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5 Digital Themes All Search Marketers Should Be Thinking About

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting at the IAB Search Conference which, as always, was a fascinating deep-dive into the hot topics that the search industry is grappling with at the moment. This year there were presentations from Google (understanding consumer behaviour), Marin Software (PPC market trends), iProspect (making PPC hyper local), 7thingsmedia (repositioning affiliates in search), IgnitionOne (attribution) and DoubleClick (audience planning) along with two panel debates on the value of paid search and paying for branded search terms.

There were some great insights shared at the conference but what struck me is the recurrence of several themes which ran through the threads of the presentations. Search is definitely becoming more user-centric and as an industry we are becoming more invested in understanding audiences across multiple channels and devices. Many of these themes will be familiar to you and so rather than write a post on big data or the internet of things, both of which are covered off in much more detail elsewhere, I thought I would share a few of the nuggets that I learned from the IAB Search Conference and how they tie into these wider themes.

Campaigns need to be integrated to get best results

Integrated campaigns seems to be one of the key themes of 2014 with the message coming through loud and clear that working in silos simply won’t cut it anymore in the modern marketing world.

One of the highlights from Jon Myers’ presentation from Marin Software was the case study that showed a 2x higher click rate for campaigns where search and social were integrated. This research shows the benefit of search and social teams collaborating to target customers more effectively. The evidence of the Marin study suggests that there is a significant gain to be made by bringing these two digital channels together, the synergy of which is much greater than the sum of the parts.

clip_image002Source: Marin Software’s Combining the Power of Search and Social for Exponential ROI report

Marin recently conducted a study across 200 search and social advertisers and found that customers who were exposed to both search and social ads and were nearly twice as likely to convert than customers exposed to just the search ad. Audiences touched by both ads had an 89% higher conversion rate and 367% higher revenue per click than people who just saw the search ad which means if someone sees both search and social ads not only are they more likely to buy, they are also going to spend more when they do buy.

Of course, bringing together different parts of the business, even parts which should align quite naturally, can be quite a challenge but the data is compelling for why we should be moving towards more integrated marketing teams.

Understanding intent has never been more important

Search data gives us a unique insight into the mood of the nation. It reveals so much about who we are, what we are interested in and where the gaps in our knowledge exist. If you want to know what the UK is really interested in, look at what they’re searching for and particularly what questions they’re asking. It’s a true barometer of intent.

As an example I’ve created a word cloud below of the most searched for “why” questions in the UK in May. You can quickly start to see that there are some fascinating insights here into what the nation is thinking about. Everything from their health “why am I always tired” to their relationships “why did I get married?” But behind each of these searches is an intent, either for knowledge or for advice that could prompt an action.


The real value of intentions though is being able to understand them in the context of a particular situation. This was highlighted brilliantly in Sandra McDill’s talk about hyper local PPC. You see, it doesn’t matter how clever search gets at being able to target people in a very specific location, the intent behind that search is still crucial to the context of the kind of ad they need to be served.

Sandra summed it up with a beautiful analogy of buying flowers at a hospital. We have the technology now to locate a customer in a hospital, probably down to a specific hospital wing in some cases. However, despite our ability to be able to serve a highly localised ad when someone is in hospital searching for flowers, we still need to know the intent behind that search. The same customer in the hospital could be searching for flowers to celebrate a birth, commiserate a death or to say “Thank you” to a nurse. As each situation needs a very different approach, hyper local alone is not enough to guarantee success with advertising. The human touch is still very important to digital marketing.

Seamlessly connected experiences across devices

We’ve been talking about a generation of second screeners for a while now and research from Microsoft shows that the average UK household now has six internet-connected devices and that 75% of UK families are second screening. What we haven’t talked about so much is how these devices are all starting to connect and talk to each other to provide seamless user experiences regardless of the device being used.


As more of our digital lives migrate to the cloud, we are starting to see this trend take off where you can access any of your documents or data from any of your devices. We’re also seeing technology enable journeys to start on one device and be picked up on another. So for example if you start a browser session on your mobile and have multiple tabs open, you can switch to another device like a laptop and continue the journey seamlessly with all the same tabs open.

For the always on generation it makes sense to be able to switch seamlessly between devices to continue our journeys as effortlessly as possible. I think this has particular implications for the retail industry, as many purchase journeys can start on a phone but could then be continued on another device. The ability to start browsing on your phone whilst window shopping on the high street and then pick up seamlessly where you left off later at home to purchase could have big implications for digital marketers in the near future.

Online and offline can complement each other

Every year we hear about how online is killing the high street and for every high street brand that folds, inevitably its demise is partly blamed on the rise of competition from online. However, it’s long been a contention of mine and others that digital can help save the high street and that properly employed, online can help boost offline conversions rather than stealing market share away.

This falls into the wider theme of integration – with online and offline working in harmony to the mutual benefit of the customer. Fiona Gandy of 7thingsmedia highlighted a great case study from The Body Shop and Vouchercloud which ably demonstrates how online can add to offline sales. In this case, the affiliate’s effective use of ad copy in a promotion helped drive a 208% increase in in-store revenue resulting in 17,000 new offline orders. The campaign also had increased interaction through social with an 8% redemption rate through Twitter and 16% click through on Facebook advertising.

During Google’s presentation, Harry Davies mentioned American Apparel for using physical stores to push online sales. Given the sensitive nature of their items, American Apparel could see that customers weren’t necessarily comfortable buying underwear in store. To offer an alternative solution, the company localised PPC ads to be displayed in the immediate vicinity of their stores. The result was that customers who were embarrassed to go in store were able to buy products online and PPC sales went through the roof.

I think we are going to see more of this crossover between the online and offline worlds, with a greater emphasis on making shoppers feel comfortable doing their shopping when and where they want regardless of time, place or device.

Bidding on your own brand terms is a necessary search tactic

Much has been made of the eBay paper which questioned the effectiveness of bidding on brand terms and this made for some healthy debate in the panel group discussions. Of the assembled expertise in the conference there was almost unanimous agreement that not only was paid search delivering value but it was also essential to bid on your own brand terms.

The argument against bidding on your own brand terms is that without a PPC ad most people would just click on the natural search link. However, page one search space is a coveted spot and bidding on brand terms ensures companies get two bites of the same cherry for a given keyword. Particularly in an age where, despite being clearly labelled, 40% of people don’t realise that the top search results are ads the danger of not bidding on your own brand terms are that the organic listings are squeezed below the fold and your website receives lower levels of traffic.

Having a paid and natural search link also reduces the amount of space competitors can get on the SERPs, pushing other brands further down the page and reducing their chance of getting clicked on. Ultimately, maximising exposure in both paid and natural links for any keyword is a valuable commodity in this market. If that means having to bid on your own brand terms, so be it.

So there it is folks. Another great IAB conference with some really interesting insights, data and debates. I feel like I’ve learned something, and that’s always a sign of a good conference. Looking forward to next year.