Search Focus: The Yin & Yang of Search

Conversion isn’t the only valid metric for search terms

I was sitting with one of the brightest minds in our agency recently, and we were talking about measurement of search: what’s right and wrong about it. We spent a lot of time talking about how clients tend to manage their entire set of search terms against a single, conversion-driven metric. While we love the ability to see how each term contributes to the bottom line, we agreed that measuring all terms against a single barometer is inherently flawed.

Search has the ability to influence potential customers at any point in the spectrum of brand adoption, from awareness to advocacy. At the top end of the funnel, research has proven that consumers and businesses leverage search engines more than anything else in the initial stages of the purchase process. We address that by building out keywords that leverage all parts of the funnel, from broad categorical terms and phrases to detailed lower-funnel terms aimed at closing the sale.

But even sophisticated search marketers tend to take a polarized stance: If the term isn’t delivering an efficient return, they pull it or bid it down dramatically. It’s a frighteningly shortsighted approach, and it doesn’t accurately address the dynamics involved in making a purchase.

For example, someone searching for “LCD Televisions” likely won’t convert as quickly as someone looking for pricing information on a specific LCD model number; the latter implies a shopper who’s closer to purchase. The term “LCD Televisions” will garner more impressions, but because its clicks and costs may not convert as well, a marketer might become bearish on how to manage the term.

If you were to auto-optimize against this “transaction-only” logic, you would end up with a list of relatively low-volume terms that convert well. Over time, you’d be confined to a small segment of already-qualified customers, versus driving potential new customers through the top of the purchase funnel. For that reason, it’s imperative that search marketers rethink the value of upper-funnel activity in search.

There are a host of different approaches to assigning value outside of conversion. Some proxies include time spent, pages turned, or repeat visits. More promising are actions that facilitate transition deeper into the adoption/purchase funnel. To achieve this, marketers need to understand what links awareness to consideration, and consideration to purchase for their brands. Armed with such intelligence, they can design search strategies that methodically push customers through the funnel by linking terms to pages that communicate the attributes and benefits that lead to the sale.

Marketers tend to be more forgiving in valuing brand terms, understanding the value of presence when someone is seeking their brand. While brand-specific terms generally do convert well, I’d suggest the same approach in looking at the upper funnel. There is an undeniable value to someone experiencing your brand when they search within your category. They may not convert in this session, this week, or this month, but you’ve entered their awareness and, if your site does its job well, you’re well positioned for future consideration or purchase.

Until the engines or site-side analytics tools are able to capture search path accurately, it’s up to us to help clients understand how potential customers flow through their unique funnels, and how to value terms that drive latent conversion. The purchase process is dynamic, and measuring success on a single metric doesn’t adequately capture or appropriately assign the total value.


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