We know who clicked on what keywords from which engines, we know who converted, who bounced, we know who saw a display ad before a search click, which landing page worked better, and so on. Don't get me wrong, this historical performance data is important, but we live in a constant state of need to better optimize, drive efficiencies, and performance. Knowing the "what" is not just important for optimizing your search buys. The "what" helps optimize display buys and offers retargeting opportunities. Even the brave new world of exchanges and DSPs use this data to inform their buying decisions.
What we don't analyze often enough is the "why" of it all -- why did the user click, bounce, convert, etc. I think this "why" data can be better utilized for targeting and segmenting searchers in order to better meet their needs. Users searching on the big five engines have different needs than a Facebook or Twitter searcher. The same holds true for mobile and local search.
Even within what I will refer to as core search (searching one of the main engines via a PC-based web), query intent can vary. For example, if a consumer is searching for a car, is he looking to buy, or has he just made a purchase? If we get at the "why," I think this insight can also be applied upstream for media mix modeling and driving broader communications and media strategies. The "what" and quantitative lives downstream, at the bottom of the purchase funnel -- while SEM has historically made its claim to fame as the benefactor of all upstream media and communications.
Extracting more insight from the qualitative motives behind why searchers search for what they do and engage with the content and brands they choose can have a massive impact on the effectiveness of a search campaign. The possible applications are very exciting. This insight could radically alter your keyword selection, your campaign structure, engine selection, and approach to copy writing. It will certainly alter the value we put on clicks and keywords, because we will have a better context for what motivates a consumer and therefore entices the desired action (or not, in many cases).
As search marketers, we also need to be Web analytics specialists and use this data and insight to drive landing page and site optimizations. We cannot just drive the traffic and wash our hands. Consumers don't departmentalize what they do the way we do within our organizations. It's all just one experience to them -- and if the experience breaks down and does not deliver what they need, it doesn't matter if it was the SEM, SEO, Web site, customer service, or whoever in the chain. To truly optimize the consumer experience, we need to analyze the quantitative and the qualitative that, as Kaushik puts it, gives us insight into the "what" and the "why" behind what we track.
Search, maybe more than any other channel, has vast amounts of data, but as I mentioned before, all too often we just focus on the clickstream. This has been largely acceptable because, even with just that insight, we have been able to drive efficient results and often remain the best performing channel.
As the act of searching grows in importance in our fragmented digital lives and CPC prices continue to climb, clickstream data won't be enough for long. We will need greater context to optimize and tailor our search campaigns. The successful brands and agencies of the future will begin to reinvent and redefine how they approach search marketing and leverage analytics to succeed. As CK Prahalad wrote in his paper titled "The Core Competence of the Corporation": "another way of losing is forgoing opportunities to establish competencies that are evolving in existing businesses."