Commentary

Search: The Gatekeeper To Product Visibility

According to a recent study by HookLogic, the colossal volume of internet content and great depth of content on individual sites has led consumers to rely on powerful search tools and guided navigation. Consumer reliance on such tools for finding content and products is what makes search result placement critical for advertisers: search tools are the gatekeepers to product visibility.

Many would be surprised to know how long paid search has also existed on retail sites, says the report. Advertisers across all industries realize that fundamental changes in how the consumer shops make ads part of the discovery process. Since today’s digital shopper shops multiple websites each time she browses, ads are part of the treasure hunt mentality to help find the right product she actually wants to buy.

In fact, two-thirds of buyers begin their product journey on retail sites, not search engines. The comScore 2013 U.S. Digital Future in Focus study found that vertical searches on specific sites were up 8%, while searches on traditional search engines were down 3%.

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In another study HookLogic conducted with MarketTree, shoppers reported that, on average, they visit 2.7 sites during a typical shopping trip. This number is remarkably consistent across categories. Consumers are now more empowered and use their browser as their custom store as they click around and back and forth rather than one website as the store.

The sheer quantity of information has overwhelmed many consumers, and the “endless aisle” can leave them unwilling to spend extra time searching beyond their comfort zone of sites. Even within trusted sites, the experience can be daunting. The top retail sites sell tens of millions of items each.

This is where paid retail search comes in, says the report. Consumers are able to choose their own discovery path on a retail website by using their own specific search terms and category browsing paths. A Fortune study found that placing manufacturer content onto the retailer product detail page (PDP) boosts conversions from 12% to 36%. A consumer that makes a purchase is easily considered a satisfied shopper.

Advertising with traditional search engines is a solution best used when consumers are broadly searching information. Advertising within a retail environment, though, is much closer to the point of sale and is best used when targeting active category shoppers, or those considered at the “bottom of the funnel.” The path from this point can lead most directly to one’s product description and just one click to “add to cart.”

It’s wise for brands and advertisers to rethink how search fits into their media budget, allocating more where it can make the most difference in measureable results. A leading search, social, and content marketing agency, found that advertisers spent 25% more on paid search advertising in Q1 of 2014 than the previous year, says the report, and 7% more than in Q4 2013, typically the heaviest season. That trend will continue as advertisers shift funds from traditional offline advertising to more accountable and transparent performance marketing online.

The report notes that leading companies can measure across devices, so if consumers browse on one device but buy on another, that sale can be tracked and attributed back. The ability to measure online to offline sales attribution is building every day as well. Technology and data linkages will soon catch up to consumer behavior, allowing for better tracking anywhere.

While sponsored retail search listings have been around for a while, their omnipresence is now rapidly growing. This is not yet a mature industry, and many changes are likely to occur over the next few years. Because change is driven by all three players involved – consumers, advertisers, and retailers –the dynamics of this change are even more compelling and intriguing, concludes the report.

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