“Search” Beyond the “Engine”: Alternative Search Sites

By now, you’ve all heard about this new whatchamacallit – the Googles. We all use the Googles quite a bit in our daily routines, and some of us even do a bit of marketing on them, too.

However, as search evolves and continues to be fused with display, it’s important for marketers to take a step back and consider how and why consumers use conventional search engines, what type of data is afforded from these search engines and what types of results marketers want to gain.

Why Do Consumers Use Search Engines?

1.  People use search engines to decide ifthey want to buy a product or service. 

Most people use Google, Yahoo! or Bing to initiate the purchase cycle when seeking a product to buy.

The goal at this point of the consideration process is to decide whether or not they’re interested in a product at all. Think of the moment (hopefully years ago) that you finally decided to replace your Blackberry (sorry, RIM) with an iPhone or an Android.

Note: If you haven’t yet switched, then this means you’re currently performing the search example I’ve illustrated below. Or, you should be.

Say you visited one of the larger search engines like Google and searched “iPhone vs. Android” or “smartphone comparison.” You weren’t planning on purchasing a replacement on the spot, but rather, you wanted to research both types of smartphones with the plan of eventually narrowing down your choice to just one of the two.

The goal of your search was to begin the product consideration process and decide if you wanted a replacement for your Blackberry (in this example, the “Blackberry replacement” itself is the product).

2.  People use search engines to find the exact product they want to purchase.

After you’ve performed the above search, you likely won’t come back to search on Google, Yahoo! or Bing until you’ve decided on the exact product that you want.

Something important happened between the first round of “iPhone vs. Android” searches and your final search, “Verizon iPhone 4S NYC sale” – but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The point is that once you’ve made up your mind, you are less likely to navigate Verizon’s website. You want Google to do the work for you, so you type in a super-descriptive search as a way of saying “Hey, Google, the least you can do is save me some time by navigating me to the product page.”

Google obliges by providing you with the exact result that you were seeking, and you then go on to purchase your shiny new addiction.

To summarize the above example: you used Google to confirm that you wanted to replace your Blackberry, and then you circled back to Google when you were ready to pull the trigger on a purchase.

But What Happened In Between?

If you’re like most consumers, you did quite a bit of research in between your first wave of Google searches and your final “purchase search” on Google.

Earlier this year, PwC surveyed consumers’ online behaviors and released a report showing that nearly 88% of consumers conducted research online before purchasing a product.

In the Blackberry replacement scenario, consumers most likely conducted their research on vertical sites with product reviews and shopping comparison engines, such as CNET, Engadget or even eBay.

The time during which consumers gather information about a product that they are interested in represents the optimal time for brands to influence customer brand preference and purchasing decisions. Consumers want to research product features, user reviews and average prices.

Throughout this process, how did those consumers conduct their online navigation? Through search! However, they did not search on search engines; instead, they were searching within alternative search properties that have a search box within their site.

According to comScore data, approximately 62 million U.S. searches will take place on search engines on an average day – and more than 33 million will take place on alternative search sites. These numbers indicate a lot of search activity happening beyond search engines.

What Does This Mean For Marketers?

Users begin and end their purchase processes on major search engines, but they’re actually deciding on the specific product that they want, the vendor they want it from and the price that they’re comfortable paying for it by performing searches on alternative sites.

comScore data also shows that searches on alternative search websites can be up to 14% greater in length than searches on traditional search engines.

Because of this, brands can reach deeper into funnel stages through alternative search, as the more specific consumers are with their search, the easier it is to target those consumers that are in purchase mode.

This also means that alternative search properties are collecting higher quality search data. (You can read more details around alternative search behaviors in a new report from my company, Magnetic, Searching Beyond Search: Life Beyond the Googleplex.)

To target people that have an idea of what they want, or people who have already made up their mind about a purchase, using data from Google, Yahoo! or Bing is the right approach.

However, in order to target people who are actively comparing your product against your competitors’ products (and to then help them choose your product over all others), marketers should consider data that comes from alternative search sites.

 

These “alternative” sources of data can drive new marketing strategies and provide brand marketers with a new mindset when it comes to whom they want to reach.

 

Article originally published on Search Engine Land on 7/5/12

 

A Search Retargeting Guide For Search Marketers

If you are a search marketer, you have probably heard of search retargeting, and most likely, graciously let your counterparts on the display teams take charge.

In some ways, search marketers are right in this action, since display advertisers manage campaigns for creative display ads and naturally search retargeting falls into the display camp. Yet, this can sometimes lead to a huge missed opportunity for search marketers to expand search campaigns.

Search retargeting can be an incredibly effective tool for search marketers who are capped out on search, cannot afford certain keywords, or wish to use more engaging forms of creative.

However, in order for a search retargeting campaign to be successful in the eyes of a search marketer, the proper expectations and understanding must be in place ahead of time.

Here is what you need to know:

1. Search Retargeting Will Not Perform As Well As Search Engine Marketing

Search is the best performing form of online advertising, period. Search marketers must understand that even though search retargeting uses search data, it will not perform as well as SEM. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Think of search retargeting as an influencer for what consumers type in the search engine and a factor in your search conversion. By no means am I suggesting replacing search.Search ads appear on the search results page, typically in above the fold position. Since the ad is being shown so soon after the search, click-through rates (CTRs) will usually be higher than search retargeted display media.
  2. Consumers tend to visit search engines just before they convert, meaning conversion rates will be higher than in display.

For example, a customer might search for “plasma TV” in Google, but they will likely click on an organic listing and end up on Best Buy, and other sites over a period of time before they choose the make and model.

During the consideration phase, search data is extrapolated and used to power display advertising  (i.e. search retargeting). Eventually, the consumers will make their way back to a search engine, type in a more specific term, such as “Sony Plasma 32” TV” and then click on a search ad (similar to reason #1 above).

 

If you were Sony and capped out on keywords, this would be another way to extend the utilization of search data beyond the search engine and influence audiences to take action.

2. Know How To Measure Search Retargeting Campaigns & Give Feedback To Partners

Attribution for a search campaign is easy; if a click leads to a conversion, that click receives credit. However, running a display campaign means dealing with multiple touch points and paths to conversion.

It’s too large a topic to tackle here, so make sure to consider the following points:

  • Give some credit to view-through conversions
  • Use a smart attribution company like C3 Metrics or Adometry

When you’re running a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign with Google, you can make adjustments and affect performance on the fly from a self-service interface.

When you’re working with a full-service search retargeting partner, optimization is a joint effort between the search marketer and the search retargeting experts. It’s become increasingly crucial to communicate real-time campaign performance so adjustments can be made as needed.

3. Leverage Your Experience & Assets, But Remain Open To New Ideas

If you have been running search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns for a while, you probably have a rotation of high performance text ads. The good news is that existing text ads are easily transferable to search retargeting.

Most search retargeting partners have a system of placing text ads within display boxes, so you can use the existing text ads from any given campaign. However, be sure that these ads are viewable, as most search retargeting companies buy exchange media, which is prone to un-viewable impressions.

Most of all, consider the differences between keyword lists for search, and keyword lists for display. There are many nuances to keyword based display media and in order for SEM to make the leap to display there needs to be a clear, open path to new placements, targeting, etc.

4. Use Ad Verification Software To Monitor Impressions

Since many search marketers do not run display media on a continuous basis, there is hesitation about running exchange media. To prevent such hesitation, use an ad verification company like AdSafe or DoubleVerify. This will help keep your campaigns safeguarded from the “wild wild west” of exchange based display inventory.

According to comScore, consumer search activity is still on the rise, up 7% over the last year. As search grows, prices will increase and the Googles, Bings and Yahoo’s of the world will have greater control over pricing.

Search retargeting is a cost-efficient extension for anyone using search marketing. After all, nobody knows performance-driven media better than search marketers. Instead of passing on an opportunity because it’s associated with display, search marketers should understand the benefits and embrace it.

 

Article originally published on Search Engine Land on 5/9/12

What does big data mean to you?

I recently participated on a panel at Brand Innovators E-commerce. The title of the panel was “Big Data Meets E-commerce,” moderated by Mike Peralta, COO at MediaMath, and it included panelists from Kraft, Dell and New York Life Insurance.

The panel discussion provoked thoughts around the value of each user, customer interaction, ad creative, and the impact on one channel on another,

from TV to online.

However, what I really started to think about later that day was not just data meets e-commerce, but this idea of Big Data.

What really does this all mean and how should we define it? The fact is, data is defined differently by different groups of people – definitions that are driven by their own personal and corporate goals for using the data.

From an e-commerce-based company to a search marketer, from display teams within an ad agency to a luxury brand, data is at the center of business decisions today.

Yet, while data is used differently, the goal is often the same –to drive more effective and efficient marketing messages through enhanced relevancy and data-driven advertising.

For me, I see search data as the highest indicator of intent, but for a luxury brand, it might be more focused on demographic data. Using data to further your campaigns and initiative is great, but only if you are diligent about which types you are using and strategic in the way you match data to your goal.

Define Your Objectives & Pick Your Data Accordingly

If you’re running a branding campaign with a goal to get in front of 18-34 year old males, you should be using demographic data. Companies like Bluekai, Exelate, and others offer data either a la carte or through their DSP partners. This idea of demographic data was one the initial topics in the data game.

However, demo data only goes as far as narrowing down the age range and gender of the audience. Alone, it is great for awareness campaigns, but its value is diminished if your campaign focuses on driving lower funnel activities.

If you’re looking for large swaths of users who have visited specific types of sites, and you feel that a user who has visited those types of sites are in market for a specific product, you should be using behavioral data. Behavioral data is a bit more “lower funnel” than demo-based data because a user has visited sites that seem to indicate an interest in a particular product or service type.

However, let’s be sure we carefully define interest-based data. It can be difficult to say that just because a user visited Rollsroyce.com as well as similar types of sites, that the person is in market for luxury goods.

For example, I visit Rollsroyce.com all the time, and my NYC apartment is about 200 square feet. I literally couldn’t even fit a Rolls Royce into my bedroom, let alone afford one. I visited the site and sites similar to it, but I’m more interested in checking out the latest model than actually purchasing one. If Rolls-Royce is focused on driving awareness, then I’m a key audience, but if they are looking for an actual purchase, they may have wasted their marketing dollars.

If you’re looking for users who are in market for a specific product, you should be using search data to target your campaign. The reason that SEM works so well is because users who are searching for your product are in market for it.

Search Data & Search Retargeting

Using search data outside of search engines is what search retargeting is all about because you can target users who have searched for your product once they leave the search engine. While search data is great for purchase intent, it must be combined with demo-based data if demographics are important to the performance of the campaign (which is not always the case).

For example, we can tell that a specific user searched for “fake teeth” and is therefore in market. However, a college student searching for “fake teeth” is probably looking for some accoutrement for their theme party costume. A 70-year old searching for the same term is looking for a very different product.

Additionally, search data can also be used to target based on interest. Let’s use Rolls-Royce as another example. If I visit mototrends.com and search for “Rolls Royce,” the search preformed is likely more interest based than intent focused. While search data drives response, it’s also become a vehicle for targeted brand awareness.

Long story short, this idea of big data is too large to be defined.. Whether you are an e-commerce company, an ad agency working with direct response or branding campaigns, luxury advertiser or so forth, many aspects to data might apply. Before you settle in on your data sources, think about the idea of “big data” and what it means to you.

 

Article originally published on Search Engine Land on 4/11/12

 

How To Use Search Retargeting Data for Site Retargeting

Sometimes the devil is in the details. That’s definitely the case with search data and search retargeting.

Search data is the basis of search retargeting. But it is also the intersection of search and display. At that intersection is site targeting, and this detail is often overlooked.

Above all targeting strategies, site retargeting goes hand-in-hand with search retargeting. Search data captures users who may have not visited an advertiser’s site but have expressed interest in a brand or service.

Site retargeting captures users that have visited a brand’s website, therefore, also signaling intent through online actions.

Let’s explore how search data can be used to increase the personalization and efficacy of site retargeting.

Make Site Retargeting Creative Unique With Search Retargeting Data

Brands need to make site retargeting creative unique with search retargeting data. The most straightforward use of search data to bolster site retargeting creative is to include the term that the user searched for in the creative. In an ideal world, the site-retargeting pixel will gather category level information from the page.

For example, if a user visits Best Buy’s TV & Home Theater section and then leaves the page, the data trail that shows the user visited the TV & Home Theater section should be readable in the pixel, as opposed to just BestBuy.com.

This obviously helps with site retargeting, since the creative can dynamically display products pulled from the TV & Home Theater section to the user when they’re browsing the Internet.

Let’s look at another example. What if we knew the search term the user entered? We could then tailor the ad not only to the specific product category, but also put in a very strong call to action.

With site retargeting that includes search data, instead of having a Best Buy ad that just showed TVs, it might capitalize on the fact that the user searched for “50 inch plasma,” and the creative might have the text “Looking for a 50 inch plasma? Click here for deals!” in addition to the product listing.

This enables display ads to take the shape of search in terms of personalization while maintaining the creative opportunities of display advertising.

Tailor Product Feeds Using Search Data To Capitalize On Brand Preference

To take it one step further, what if we wanted to actually change the products being displayed in the creative feed by using the user’s search data?

Using the above example, a user has visited the TV & Home Theater section of Best Buy’s site. Therefore, a site retargeting campaign is going to show ads that include products from that section on the site.

If the data shows that this particular user recently searched for “Sony TV.” It would make sense then to filter the product listings to only include Sony TVs, or perhaps a close competitor. Instead of just showing a generic product feed of TVs, we can customize the product listings to match the user’s existing brand affinity and therefore push them down the funnel.

Compensate For Lack Of Detail In Site Retargeting Pixel

Focusing on these details will compensate for other holes in the data set. For example, what if we aren’t able to get the valuable product-level data that we assumed we had in the previous examples? We can use search retargeting data not as an enhancement to the product feed (as we did above), but as the basis for it.

If we’re running a site retargeting campaign without insight into the category pages that the user has visited, we’re taking a shot in the dark if we include a product feed since we don’t know what the user is actually interested in. However, if we include the user’s search data in the campaign, we can match the search to a product category.

For example, a user has visited Best Buy’s site and then left, and that’s all we know about their interaction on the site. However, we look at that same user’s search history and see that they’ve been searching for TVs. Therefore, we know to call Best Buy’s TV product feed, and show “TVs” in the dynamic creative.

Search data provides detail into what search term the consumer preformed, and site retargeting enables advertisers to see which pages within a site the consumer visited. These two strategies work together because one drives customer acquisitions the other drives retention.

With the retargeting duo working in tandem, marketers can achieve a higher level of ad personalization, serving up ads that tailor specific messages to consumers based on search and site activity. Next time you’re planning your digital campaign, remember which targeting strategies go hand-in-hand.

Article originally posted on Search Engine Land on March 7th 2012

Bringing Order to Sequence in Search Retargeting

Last month, we started looking at the types of keywords that make search retargeting campaigns work. This week, we’re going to dive in even deeper by exploring the importance ofsequence in searches and how to leverage that sequence to further improve campaign performance.

The order of the words your company enters into the search engine algorithm has everything to do with success in search retargeting.

For example, let’s look at the search history for someone who is in market for auto insurance. Let’s call her Sarah. Sarah has performed three searches in the past 24 hours relating to auto insurance. In no particular order, those searches are: “auto insurance,” “auto insurance” (again) and “Allstate.”

Now let’s look at the difference in purchase intent when we shuffle those search terms around to create new sequences.

Scenario A

Sarah performs the following searches in sequence over the 24-hour period:

  1.    “Auto insurance”
  2.    “Auto insurance”
  3.    “Allstate”

Conclusion: Sarah has done her homework for auto insurance providers and is now considering Allstate. Allstate should definitely show her an ad, as we want Sarah to request a quote right away.

Scenario B

Sarah performs the following searches in sequence over the 24-hour period:

  1.   “Auto insurance”
  2.   “Allstate”
  3.   “Auto insurance”

Conclusion: Sarah is in market for auto insurance, but has ruled out Allstate. She first did some homework, and then researched Allstate’s offering, and is now back to square one. Allstate should still show her an ad, but should be paying a very low CPM for this impression since it has a low expected value.

Sequential Next Steps

1.  To get the most out of your search retargeting campaign, it’s important to adjust your bid price not only based on the specific keyword that the user searched, but also based on their search history.

If you only look at Sarah’s last search in both Scenario A and B, it looks like you should show her an ad for Allstate. However, when taking into account her entire search history, it becomes clear that you should use different bid prices for each scenario due to the shift in her consideration.

2.  If possible, use sequential messaging based on the users’ search history.

We’ll explore this topic at a later date but, to put it simply, work with your creative team to create many different creatives with the purchase funnel in mind. Since we can gauge the user’s probability of converting based on their search history, it’s extremely beneficial to have different creatives based not only on where they sit in the conversion funnel, but where they’ve come from.

Using Scenario A, here is how sequential messaging can work for a search retargeting campaign:

Scenario A (with ads)

Sarah performs the following searches in sequence over the 24-hour period:

Query #1  – “Auto insurance”

  • An Allstate ad that is broad and only refers to the benefits on auto insurance is shown

Query #2  -    “Auto insurance”

  • An Allstate ad that promotes the benefits of Allstate-specific auto insurance is shown

Query #3 –  “Allstate”

  • An Allstate ad that detects the user’s DMA and dynamically displays local Allstate auto insurance rates is shown, driving the user to request a quote

Customers demand and respond to the delivery of the most relevant information at a time that is closest to the point of purchase. Ads need to respond with customized messages. If a customer searched for a brand or product and did not convert, then the logical next step is to retarget them with sequential messaging that directly relates to their sequence of searches.

For marketers, the ability to look back at the sequences of customer events helps them to make more informed decisions and ideally impact the end consumer result.

After all, haven’t you ever re-hashed a series of events over a certain period of time and wondered what would have happened if only you had slightly altered your actions?  That’s what keyword sequencing is all about. It’s about addressing the customer’s ability to consider and reconsider.

 

Article originally published on Search Engine Land on 2/15/2012

Understanding Keywords In Search Retargeting

Its one thing to know what search retargeting is, but it’s another to understand how to make search retargeting work. At the heart of search retargeting are keywords (AKA – search data). In a new article on Search Engine Land, Magnetic’s Aaron Doades, Director of Product Management, analyzes keyword level targeting and how it differs from search engine marketing to display advertising.

When launching a search retargeting campaign, marketers should know how the characteristics of both search and display fit into this targeting strategy.

On one hand, keyword lists can derive from SEM campaigns. However, marketers should understand that search retargeting is an extension of SEM and keyword lists should scale beyond your search campaigns. Magnetic’s keyword generation tool helps marketers build extensive keyword lists that can be used in display. Search retargeting sits in the mid-funnel area and is designed to push consumers down the funnel. This differs from SEM terms, which are typically found very low in the consumer funnel.

In the article, Aaron uses a hypothetical example:

An SEM campaign for Best Buy might be targeting the term “Best Buy 50 inch Sony plasma TV sale.” This user is likely to convert in a small window of time, as he/she clearly knows exactly what they’re looking for and even the store they’re looking to buy from. However, if a search retargeting company were to target users who searched for this term, they’d be showing an ad to someone who has most likely already converted and would therefore be wasting ad impressions, and more importantly ad dollars.

To read Aaron’s complete article on Search Engine Land, click here.


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