Behind the Numbers:Searching for the Party

Search spends keep pace with social

While social media might be the shiny new object for marketers, search is still the workhorse and it has the numbers to back it up. A recent study from research firm Econsultancy found that 64 percent of online marketers worldwide are going to increase the money spent in natural search this year. That compares to 70 percent of marketers who plan to increase their social media budgets this year. Given that social media is the sexy new arena, it's expected that brands would increase their investment in it. That an entrenched sector like search will still grow significantly underscores how vital search is to ROI for online marketers.

"Marketers need to be continuing to use tried and tested digital channels such as search marketing and email marketing, and experiment with social media by all means, but not at the expense of tried and tested channels," says Linus Gregoriadis, research director for Econsultancy.

The increase in the number of advertisers spending on both channels is an important reminder that search and social serve different purposes. "Social media is about improving customer engagement and building the recognition of the brand, and improving the perception of the brand," Gregoriadis says. "Search marketing is typically more based around hard financial objectives and converting those customers who might be interested." About 50 percent of marketers will boost their spend in paid search this year, he adds.

Search has been the stalwart of the digital marketing business for many years, so growth will likely come in more nuanced marketing. Marketers are looking to spend against particular keywords for which they currently have low visibility so they can increase their penetration and returns on those searches, Gregoriadis says.

The continued investment in search will help it grow overall from nearly $11 billion in 2009 to nearly $16 billion in 2014, about three times as much as banner ads, eMarketer reports.

Natural search is a key focus because landing on the first page of results on Google, Yahoo or Bing can make a huge difference in traffic, eMarketer also reports. Citing data from iCrossing, eMarketer found that at least 95 percent of traffic from a non-branded search originates from the first page of results, with less than 5 percent coming after the first page.

There's also evidence to suggest combining search and display ads can improve conversions, says Ariel Geifman, principal analyst with Eyeblaster, an online ad serving firm. Geifman says display ads can stimulate search queries, while search, in turn, drives consumers closer to a purchase.

In a study examining more than 1,300 integrated search and display campaigns, Eyeblaster found that 72 percent of conversions resulted from display ads and 28 percent from search. Of the conversions that came from search ads, about one in five of those were the result of searches conducted after seeing a display ad. The two work in tandem, Geifman says. More consumers are exposed to display ads, which can drive awareness. But search is vital for when consumers are in the market for a specific purchase, he adds. 

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