the impact of paid search on brand awareness. Feel free to add details of other studies in the comments.

Impressions and Clicks Raise Brand Awareness

Exposing your brand to thousands of consumers who are actively seeking the products you sell is an obvious way of associating your brand with that product when consumers are in a receptive mood. Impressions in search — in paid or natural results — obviously drive awareness in this way, even if the message is conveyed in non-graphical form. This is an obvious fact many marketers seem to forget.

Research in 2008 by Google (“Brand Affect of AdWords”) and six brands across finance, travel, CPG, and automotive back this idea — identifying a 11 percent uplift in unaided brand awareness from impressions in AdWords alone (before any click).

Once consumers have clicked through, awareness increases 21 percent — and increases even further if the consumer encounters the brand during multiple searches; Google’s research suggests a 37 percent uplift if the consumer encounters more than five results that include the brand in question.

A separate Enquirio/Ipsos report also identified a 3.95 times uplift when a brand was top of paid and natural search results, and 2.5 times increase in brand recall for the top paid search advertiser.

Position has a Big Impact

Additional Google research (“The Brand Lift of Search”) suggests that being in the top paid search position has the greatest impact in terms of rank, with their research stating awareness rising an additional 9 percent for the top spot across the page, and 5 percent in the top spot on the right hand side. I’m sure their shareholders would love us to all raise our CPCs accordingly!

Absence Breeds Suspicion

What’s more interesting is that consumers have a clear opinion on brands that don’t appear in search results; an Ipsos survey of U.S. search engine users found that 71 percent expect leading brands to be top of search results and 36 percent equate link placement to company prominence. If your brand isn’t in search results, you’re missing impressions, traffic, and sales — and risking some consumers wondering if your company can’t be trusted or is inferior.

Beyond Search

Consumers judge brands based on their website experiences, too. That’s no surprise — yet many brands focus all their time and money on generating traffic and little on improving the experience and conversion rate on their main online selling tool.

A 2008 Tealeaf survey stated that 60 percent of shopping carts are abandoned online — and a Google report (“Speeding up in the Downturn”) stated that 57 percent of online shoppers are less likely to buy offline from a brand if they had difficulties online. That’s means over half of shoppers will penalize brands if they experience bad site experiences.


So the research reports all make clear that search aids branding — and consumers form negative attitudes to sites that aren’t listed or offer poor website experiences, and carry these attitudes with them when in brick-and-mortar stores. Interesting facts to remember next time a non-digital marketer mumbles about the amount of budget spent on search compared to branding…

Note: Most of the reports mentioned in this post can be acquired via Google’s offices.

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