The changing landscape of search marketing in 2016

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When we look at the updates in search marketing, we’re really looking at the changes in consumer behaviour and how we as marketers have evolved our techniques and approach to make sure we’re still relevant.

We can’t ignore the huge impact that mobile has had on how people are searching and how results are being displayed, and therefore how the practice of search marketing has adapted as a result.

What has changed in search marketing?

Mobile search

Mobile device usage is much more prominent now than it was a year ago, with mobile search volume having now overtaken desktop search. With this in mind, brands have to consider their tactics much more than before. It’s harder to get the click on mobile now as how the results are displayed has changed.

While it isn’t relevant for every single brand, for the majority, not having a ‘mobile first’ strategy means that there’s a high chance they’ve already fallen behind. High usage of smartphones is defining modern consumer behaviour, with the average UK household owning over eight internet-enabled devices.

Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm update which eventually rolled out in May this year, focuses on improving organic results by placing a higher emphasis on mobile-friendly experiences. This update was signposted for a long time but this is the year it will have a profound impact on businesses and brands.

For the past few years, consumer behaviour and Google has been moving towards a mobile first ethos; what has been a niggling concern for many organisations in recent years has now become something they need to tackle head on, there’s no time left to waste.

Desktop search

Desktop search is still changing too, people now have more options on maps, images, and videos to select, so just optimising your site to capitalise on organic listings is only half the battle now.

With Google’s changes in the way PPC results are displayed, it’s even more critical that your PPC campaigns are well targeted and well structured, and the need to be continuously advert testing has never been greater.

Consumers are using such a range of information sources to make their purchasing decisions that the definition of search keeps expanding. Organic, PPC, programmatic display, CRO, social media, content, video, PR – they’re all interconnected as a result of this. Brands need to take an audience-centric approach rather than focusing on individual channels separately.

CRO & user experience

Digital marketing is no longer just about attracting customers to your site; it now includes doing everything you can to give yourself the best chance of converting customers once they get there.

There are relatively simple CRO amends that can be made to dramatically improve the conversion performance of traffic from digital campaigns. Google can see if customers are searching and landing on your site, before then bouncing back to their original search. This behaviour sends a clear signal to Google that your site wasn’t the best answer to that query, and it’ll learn from this to improve its results.

Improving usability improves conversion rates and organic visibility. We’re in the price comparison age, where doing a small bit of research to find out what a product costs somewhere else is quick and easy; meaning user experience and ‘winning that moment’ is more important than ever.

Programmatic

Programmatic display has seen a real boom recently, it’s another really sophisticated way of attracting people to your website, and it’s a great way to increase a company’s brand reach outside of seasonal trends or campaigns.

Traditionally, marketers have believed that display doesn’t convert to business as well as paid search, and whilst this is true, we’ve seen the gap between brand awareness and performance narrow.

Display does play a vital role in driving audience and brand awareness, as a result, programmatic advertising is more important than ever for brand consideration, activation and recall.

The rest of 2016 and beyond

Digital marketing is fast-paced and evolving all of the time in correlation with changing consumer behaviour and new technology, so a brand’s own digital assets are arguably the only things they can truly control in the unpredictable nature of digital.

Brands should therefore be focusing on how they can get more out of the people that visit their digital assets each day. Often, the smallest things can make the biggest impact, so don’t always look for a ground-breaking change.

A brand’s analytics, data, audience profiles and information about what works and what doesn’t is truly invaluable and presents a major opportunity for brands to make better informed business decisions.

Using data to prove that something will work, executing that theory, and then measuring the results to show it has worked; that’s the real power of understanding consumer behaviour through search data today.

Steve Baker is operations director at Epiphany.

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