Brands on Search: Connecting during Consideration

First published November 20, 2008 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Last week, I talked about what brand can’t do on the search results page. Today, I’d like to talk about one of the many things that brand can do on search.

If brands can’t build an emotional appeal on the results page, they can certainly reinforce their presence at just the right time. This was at the heart of our brand lift studies. Remember, we use search when our intent is squarely aligned with researching a purchase. We’re actively looking for information. And the appearance of brands can be a powerful influencer in these types of searches. Here are some of the surprising and not so surprising things we’ve found in our many brand lift studies:

There is brand lift that comes from dominating the top of page. The biggest question for our first study was, how valuable are those top-of-page slots? If you own the organic position, do you need to buy the top sponsored spot? Is there lift by owning both spots? The answer is yes, to both. The lift we saw in most metrics was well into double digits, significant for marketers. You gain a bigger share of mind when you own more top-of-page real estate. But that’s not all…

You lose brand awareness when you’re not there. For generic keywords, even if you have a strong brand in a category, if you’re not in a result set and your competitors are, your position of dominance will start to erode. In fact, we’ve seen people looking for dominant brands in a result set when they weren’t present, and their confidence in both the quality of the search results and the brand position started to erode. Often, it’s the biggest and strongest brands that are the least concerned about their search visibility. This arrogance could wipe them from the consideration set of many prospective buyers.

Competition on the results page is a good thing. If domination of a results page is good, total domination must be better, right? Well, no, actually. We found more engagement with the top-of-page results when there were a couple of well-known competitors, and engagement led to an overall lift in brand awareness for the test brand. The reason has to do with the intent of the user. If a user is launching a search looking for alternatives to consider in a purchase decision, a results set with only one brand isn’t a very good match to that intent. The user will spend less time considering it, because their confidence is lower. But a results set that brings back two or three well-known brands is a better match, resulting in more engagement. Of course, you’re now competing with those brands, so effective messaging, positioning and landing page strategies become more important. But you already knew that, right?

Top sponsored ads are read more. Top organic placement is a beautiful thing to have, but our studies have shown that people actually spend more time reading the top sponsored ad. This doesn’t make the top organic placement any less important. It’s a default choice for many users. But the fact is, people take the time to read the title of the top ad, just because it is an ad and people will spend more time deliberating before they click. People are less wary with an organic listing, so a quick glance is all that’s needed to click. Marketers can use this to their advantage to reinforce their marketing message in a top sponsored ad (often not an option with organic placement) and drive clicks to a tailored experience.

This covers the brand benefits of search for the well-known brands, the ones that jump out at you in a results set. But what if you aren’t fortunate enough to be a category killer brand? Can search still work for branding? The short answer is yes. The longer answer will have to wait until my next column.

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