The true value of brand terms: Retesting the impact of brand bidding in PPC

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Manning Gottlieb OMD’s Gemma Howley recently won Google and The Drum’s Women in Search initiative. Here she explains why we are set to see advertisers retest brand bidding.

Gemma Howley

Anyone involved in PPC marketing will be familiar with a variation of the question, ‘why are we bidding on our brand terms when we have positioned number one in SEO?’ If a user is searching for your brand term, it is often assumed they will definitely click through to your site and therefore paying for the click is a waste when natural visibility is good.

The question is frequently asked with good reason. Marketing budgets are not bottomless and if incremental sales can be driven elsewhere, brand terms in PPC are usually the first to be cut. SEO doesn’t always pick up PPC traffic, however, and the impact should always be tested rather than assumed. The result of not bidding on brand terms can differ dependent on the client, vertical and level of competition.

The way we can test the impact of brand bidding has become much more interesting since the launch of remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) and other audience led products in PPC. We know much more about the person who is doing the searching now, it’s no longer simply a case of taking an action based on what they are searching for; from ‘searches’ to ‘searchers’, from ‘what’ to ‘who’. With the significant amount of information we now have on our audience, serving or not serving an ad is old news. The future is deciding which ad to show them.

As an example, let’s consider the fictional brand ‘Communication Connect’, a telecommunications brand that provides broadband, television, phone and mobile services to its customers.

Historically, a brand test would involve either showing an ad on the term ‘communication connect’ or not showing an ad, followed by measuring the impact of this in overall results. The approach to the test could be hour on hour off, geo- targeted or over a set period of time, but regardless of the methodology the ad copy would have been the same.

With the rise of audience-led search, it is now possible to determine whether the person searching for ‘communication connect’ is an existing customer and, if so, what kind of customer they are (for example, broadband only, full bundle, television only etc). Armed with this information, displaying a PPC ad on brand terms becomes increasingly more valuable, not only for customer acquisition but retention or upsell too.

So, for example, existing customers that have only one of the available products would see cross-sell messaging, while customers who have an entry level product would be served upsell messaging. Site links are then used to support referral schemes and customer service is highlighted. A brand term becomes so much more powerful when audience data is used to tailor communication.

Other ways RLSA and audience-led search can be used on brand terms include excluding existing customers so that budget is focused purely on acquisition, promoting new customer offers without annoying existing customers who aren’t eligible, providing deep-links to account login pages for existing customers, and serving a product specific ad to a potential customer based on previous on-site behaviour.

A simple on-off test to determine the value of brand terms would completely negate the granularity and specificity we are able to achieve by using RLSA. The strategy you choose for brand terms in PPC should ultimately be driven by client KPIs and everything needs to be backed up with data, so measurement is key.

It is my prediction that clients that had previously tested the value of brand terms in PPC will revisit their strategies based on the data and information that is now available. With CPCs seemingly on the increase across most sectors, being as specific and tailored to the audience as possible to drive returns is imperative.

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