Not long ago my agency, Catalyst, was invited to work with Bing on some partner research. Together we decided to tackle a question that haunts PPC marketers everywhere: How does paid search fit into the consideration for media budget? We’d take this out to 300 agency and B2C advertisers in the US with a minimum marketing budget of $8 million, in a survey commissioned by Forrester Research. To get our answer, we’d want to look at questions like:
- What percentage of your media budget is allocated to paid search?
- What are the channels you use for marketing?
- In which areas are you increasing or decreasing your budget?
- What search tactics are you currently using?
We’d put these results against the existing research that Forrester has on consumer media use; how much time are they spending with each channel, and how do these channels figure into their purchase decision?
In addition, we were looking for evidence that would show paid search as a powerful partner
to all other channels. We’d begun to think that paid search was at its strongest when it was complimented with other branding efforts such as outdoor, TV, radio or print. In one-off studies with various clients at our agency, we’d already noticed that when we coupled a specific paid search campaign with other channels the advertiser was using, click-thru and conversions both went up. Would we be able to find data to support this with our Forrester Research survey?
The story in the data
When the numbers came back, the story they told was both surprising and not at all surprising. On the not surprising (but very good to know) side:
- 49% of consumers use a search engine to research brands, products or services they’re considering purchasing. A search engine was the top choice, followed by a visit to the brand’s website at just 38%.
- When researching a purchase, 74% of consumers put search engines at “Extremely Trustworthy,” the same as they rate the brand’s website.
This tells us that consumers don’t see search as a marketing channel; they see it as a key part of the decision-making process.
Data on the surprising side included:
- Search is getting about 6% of the marketing budget. This number puts search right in the middle of other channels in terms of budget allocation. But if consumers are using search at every turn, why is the budget for it so small?
- 55% of marketers aren’t using search in their marketing mix at all. This is insane! In an era when so much begins with a search, it’s hard to conceive of an explanation for anybody opting out of paid search.
At any given moment, more than half (59%) of online adults are using a search engine.1
It’s impossible to look at this stat and find any reasonable argument for either a low paid search budget or – what?! – not using paid search at all.
What about paid search as a powerful channel partner?
We couldn’t dig too deeply into paid search strategy in a simple survey, but we were able to cover some high-level questions that would help us understand how paid search was being used within an overall marketing plan.
- 81% of advertisers believe paid search boosts the performance of investments in other media channels
- 80% of advertisers who are using paid search have integrated paid search into other marketing channels and programs
For our SMX East presentation, we pulled together three different examples of paid search amplifying other channels – one from a Bing internal study and two from our own clients.
- Bing’s Search + TV Study
- Bing looked at Super Bowl commercials plus searches for those commercials to see if there was in increase in searches based on the airing of the commercials.
- Isolating the research to one significant day (the Super Bowl) allowed the team to reduce uncertainty about whether searches were actually related to the commercial
- Findings: searches on terms related to the content of the commercial (“puppy bowl,” for example) saw a huge spike on Super Bowl Sunday. Users searched both based on the content of the commercial and on the brand name of the advertiser.
- Primetime + Paid Search for a major beer brand
- In a coordinated effort, we activated paid search ads during a competitor’s commercial air times plus 15 minutes after.
- Results: 98% increase in CTR, 32% decrease in CPC
- Offline media = searches to sign up for major credit card company
- For six months we tracked searches for “sign up” that came to the credit card company website against offline activities the company was doing; tentpole events, radio, tv and print.
- Results: We saw a direct relationship, with about a one-week delay, between the two.
At the end of the day
- We also saw a direct relationship between broadcast investment and branded searches:
We learned a lot that will inform how we educate our clients, both existing and potential. A sound paid search strategy must include a strong budget in order to meet the consumer where they are – we have the data to prove it. We’ve also got a very clear picture of the value of paid search as a partner to all other channels, because consumers always come back to search.
We’re looking forward to more partner research opportunities with Bing.
- Pew Internet Study, 2012