We recently wrote a chapter for the IAB’s Search the Complete Guide handbook covering integration and attribution – here it is.
UK internet users now spend 64% more time using search engines than 3 years ago. In conjunction with this, a 2011 report by GroupM Search found that 93% of all buyers (online or in-store) use search as part of their purchase process. (GroupM Search – From Intent to In-Store Oct 11)
Search is an invaluable marketing tool which plays a role at all stages of the purchase funnel. Integrating search fully into other marketing activity increases the effectiveness of those channels, and even affects offline purchase behaviour.
The IAB’s Search Marketing Barometer 2012 found that those marketers that have integrated their search activity into their wider marketing mix have seen tangible benefits.
However, integrating search is still a challenge for many marketers, with two thirds stating that their campaigns are only ‘partially’ integrated with search. With 94% of respondents claiming that they still feel there is a greater opportunity to integrate search marketing into their existing media campaigns, it is clear there is still a long way to go before search integration becomes standard practice. (IAB – Search Marketing Barometer 2012)
The Changing Face of Search
Search has often been viewed as performing a specific role at each part of the purchase consideration funnel. The general belief was that consumers would use generic search terms at the awareness stage, moving to search on brand terms as they got closer to the purchase stage. However, this view is becoming too simplistic, with consumers searching in increasingly complex ways.
It is becoming more common for consumers to use a search engine as an entrance point to the web, and use it to find their way round. This kind of navigational search is rapidly increasing – for instance, using the generic term “weather” to reach the BBC site, or typing a brand name into the search box, rather than entering the url into the navigation bar.
Consumers are also using multiple internet-enabled devices as part of their purchase process. Equimedia’s white paper on broken journeys highlights how this trend poses a threat to a company’s ability to accurately track sales, thereby making it harder for marketers to accurately measure which activities are playing a role in the purchase process. (Equimedia –Broken journeys and marketing accountability)
Their survey identified that on average 70% of users regularly use more than one device. Furthermore, it found that 22% of customers use one device to research a product and another to make the purchase. This means that a 1/5 of a company’s online sales can’t be attributed to the role advertising played in the full purchase process.
With consumers using more complex ways of searching, it is getting increasingly important to understand search’s role at each stage of the journey. Not only will this allow brands to provide the right message at the right time, it will enable them to more accurately measure the true value of search.
Search as an Amplifier of the Marketing Mix
Research shows that integrating search with other channels can improve the effectiveness of all media. Studies by both Microsoft and the Atlas Institute show a distinct “multiplier effect” when combining search and display advertising. An i-Prospect study in 2010 showed that when paid search, natural search and display advertising were combined, a respondent’s likelihood to purchase increased by 13%. (iProspect – ‘Real Branding Implications of Digital Media – an SEM, SEO, & Online Display Advertising Study’ 2010)
This doesn’t just hold true for online advertising. An Italian Gillette campaign using search in combination with traditional media, showed that when search and TV were used together, the cost-efficiency of TV increased by 7-14%.
iProspect’s study identifies that the mere exposure to impressions of digital media (including search) boosts brand awareness, thereby supporting purchase behaviour even when there is no immediate action taken. It also reports that exposure to impressions results in the user being nearly twice as likely to visit a website in the future.
Therefore, if a company reduces the impressions they serve, they could see their blended online cost per acquisition increase, even though at a media level they may see efficiencies being made.
Search’s Impact on Offline
Whilst many consumers use search to research online purchases, there is a growing number of consumers who research products that are then purchased via a call centre or retail outlet, often referred to as ‘Research Online Purchase Offline’. Research undertaken by Forrester shows that whilst only 8% of US retail sales revenue is attributed to the online channel, if you were to include ‘web-influenced’ sales, then this figure would increase to 48% of retail sales.
Although this research only considered the US, we believe that this trend can also be identified in the UK market.
As more and more consumers are using their smartphones for search, this trend looks set to continue. This can be seen in the increasing number of customers who search for a product, download a voucher code and then proceed to purchase in store. Whilst seeing this correlation is easy for brands that are actively tracking their mobile websites, this kind of broken journey is proving a challenge for many marketers.
As consumer buying behaviour becomes more complex, brands need to understand all of the customer touchpoints and their relationship to each other, in order to be able to fully measure the impact of their marketing campaigns.
As search continues to grow in both volume and complexity, brands need to increase their understanding in order to keep up with consumer behaviour. Currently some of the biggest barriers to integration are cited as:
- Lack of board level understanding
- Budget restrictions
- Lack of data
So it seems that search marketers not only still have a job to do to educate at a senior level, they need to work on improved methods of tracking customer journeys so that the true impact of search can be measured and understood.
Why not check out Search the Complete Guide now.