As always, we struggle in the world of search to define the right message for our audience.
As a recent home buyer in Seattle, I am excited to relate some definitions for new words I learned while managing a very different kind of search: the home search. It appears that "Peek-a-boo winter lake views" refers to the smudge of Lake Washington you might glimpse as you squint through bare branches while clinging to the chimney of the house in question. Still better than the "Territorial view," which promises that all you will ever see through your windows is, well--part of the Earth. Unless the listing is on Mars, no real draw there.
After buying a house, and weary of the euphemisms employed by real estate professionals, I applied myself with renewed vigor to my job in online marketing. Back to an industry that relies on straightforward accountability and measurability, right?
But like Freddy Krueger following teenagers back from their nightmares, the lack of clear definitions in the residential real estate industry seems to have pursued me into the real world of search marketing.
One term that has lacked a constructive definition in the world of search is "share of voice." This term is commonly used in the context of a search engine or publisher cajoling an online marketer to increase budget. Example: "Well now, your share of voice has fallen from 67 percent to 42 percent in the online apparel space." "Voice" seems to correspond with clicks on keywords belonging to a certain broad category of keywords. The "share of" part relates to the percentage of those clicks that goes to the site of any one particular advertiser.
I can see how smart marketing folks came up with "share of voice:"
"How about percentage of hits?"
"Are you crazy? People think back to 1999 and shudder at 'hits' as a metric?"
"How about slice of clicks?"
"What with rise in click costs, questions on click validity. Too provocative."
"How about telling them that their competitors will steal market share and their business will shrivel up and die? Share of voice. With no voice, you die."
"Nice. 'Share of voice' it is."
The first reason the term "share of voice" lacks the import its name suggests is that it is very difficult for the titles and descriptions on search results--both paid and organic--to have a voice. What with 95 to 230 total characters to work with on Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search respectively, "bleat" seems more appropriate than "voice."
It seems that the term "voice" would be more appropriate in referring to the dialogue between the consumer and the marketer that occurs on an engaging Web site.
"Voice" would also be better suited to buzz on blogs--which 27 percent of Internet users read, according to Pew Research (2005).
If search engine results do not provide a voice for the marketer, what do they do? One could suggest that search engines play a more valuable role--they enable a digital brand to connect consumers with its voice, which lives on the Web site. After all, if a brand cannot reach its customers, then whatever voice it has built will never be heard.
We would be better off to admit that connecting with consumers via search provides little opportunity to communicate with a voice. But it can allow marketers to introduce a voice, provided that the introduction is appropriate. The use of hyper-promotional language to increase clicks may not provide the right introduction. "70 Percent Off" or "Free Trial" may increase "share of voice" by creating more hits/clicks/visits, but if it attracts the wrong consumers, then the voice those consumers hear on the Web site may not be a friendly one.
Likewise, a high-volume but less relevant keyword might bring visitors to a Web site, but the interaction may not be a productive one for either the marketer or the consumer. Eliminating the keyword "shirts" from a high-end designer clothing site may reduce "share of voice," but will not limit the ability of that site to engage its core audience.
The voice itself is a product of the right audience, and the right message and delivery on the Web site.
One reason we hear "share of voice" as a success metric may be that we, as marketers, have largely been unable to quantify the value of consumer interaction that falls outside of an online lead or sale. If we can leverage search to engage a consumer in learning about a brand on the Web site, what is that worth? If we allow a consumer to conduct research on a high-consideration product or service, how do we value that? What is the benefit of reaching a current customer via search to provide post-sale support? "Share of voice" may be a weak proxy for methods of evaluating consumer behavior that we are just beginning to explore.
While my new "territorial view" will unlikely change, I expect that "share of voice" will.