Search isn’t sexy, but it’s about to be

Sanchit Sanga is the vice chair of IAB Singapore and the chief digital officer for Asia Pacific at Mindshare.

IAB Singapore’s vice chair, Sanchit Sanga, believes that marketers aren’t giving search the attention it deserves, especially as things are heating up in this space.

Search is the unsexy cousin of the digital marketing family, the quiet relative that sits in the corner at Christmas but is the first to get up to clear the table and stack the dishwasher.

No doubt, it lacks the glamorous sheen that machine-learning algorithms and augmented reality tools have in many a marketer’s mind but search still brings home the proverbial ROI bacon.

Fact is, in today’s context, the word “search” has come to encompass so much more. It’s no longer about the tried and true search engines be it Google, Yahoo! or Baidu.

Imagine a world where you can simply speak into your headphones to search for a product, explore it via product imagery, walk through a virtual store to purchase it and have it delivered by drones all in a matter of minutes.

Far fetched? The pieces are already there. Think Echo, Amazon’s voice-activated smart home speaker or drone delivery trials currently being done by retail brands. Not to mention the growing segment of wearables, with behavioural data that can better inform the context within which a consumer’s search occurs.

Wouldn’t it be great to know if a person’s daily step count has decreased suddenly and sleep pattern more disrupted? Chances are, they’d be searching for sleep remedies, ways to destress or even a holiday.

Virtual shopping is already here as well. Alibaba launched a shopping experience called Buy+ in late 2016, enabling customers to browse items in a virtual shopping mall, including real life stores, such as Matsumoto Kiyoshi in Japan and Freedom Foods and Chemist’s Warehouse in Australia and Otaku Mode. It is even integrated with Alipay’s AR Pay so the user can make a payment with a few nods.

Nearly every asset you have on the web is searchable and nearly every product or site is launching with a search engine behind it. App stores, in-apps, social sites, e-commerce sites and gaming devices are just a few major areas that are beginning to pick up speed in terms of search.

While Google has long dominated both internet searches and related ad spending, other players such as Amazon , Instagram and Pinterest are getting into the game.

Pinterest rolled out search ads in February, which appear when people conduct searches such as ”living room ideas” and are more image-centric than classic text links on a search engine. Of course, image search is already a core part of the user experience on e-commerce sites such as Japan’s Rakuten or China’s Taobao.

With Amazon officially expanding in Southeast Asia this year, the company has already been quietly improving its search chops. For example, the “Product Display Ads” feature product images and text that relate to people’s searches. A person searching for “sleeping bags” might see ads for camping products like tents.

With the range of opportunities in search expanding, are you leveraging it to its fullest potential? Here are five questions to ask yourself:

  • Have you allocated someone who is responsible for search marketing for external and internal websites, with the right skillsets?
  • Is search coverage part of your briefings and measurement metrics?
  • What third party tools do you use for management of paid search, competitive tracking on search and for ranking reports?
  • Are you using search data (search history, behavourial data points, etc) to inform your planning and and strategy decisions?
  • What is your understanding of voice search and how will it impact brand discovery today and tomorrow?

As the first port of call before a direct brand experience, having search low on the list of priorities will result in missed opportunities for brands.

Remember that unsexy cousin that loaded the dishwasher? Turns out that while they were in there, they also renovated the kitchen and whipped up a damn fine souffle.

Sanchit Sanga is the vice chair of IAB Singapore and the chief digital officer for Asia Pacific at Mindshare.

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