I was wrestling with the concept of the value of Paid Search for Branding over the weekend as I contemplated the limitations of performance based bid management.
As a fan of performance based bidding, I believe all search programs should be managed as such with even obscure objectives, such as creating awareness or branding, leveraging qualified metrics against which to determine success. For example, creating awareness for a service implies that more customers will search for that service, spend time on site, or requesting information. Your objective may not have been acquisition, but the act of registering for a newsletter requires that one has awareness beforehand; as that awareness increases, you should see more requests.
But let’s digress as I don’t want to wade into the heady discussion of metrics and their implied benefits. I want to talk the impact performance based management has on high traffic keywords with which you may not perform. How do you characterize those keywords? How do you value the significant traffic or volume that could result if only your ROI expectations were not in place?
Search engines, and many marketers, are trying to determine the “Branding” benefit of search, arguing that terms that don’t perform should likely be valued for their impact on the brand. The argument usually holds up that if you don’t perform on a keyword, your brand strength relative to the other advertisers is weak (quality score and back end performance don’t support your funding the term); therefore, appearing on the term should improve the recognition of your brand as relevant to that term. But what of a high traffic keyword like “Autos” for an advertiser like Toyota? I’d argue they should acquire the keyword to promote their brand with that audience. But such an interpretation of branding neglects companies with already tremendous brand strength; if you are Toyota, does appearing on the keyword Auto REALLY enhance your brand?
Perhaps such a keyword simply doesn’t drive many transactions yet has tremendous reach that should be valued for something other than branding? What is that value to such a company?
Of course, that discussion takes us in to the complicated realm of search behavior and the funnel: Searchers search for many things before making a purchase or taking action. The keywords in question here may very well be at the top of the funnel. “Autos” may not support Toyota’s brand because the customer already knows about and intends to consider Toyota while it doesn’t perform well because it is at the beginning of the search process. Ultimately, that searcher will search on something like “Buy Toyota Tundra.” So, let’s just get back to the question of the value appearing on that keyword really has for a company.
Search is Reputation Management
I like to define Search as performance based, demand marketing. Demand in that we are responding to demand from the search end user who has made a request of an engine. Fail to respond to that demand and you miss an opportunity.
As I contemplated branding and high traffic terms, I questioned that definition. If responding to demand, that implies we only bid on relevant terms to reach an audience who wants our product or service. How does that work for Jeep bidding on keywords like “Gorilla”? On the other hand, Branding connotates we can have a positive impact on our Brand to an audience likely already engaged with our brand and perhaps simply seeking it out. In both cases, we have still ignored the opportunity search provides to respond to PR, scandal, or other noteworthy company events. A keyword with alot of traffic may not have any benefit to your brand nor positive performance yet still have value.
I think the answer lies in redefining search from a more holistic perspective. That is that search does influence your brand, it is responding to demand, as well as supporting company news and the influence of traditional marketing. Failing to respond to that demand leaves money on the table as you neglect an opportunity to reach an engaged, interested party.
Recharacterizing search as reputation management changes its perception among your stakeholders and sources of funding. No longer are we asking ourselves how much Search is influencing our brand but instead recognize that failing to bid on high traffic keywords that don’t perform means failing to simply maintain our reputation; Toyota’s absence from a search for Auto’s gives me pause as to why? Considering quality scores, are they not relevant? Perhaps it is an indication that they are moving away from that business? Whatever the implication, there is an implication by not being there. When you manage a placement in search, you decide what customers interpret.
As I polished off this post, I again searched on Autos and found a result for Toyota… in Spanish.
How do you want customers to interpret your brand, your store, your service? Your reputation is on the line through search. Whether you simply want to remain a part of the consideration or want to influence that reputation up to you.
By the way, my reference to my Jeep post reminds me that Search Engine Watch has finally posted an article on that, my favorite concept, of using search to measure campaign effectiveness. Its worth a read.