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What search advertisers can learn from the Equifax breach

On October 2, 2017, Equifax concluded its investigation of a cybersecurity incident impacting over 145 million U.S. consumers. With 5 billion U.S. monthly searches on the Bing Network,1 we analyzed our data to understand the shifts in consumer behavior and the implications for search advertisers.

When only a few brands comprise an industry such as credit reporting, large-scale news stories can cause a significant influx of searches for these credit reporting brands. After the breach announcement in early September, searches for Equifax increased 686% on Bing owned and operated sites in the two weeks starting the day following the breach announcement.2 In addition, average daily searches for other major credit reporting businesses increased by over five times in the two weeks after the announcement.3

In response to this activity, advertisers should monitor news activity not just for their own brand, but also for their main competitors. Bing Ads advertisers can use Keyword Planner to monitor keyword trends on their competitors’ brand terms. Auction insights can also be used to monitor the competition across their accounts, campaigns or keywords.

In generic category searches on the Bing Network, terms such as “credit report,” “credit freeze,” “data breach” and “freeze my credit” increased a whopping six times post-announcement compared to July and August averages.3 While volume increased, user intent likely shifted from seeking new products to seeking informational content. The cost per click also dropped by 50% during the same two-week period.3 This is likely due to advertisers bidding less aggressively because of the shift in consumer behavior to content-driven activities. As a result, advertisers should change their expectation of success from one of lead generation to brand perception. Developing content that aligns to searches such as “credit freeze vs. credit lock” educates consumers and helps create a positive brand association.

In response to the breach, Equifax offered a year of free identity protection for all impacted customers and launched a free-for-life credit locking service. Will this lead to a decrease in the demand for identity protection over the next year as many people received it for free? Or could this trigger a wave of new consumers in the marketplace who are looking to proactively check their credit reports? Only time can tell with certainty how this data breach will affect consumers and brands in the long term.
1. comScore qSearch, Explicit Core Search (custom), August 2017. The Bing Network includes Microsoft Sites Core Search Explicit, Yahoo Sites Core Search Explicit (searches powered by Bing) and AOL Inc. Core Search Explicit in the United States. Data represents PC traffic only.
2. Microsoft internal data, Bing owned and operated sites, U.S., September 8 – September 21, 2017.
3. Microsoft internal data, U.S., September 8 – September 21, 2017.