There is no question that the internet has changed the landscape of business and advertising forever and at times it can seem daunting for some brands. It has provided the customer with more information and better opportunities to compare pricing, features, and competitors, as well as reviews and ratings by other customers. But, while it has forced brands to be more transparent and considerate of a much more informed consumer, it has also opened up the potential to reach a far broader customer base in a more targeted and cost effective way than traditional advertising.
If search network advertising isn’t part of your 2018 marketing strategy, you need to ask yourself why? Is it simply because you don’t understand how it works or how to get started? If so, here is a little quick summary to get you up to speed and pointed in the right direction to drive more sales through search advertising.
In the early days of the internet, navigation was a challenge. There weren’t nearly as many websites to visit, but search engine coverage was fragmented. Google changed all that when it arrived just before the new millenium. They indexed the web on a scale that hadn’t been seen before and which still sets the standard today, twenty years later.
Google search was just a research project in 1996 and became the backbone of a newly incorporated company two years later. But, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that it found its true killer app: a search advertising system they dubbed AdWords.
Google has since diversified heavily into all manner of software, cloud, and mobile products, but AdWords is still their cash cow. Google earns nearly 80% of all U.S. search advertising revenue, and the bulk of that comes from their premier product, AdWords, where advertisers pay to display short, clickable ad messages that appear in Google’s search results.
It seems somewhat remarkable, given the incredible variety of advertising products today, from display banners to video pre-rolls to podcasted promotions, but a few short lines of smart ad copy and some well selected keywords are still among the most important and useful marketing tools available.
One reason for its success is that Google and other search networks have become incredibly adept at placing ads where and when they are most relevant. A beautifully shot TV commercial for a pickup truck is both useless and intrusive if you aren’t in the market for one, but a tiny link to a local hotel when you’re actively looking for one is a welcome sight.
So, given the clear importance of taking full advantage of search network advertising, how does one go about it? The list of techniques and tools is long, but the single most important factor is the quality of your keywords.
It’s in Google’s own interest for you to buy smart keywords. Better, more relevant keywords mean more clicks, and pay-per-click is still a major driver of their revenue model. The AdWords Keyword Planner helps advertisers research new keywords and study the effectiveness of their current choices.
Long-tailed keywords (niche terms that aren’t searched for as often but are highly specific to your offering), are a very exact way to attract site visitors who are more likely to be interested in your brand at a time when they are closer to making a purchasing decision.
Also, consider using negative keywords. Putting a minus sign before a keyword lets Google know you don’t want your ad associated with that term. That way you can avoid unqualified traffic (searches by people unlikely to be interested in your offer).
Another important tool is dynamic keyword insertion, which lets you create ads with blank spaces to be filled in with the user’s specific search term, created a more customized line of ad copy. For example, your blank ad might read: “Find the Perfect [blank] Near You,” with the blank to be filled in by any number of your offerings.
Once you have found optimal keywords, getting your ad copy to show up in search results isn’t as simple as just booking the terms with a search network. It’s a competitive market and your rivals are probably booking similar terms.
It seems somewhat remarkable, given the incredible variety of advertising products today, but a few short lines of smart ad copy and some well selected keywords are still among the most important and useful marketing tools available.
Google closely guards just how it decides who’s ad get displayed, but what is known is that they use an algorithmic bidding system that weighs ad quality and relevance. The highest bidder for a keyword can still lose out if their link is pointing to a poorly formatted or irrelevant webpage. Plus, Google charges less per click for higher quality ads so, you’ll get much better value out of your budget if your ads and landing pages are relevant to the keywords you’re targeting.
All this happens at lightning speed every time a user inputs a search query. For example, say you run a search for “women’s running shoes.” Several advertisers have likely bid on variations of those terms or that entire string, but Google looks at what each spent, how well designed their ad is, whether the page the ad points to is relevant, and positions the ads accordingly.
Google runs this auction over and over again, repeatedly calculating whether you are the right advertiser to display for a given search. Your results are aggregated into an overall quality score on a 10-point scale, where 10 means you are frequently winning auctions, and a better score improves your chances of winning placement down the road.
In addition to keyword research tools, Google provides a wealth of information to hone your advertising strategies in their analytics dashboard. Google tracks a lot of user data and it can be easy to get lost in the minutia, but definitely pay close attention to key stats like demographics, where people are coming to your site from, and the effectiveness of your ads.
Demographic data, in particular, is useful for segmenting. For example, you may want to serve ads for your higher end products or services only to geographic regions with an average income high enough to justify them.
Another benefit of diving deep into your analytics is building a smart behavioral retargeting scheme where users that have previously interacted with you are sent messaging custom tailored to them. A shopper that filled out a cart but never completed the transaction may be one small nudge away from conversion. A retargeted search ad can draw them back into the funnel.
Segmentation can work on many levels, with specific campaigns built for a particular audience, brand, or even time of year. The internet has enabled these kinds of hyper-targeted interactions and customers all but expect it. Ultimately, proper segmentation leads to more successful ads, which leads to higher ranking by Google, which means winning more and better placements for a lower cost per click.
AdWords may be the biggest name in search network advertising, but it’s not the only one. Google’s dominance in the sector was unchallenged for many years, but the rise of social media platforms, particularly Facebook and LinkedIn are broadening the market.
A beautifully shot TV commercial for a pickup truck is both useless and intrusive if you aren’t in the market for one, but a tiny link to a local hotel when you’re actively looking for one is a welcome sight.
Facebook is quickly becoming known for offering even more narrow targeting than Google. So much so that they got in hot water last year for selling ads that were allegedly discriminatory to certain groups. The company defended their system, arguing that while they take steps to prevent misuse of their network, the ability to transmit a message to exactly the people who want to see it is a net benefit for both advertisers and audiences.
Facebook’s other leg up over Google is the ability to check the public profiles of the people liking your content. It gives brands a window into the mindset of their customers and lets advertisers sort out who is a legitimate brand loyalist or potential customer and who is a bit more freewheeling with the like button.
One downside to Facebook, however, is that it’s geared more towards leisure than commerce. LinkedIn is generally the network of choice for advertising directly to professionals and business owners. Their targeting isn’t as refined as Facebook and their network isn’t as broad as Google’s, but it has become the defacto social network for business to business commerce.
The internet has made advertising more accessible and cost effective for brands of all sizes. In 2018, an effective search network advertising model will almost certainly separate winning brands from also-rans, no matter how big you are or what industry or economic sector you’re targeting. If you need help tackling an effective digital strategy that includes search network marketing, feel free to reach out us. We’ve helped many brands put together a successful search strategy.