Many marketers who are seeing flagging returns from their search marketing campaigns might wonder what they’re doing wrong – especially if they’ve already got best practices like accurate site descriptions and keyword optimization covered.
But a new study commissioned by Microsoft’s Bing and search agency Catalyst, and carried out by Forrester Consulting, may have some light to shed onto why marketers aren’t realizing the full potential of search.
The study, whose findings are written up in a whitepaper, ‘Prioritize Search to Maximize ROI of Marketing‘, found that more advanced search marketing tactics like local inventory ads, voice search optimization, sitelinks and schema markup have low adoption by marketers, who may not even know about them.
In addition, marketers struggle to properly integrate search with other channels in order to take advantage of the demand which they themselves have created.
“We too often see advertisers spending significant dollars in, let’s say, TV, and then failing to fully fund their search campaigns,” says Rob Wilk, Vice President of North America Search Sales at Microsoft.
“So if a consumer hears a message somewhere and then decides to search on Bing to get more information, many times the advertiser isn’t present, and that consumer ends up taking a different path than what the advertiser would have desired.
“In a worst case scenario, consumers come to search and end up clicking on a competitor ad. Think about that for a moment – clients are spending their dollars to line the pockets of competitors.”
So what do Bing and Catalyst think is keeping search marketers from tapping into the full potential of their campaigns, and how can they go about addressing the problem?
Challenges in allocation and attribution
The study’s findings drew on online surveys of 300 US-based marketing agencies and B2C advertisers, together with Forrester’s Consumer Technographics data.
Wilk explained that Bing and Catalyst commissioned the study to “better inform the market about the importance of looking at search not just as an individual, effective marketing channel, but to clearly articulate the benefits of closely aligning all media spend in concert with search advertising investments.”
Overall, respondents to the survey gave a high rating to the ROI they receive from search marketing, with 74% of respondents who were investing in search giving its ROI a rating of “excellent” or “good”.
However, 53% of marketers cited cross-media attribution as one of their top three challenges in budget allocation, with another 53% citing a lack of data to inform strategy; 44% also cited measurement as one of their top challenges.
“Competing business demands force marketers to rely on hard attribution data to develop and support their cross-channel investment strategies,” notes the study.
“Unfortunately, their attribution models today do not necessarily paint an accurate reflection of the consumer engagement with cross-channel touchpoints, which inhibits them from moving budget fluidly from channel to channel.”
Kerry Curran, Senior Partner and Managing Director of Marketing Integration at Catalyst, adds:
“The majority of the data supports that consumers consistently use and value paid search, and marketers find it to be a strong ROI driver; however, adequate budget allocation is still a challenge.
“With competing business demands and attribution data that does not measure cross-channel impact, paid search marketers are struggling to fully invest in their programs.”
Search marketers still aren’t being innovative enough
Those of us who keep close tabs on search innovation and strategy – or comment on it – are fairly familiar with concepts like retargeting lists for search ads (RLSA), voice search optimization, ad extensions in paid search listings, schema markup, and so on.
But for the majority of marketers, advanced tactics like these go far beyond what they would use for their campaigns. When asked which of a range of tactics their company used or was planning to use in 2016, only 34% of marketers reported using ad extensions; 30% used Product Listing Ads (PLAs); and 28% used retargeting lists for search ads (RLSA).
Just 28% of respondents reported using voice search optimization in their campaigns, 27% said they used sitelinks, and a dismal 17% reported using schema markup. (Findings like this shed light on why, even now, less than 1% of websites are using schema.org vocabulary to mark up their webpages).
I asked Wilk and Curran why they thought that marketers weren’t going the extra mile with their search marketing tactics. Was it due to a lack of expertise, or perhaps just budget and time?
“It’s all of those reasons,” replies Wilk. “Doing all of the tactics well in search requires constant learning, constant testing and of course constant optimization.
“These days, all marketers are being asked to do more with less, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. So in a world of squeezed time and resources, clients and agencies are forced to make trade-offs, and often the tactics mentioned tend to get a lower priority.
“Eventually clients do get to these things but every query we see, whether it’s voice, on desktop or mobile is a perishable good. That “magical” moment of someone expressing clear intent comes and goes in an instant. Getting ahead of these trends, and sticking to them, is where the return on investment lives.”
Curran adds: “There are so many advanced search tactics already available, and as search engines continue to innovate, they continue to release new options and update existing features.
“While the advanced tactics can drive campaign improvements, alignment between the search engines, paid search teams, and brand is required to roll out and test new tactics.
“In addition to the intricacies of day-to-day management, search marketers need to prioritize the opportunities, budgets, and resources to allow for testing in a manner that provides statistical significance.”
What can marketers do to improve their search campaigns?
It’s one thing to pinpoint where the problems might be, but if marketers want to take concrete steps to improve their search marketing, where should they begin?
“One – prioritize their search budget,” says Rob Wilk.
“Two, when running media campaigns – especially expensive TV commercials – marketers need to make sure they have strong search campaigns so that consumers can easily engage with the brand and find what they are looking for via search engines.”
“Three, make sure they have full alignment across all channels. Marketers must keep their ear to the ground when it comes to search.
“We have billions of moments every month where consumers express their desires, and marketers must tap into this wealth of data to inform marketing decisions in terms of what message to deliver, to whom and in what way.”
The search industry is constantly innovating, and it might seem overwhelming for marketers with limited time and resources to try and keep on top of developments. However, as we’ve seen, there is a large number of advanced search tactics available that most marketers aren’t taking advantage of.
Investing in even one of these tactics could prove to have significant benefits for search marketing ROI, which would pay dividends in the long run.