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Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

The marketer’s guide to the changing role of search

Search is arguably the most effective form of digital advertising and yet it’s not the rock star it once was to many marketers yet to realise its potential as a way to monetise audiences rather than keywords. Here The Drum outlines five key ways you can get more from it.

Search marketing is worth £3.77bn this year, up almost 9 per cent year-on-year according to this year’s IAB/PwC AdSpend survey. And yet despite the rise, search sill sits at the bottom of the funnel to a large degree – partially because paid search works to a cost-per-acquisition model. In a world where people are searching on far more devices and via far more portals than they ever have done, there’s much more that can be inferred from those requests.

Here are five takeaways those marketers can use search to humanise their marketing and extract value from consumer relationships with information.

Think about customers not keywords

In the past marketers used to view search marketing through a lens of keywords, impressions and sales. Now, a more sophisticated model is emerging, whereby the discipline is used to look at the type of customer a campaign should target using segmentation. “Imagine you have a portfolio of keywords and you can overlay them with the types of customer that you can acquire,” said Hedley Aylott, chief executive at Summit Media at The Drum’s Search Breakfast event.

“We find that’s a much more effective way effective way to spend your money and make revenue. When you start to group keywords and you look at them in relation to types of customers then you get a very different view; you’re not just selling products.”

To further ram home the point he revealed that almost all the sales from Summit Media’s retail clients “have got absolutely nothing to do with the keywords they pay for. It’s a channel for sales but it’s also a massive channel for insights".

Search sits at the bottom of the funnel – but it doesn’t have to be

“How many marketers turn to their search agency when they need an insight into their market?” asked Gareth Owen, managing director at Roast at the same breakfast event. “Probably not many and yet there are plenty of examples where search trends will tell you where you should put your budget or the types of products you should stock on up if you’re a retailer.”

It comes down to whether advertisers view every visit to their site as a means to convert a person into a sale immediately or whether they’re willing to play the long game – that’s a data challenge. And it’s one that Summit Media has been helping Carpetright solve to a point where Aylott claimed “for every £1 the brand spent on Google we generated £33 in-store”.

“Every night we report all the sales from every Carpetright and we match it against people who have started on the web, have interacted with the site either through a sample request, a store locator or a free measuring appointment,” said Aylott. “Every night we report how long it takes them [customers] to buy if they’ve ordered a sample, we know what colour they’re likely to buy over a period of time.”

The issue in the search space now is how do advertisers use the methods of real-time bidding and ad exchanges to fuel search campaigns.

Search marketing is bigger than Google

During the advent of search, campaigns had the pick of the crop with AOL, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and more. Google is now the de facto platform for the bulk of search budgets, with around 89 per cent of searches in the UK passing through the world’s number one search engine. But there’s more to search than just Google, particularly now given the emergence of Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo’s tie-up with Bing.

“50 per cent of the internet’s entire population visits a Yahoo property every single month,” said Stephen Kenwright, director of search at Branded3, who was also at the event.

“Actually half of the world goes on Yahoo every month and every single one of Yahoo’s web properties has search involved in it, whether that’s Tumblr or something else," he continued. “There’s also the fact that 42 per cent of all ecommerce transactions start through a search on Amazon.”

There are so many different search products that can offer the required scale that advertisers should be spreading their spend in order to maximise their returns in a world where mobile behaviours are now the norm.

“If anything, the biggest worry for me is the creation of walled gardens,” said Roast’s Owen. “I want to target my user and I want to know who they are but I want to do that through Facebook, through Apple, through Google or whoever. We’re technologists we can find ways of pulling data out and saying this is my audience, these are the places they spend their time and these are therefore the ads that I’m going to put in front of them at various different times and for various different reasons.”

Search and the mobile-local consumer

Mobile has made a huge difference in terms of data but when it comes to serving ads on mobile not so much. How to target people across multiple devices is the Holy Grail for all advertisers. “Data shows that three out of five people are more likely to buy from a brand they don’t know or haven’t bought from before on their mobile,” said Aylott,

That’s an interesting thing to exploit, the behaviour behind the device. Therefore, if a marketer knows that insight then they give themselves a greater opportunity to convert a new customer through mobile advertising. The consensus from those on the panel being that while the technology is out there to shake up search, especially with many more brands setting up data management platforms, the discipline is not yet ready to move from a demand to a prediction-based model.

“Before it was just marketers coming to us saying we need those rankings and we don’t care how,” said Kenwright. “It’s now very a much a case of we need those rankings but actually we’re here to help you. I think in-house marketers are definitely getting it a lot more from a natural search perspective in my experience.”

The talent game

In the past it was good enough to be able to create a pivot table to show you were adept at search marketing. This isn’t the case now and search agencies are shifting their attitudes toward hiring in order to keep ahead. Kenwright said Branded3 has made a “mental” change in order to compete with the likes of he BBC and Sky for user experience designers and PR executives who can bring their own unique take to search marketing. From what was said at the event, it would seem that data scientists and statisticians are the ones that separate the have and the have nots in the search game, with all speakers acknowledging the “arms race to find talent”.

“Data science has been a huge development in the quality of people we’re hiring," said Owen. “We want some that can do progression analysis and can do advance data modelling. We’re also finding that we need a lot of people who can interoret that data creatively and are able to understand what the market implications are of what we’ve just discovered in the data.”

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