Waking the giant: The evolution of search marketing

Tribune originally posted on The Drum.

Search is the single largest source of web traffic and the gateway today for digital information. It is little surprise that the role of search in the marketing mix is an ever evolving beast.

Today, search marketing is no longer confined to the technicality of SEO, linkages and keywords. More importantly, it drives increased brand share of voice and has the ability to provide better understanding of intent and context than any other marketing tool.

Search offers a unique wealth of insights to significantly impact brand marketing strategies. Last year over half of the brands surveyed by Bing Ads used search marketing to achieve branding goals. Research showed that advertisers who bid on their brand name as a key word received more clicks (27 per cent in travel sector and 32 per cent in retail sector), with fewer clicks going to their competitors (27 per cent less in travel sector and 30 per cent less in retail sector).

Of course, it isn’t news that search provides a wealth of data for advertisers. Understanding triggers to direct action, ROI per purchase, and demographic insights have always been of use to search marketers – avoiding wastage and proving value to each campaign. The difference today is in the intelligence and breath of information captured and the ability to drive insights into other marketing components across the ecosystem.

Mobile usage is playing a huge role in awakening the search giant. As consumers use mobiles to search and discover content more and more, the data captured becomes more intuitive, personal and contextualised than ever before. Research proves that the average internet user searches online 129 times each month.

Multi-screening also creates a new layer of behavioural insight for search marketers. The 2014 IAB ‘Changing TV Experience’ study revealed 78 per cent of consumers use another device when watching TV – and for 69 per cent of those, mobile was the dominant device when second-screening.

As consumer search experiences across devices become more varied, the data captured expands and its correlated learnings get enriched. Think for instance about voice-activated search – artificial intelligent assistant such as Cortana uses Bing to listen, learn and serve relevant experiences. This opens search marketers up to new opportunities and new behavioural data – longer, more local queries, different semantic, more conversational engagement. And as other platforms such as Windows 10, Amazon’s Kindle or Echo, with Bing integrated in the heart of the user experience, means the exposure to search-supported experiences are increasingly varied.

Search is worth more than the clicks it measures. Today’s marketers need to leverage the insights captured from evolving consumer behaviour across the increasing numbers of touch points to help support broader brand strategies.

Beyond providing marketers with a wealth of information on what consumers are searching for, responding to, and engaging with, the future lies in platforms such as Bing learning intent and understanding context to the point it can predict future behaviour. This will not only allow marketers to anticipate, optimise and develop more efficient search marketing campaigns, but the understanding of intent can be leveraged to drive through-the-line marketing campaigns. As a first step in that direction, Bing Ads has recently released a new feature that enables brands to predict the impact of any change to their search campaigns in terms of reach and engagement.

Campaigns that truly utilise search as a strategic tool to inform decisions and enable personal, valuable, brand experiences to be created, will reap the rewards.Search is ubiquitous, its power expanding and its prominence in the marketing mix evolving. The latest IAB/ PwC AdSpend survey showed that search marketing is worth £3.77 billion – a rise of almost 9 per cent year on year, and expected to keep growing.

Marketers that understand the potential of search to shape and accelerate campaigns will win. Brands need to embrace the giant with open arms and stay close to the industry-changing opportunities search will continue to provide.