Five SEM Lessons From The Top 10 Searches Of 2014

Google just released its “Year In Search” review that looks at the most popular keyword queries for 2014. As always, the top chartsprovide good insight into what captured our hearts and minds this past year. Beyond just commentary on the state of our society, these trends can be instructive to search marketers the world over.

Here are the top 10 global Google searches in 2014:

1. Robin Williams

2. World Cup

3. Ebola

4. Malaysia Airlines

5. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

6. Flappy Bird

7. Conchita Wurst


9. Frozen

10. Sochi Olympics

Here are five search engine marketing imperatives based on this list:

1. Intent is everything.  The first thing that jumped out at me was that none of the top 10 searches are overtly commercial queries. In other words, these aren’t people looking to buy stuff. As marketers, we often fall in the trap of bucketing various channels into stages of the funnel, with search usually occupying that spot at the bottom as the last step prior to purchase.



We need to step out of that mindset and recognize that search is a behavior, not a channel. From there, we need to focus on the intent behind search behavior. What is it people are really looking for? Only after answering this question can we proceed with developing campaigns that use keywords as targeting criteria.

2.    Make yourself relevant.  Even though the most popular searches don’t demonstrate commercial intent doesn’t mean you can’t monetize them.

The same way everyone and their mother has licensed the rights to “Frozen” for everything from dolls to clothes (figuratively speaking, of course -- if my mother had licensing rights to “Frozen,” my Hannukah shopping would’ve been a lot easier!) so, too, can marketers attach their brands to trending topics.

For example, any marketer with soccer fans as part of their core audience and customer profile can buy ads against the keyword “World Cup.” Just keep in mind lesson #1, and consider the intent of someone searching for this event. Make sure your ad copy and landing pages provide a clear connection to the sport, highlighting the value prop of your products or services in that context.

3. Be sensitive.  While searches like World Cup, Flappy Bird, Frozen, Conchita Wurst, and Sochi Olympics lend themselves well to newsjacking, unless you’re an emergency aid organization, you’re going to want to stay away from all the others.

There’s really no connection you could make between your brand and, say, ISIS that would lead to a favorable outcome. Maybe, just maybe, if you manufacture personal isolation pods that protect you from disease, you could conceivably buy the keyword “Ebola” (and I promise to be your first PPC conversion!) -- but otherwise, it’s best not to have your name attached to these issues.

Bottom line, even if the intent -- yours, not the searcher’s  -- is pure and you’re just wanting to express empathy or sympathy, you’ll be called out for trying to profit from tragedy and suffer a great deal of backlash.

4. Be prepared to pay and track. We all know popular keywords ain’t cheap. And the 10 biggest searches from 2014 are no exception.

Search marketing best practices always call for evaluating the cost/benefit of each keyword in your program as it ladders up to your overall goals. Head terms can be a great source of volume but are likely to be less efficient. Tail terms can be strong ROI drivers but may not be enough to move the needle.

Whether or not you’re taking a portfolio approach to paid search, don’t just automatically dismiss high cost keywords. As long as you’re tracking downstream conversions (ideally across channels) you’ll be able to determine if those terms are driving tangible business outcomes.

Be sure you’ve got a multi-touch attribution model in play so that credit is distributed beyond the last click. My guess is that few, if any, of the top 10 keywords are likely to deliver single-search, single-click conversion paths.

5. Focus on your business. OK, you’ve had a chance to think about the top 10 searches of 2014 and what they represent. Now put them out of mind. Pretend you have the Ebola isolation pod and go back to managing your programs.

Just as searchers around the world got caught up in the latest trends and tragedies, we marketers can get easily distracted by the latest digital disruptions. While it’s important to keep an eye out for what’s happening around us, we can’t get sidetracked by what everyone else is doing.

You know what’s right for your business and (hopefully!) what will drive results. If the trends represented by the top 10 searches of 2014 present opportunity, seize them! If not, ignore them! It’s not like they’re going to break the Internet or anything….

1 comment about "Five SEM Lessons From The Top 10 Searches Of 2014".
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  1. David Carlick from Carlick, December 17, 2014 at 12:54 p.m.

    I suspect that while these are the top ten, collectively they amount to a tiny fraction of total searches, and have no impact on people searching for a restaurant, plumber, hotel, spa, etc. Interesting though. Always fun to watch Google stream their search queries.

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