Measuring Value

A few weeks ago, I was asked to describe the single biggest mistake that search marketers continue to make. A number of common issues came to mind. Not integrating paid and natural search into a coherent program, for example, is a common misstep and a clear missed opportunity. Poor campaign organization and budgeting is another fairly common mistake with potentially severe consequences. None of these, however, have the potential to derail a search campaign and obscure opportunity more than the mistake of the improper measurement of value. When advertisers do not measure search campaign value correctly, no amount of tactical expertise can make up for this shortfall. Budgets are misallocated, keywords are optimized incorrectly, and entire segments of query opportunity are ignored or passed over because their worth is not effectively captured. Measuring value may seem obvious, but most advertisers are not doing it correctly. Here are three fundamentals for correctly assessing the impact of search marketing campaigns that every search marketer should consider:



Measure Business Results, Not Actions

The temptation for many search marketers is to measure a direct, site-side action and use that as the primary indicator of value. For e-Commerce companies that track revenue or margin, this approach works fine. But for those that are not selling products online, online actions like registrations and page views do not necessarily translate into real value. Advertisers that fall into the trap of measuring site-side actions alone are not measuring the true value of their search program as it translates into dollars for their business. To effectively measure real value, advertisers may need to tie offline data (e.g., deposits, offline sales) to search marketing investments at the keyword/match-type level. This is not always easy to do, and can require complex technical integration. In addition, this approach means that value is generally not immediately transparent. It can take weeks, months or quarters to get a read on value when meaningful business activities take place offline. But this approach is essential in effective campaign optimization and investment decisions. I would go so far as to say that tying offline data to search performance at the keyword/match-type level is the single most important tactic that search marketers can employ to fully scale their search campaigns.

Measure Brand Impact

We did a study a few years ago demonstrating that search was instrumental in establishing brand awareness and positive brand perceptions. And the marketing community yawned. Since that time, half a dozen additional studies have come out that support the same conclusion: search marketing is an effective tool for shaping consumers' brand perceptions. Yet I don't know a single search marketer who consistently factors brand impact into search marketing effectiveness. Search marketers miss an opportunity to compete effectively on high-value keywords when they ignore the brand impact factor. A comprehensive measurement strategy includes understanding which keywords are strategically important from a brand perspective, and measuring search's ability to shift consumer perceptions across those keyword sets. This can be done through survey or panel data to provide a useful secondary (or for some advertisers perhaps, primary) window into search marketing effectiveness.

Measure Customer Service Gains

Consumers turn to search today for a variety of basic customer service needs. The most obvious of these include accessing store hour information, phone numbers and locations through the search experience--often without the need for a post-search click. Accessing this information through Search, as opposed to taxing a call center or in-store sales staff, provides meaningful cost savings. Search marketers should factor in the cost savings derived from reduced call-center burden and customer service responses in conducting ROI analyses of local search and feed management programs. Especially with tactics like local search that are difficult to tie back to direct sales, the customer service cost savings may be all the ROI justification that a search marketer needs.

Again, while seemingly simple, the accurate measurement of search marketing success is a complex endeavor that requires the right technology and expertise to capture and interpret results. But advertisers who make the investment to go beyond the measurement basics and measure the real value of search marketing efforts will have a major advantage over their competitors for one simple reason: they will actually know what works.

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