Josh Dreller – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Sat, 28 Aug 2021 00:21:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 3 key tenets of successful full funnel search /3-key-tenets-of-successful-full-funnel-search-318007 Mon, 10 Jun 2019 18:45:42 +0000 /?p=318007 Recognizing when you need to push upper, middle or bottom activity with your campaigns is fundamental to a full funnel search approach.

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In my first post on full funnel search, I made the case that most paid search programs focus a lot of spend on the bottom of the funnel which is misaligned to today’s reality on how consumers actually use search engines for purchase research and decision-making. Embracing a full funnel search approach will open up SEM to truly maximize the total business impact of the channel.

Previously I explained why the core reason why paid search has been somewhat relegated to the bottom funnel because bottom-funnel metrics always look better on the weekly or monthly marketing report. Upper funnel search metrics will never look good when evaluated against bottom-funnel KPIs.

Three key tenets of full funnel search

Moving away from nearly twenty years of the way that paid search has been practiced and evaluated can be difficult. However, to take a quantum leap forward on how SEM can maximize business impact, our industry needs to give search marketers new talking points to start planting the seeds within their organizations why full funnel search is the right approach.

In today’s post, I start my mission to arm search marketers that narrative to facilitate this needed shift in thinking, starting with the three key tenets of full funnel search marketing.

Full funnel search tenet #1: Every relevant search is a potential sale

Over the last decade, new publishers, channels, targeting capabilities and ad formats have armed marketers with advanced ways to engage and influence consumers. However, this is a double-edged sword…there is more noise and clutter in the market than ever before.

Marketers cannot lose sight of just how important a relevant search on a search engine is to their business. In comparison, how many ad boxes on a page reach people who both:

  1. Ready to stop what they’re doing and engage with a brand message; and
  2. Interested in the product or service is being advertised?

This doesn’t mean other channels don’t have value. But, it’s not about any value, when it comes to marketing investments, it’s about the most value. Remember, “clicks are no longer clicks; they represent individual consumers on specific journeys.”

The full funnel search approach argues that every relevant search has the most value because it is being initiated by a consumer researching on the other side of the screen which, by default, can be assumed to be interested in that topic and ready and willing to pause their day and engage.

Can anyone argue what is a better ad impression – online or offline – than a paid search ad served to someone who has just searched on one of your most relevant keywords?

Full funnel search tenet #2: Know your funnel

Just because every relevant search has value (tenet #1), it doesn’t mean that every search’s value is the same. You must know your funnel! Every brand’s funnel is unique. Even different products at the same brand have their own, unique funnels.

In our example, the term bicycle could be potentially valuable to hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses. You, as the search marketer, need to understand your product or service and how consumers research. What are the upper funnel keywords that are most likely to drive an eventual sale? Do you need to bid on those terms or can you bid on the mid-funnel terms that most of your buyers also search?

Understanding your funnel is crucial to a full funnel search approach. If your brand, product or service line is new to the market, you may have to spend more budget to capture consumers on a purchase path to fill your funnel.

Full funnel search is not a license to bid on every keyword relevant to your business. You have to best understand your buyer’s paths with keyword research. Keywords at different funnel stages need the right ad copy to attract good prospects while repelling the bad ones. Landing pages need to address the buyer at whatever stage of the funnel they are at the time of the click.

Intimately learning your unique funnel and recognizing when you need to push upper, middle or bottom activity with your search campaigns is key to a full funnel search approach.

Full funnel search tenet #3: Evaluate SEM efforts differently based on funnel stages

With a new approach to search, a new way of evaluating your efforts is needed as well.

Just focusing on last click conversions is a bottom-funnel technique. This won’t work for upper and middle funnel traffic as these consumers are still researching and might not even be sure yet if they’re even going to buy anything.

What makes this more complex is how difficult the customer journey is to track – and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult with browsers moving towards blocking more and more pixel tracking mechanisms. So, upper funnel terms might absolutely be driving conversions, but sometimes the tracking just doesn’t reflect that.

Each search marketing program is unique and will need a unique set of evaluation criteria. Here are some suggestions to how this might work:

Upper Funnel Search should be treated as a true, awareness activity such as broad reach television or online display campaigns. These channels are usually evaluated by impression delivery and their efficiency at delivering targeted impressions to an audience. What is the CPM of your daytime cable daypart on TV? What is your average CPM on your branding (non-direct response) online display and digital video ads?

On the one hand, these other channels can argue that their ad formats are better at storytelling, but on the other, a search ad is delivered to an interested consumer at the time they are “raising their hand.”  Not only that, but a marketer only pays for a search ad when it is clicked, so there’s a double-validation here that someone has searched for a keyword or phrase relevant to your business and also has read the ad copy and believes that there is some interesting value a click away.

Middle Funnel Search is related to other channels that drive engagement. A consumer searching on one of these terms should be considered highly valuable and qualified, even if they aren’t yet ready to buy or fill out a lead form. Once again, the fact that it takes a click to spend the marketing budget means that the consumer felt compelled to visit your website via the search ad.

Metrics such as page views, time spent on the site, and return visits might be more fitting to gauge the success of middle funnel search traffic.

Bottom Funnel Search can still be held to today’s CPC and ROI standards. Actually, if search marketers only reported on these KPIs for just their bottom funnel activity, the metrics would be instantly better than ever because of the removal of the upper and mid-funnel campaigns.


Moving to a full funnel search approach won’t be easy. But for brands, it’s the right thing to do. We need to proceed carefully, have those hard conversations with our teams and leaders, and use both common sense and testing to find our way.

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Why has paid search been pigeonholed to the bottom of the funnel? /why-has-paid-search-been-pigeonholed-to-the-bottom-of-the-funnel-317344 Wed, 22 May 2019 19:13:26 +0000 /?p=317344 To grow your total business impact from SEM you'll need to invest in upper funnel tactics to drive more consumers into your funnel.

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No one can argue that paid search isn’t a fantastic bottom-funnel tactic. The rest of your marketing drives interest in your products or services which then drives consumers to search engines where your SEM acts as an always-on net to capture engagement.

But, if every click really is a consumer on a purchase journey, then shouldn’t search be used as a full-funnel vehicle?

Under constant pressure to drive better and better results, search marketing has evolved – and has been somewhat relegated – to a bottom funnel channel.

How did this happen?

The great recession’s impact

From a historical perspective, much of the “must convert now,” short-term thinking of marketing performance evaluation was in direct response to the global economic recession between 2007 and 2009.

During this time, consumer spending took a major downturn so marketing budgets were cut accordingly. Offline channels less measurable than digital ones took major blows and many – such as print – never fully recovered. Even though paid search was actually one of the few advertising tactics that grew at this time, there was increased scrutiny over how budgets were spent and the aftershocks of that mindset still exist today.

Every search marketer on the planet has had a boss or a client point to the upper funnel campaigns and ad groups on the monthly paid search report (that often cost more and have a lower return on investment than bottom funnel ones) and ask them: “Why are we running on these?” For non-search marketers, this line of thinking is completely understandable and logical. After all, the goal of a marketing organization is to spend the budget as efficiently as possible, and it would seem to be a bad idea to keep funding efforts that seem to cost more and return less.

Of course, if your brand does a great job of filling the funnel organically, and if your entire marketing budget can barely cover the long tail (specific keywords a consumer uses when they are ready to buy), then by all means just target the bottom of the funnel with your SEM.

However, most advertisers are not in that position.

Just a portion of the budget is needed to cover the cost of the bottom funnel search activity and then comes the hard decision of where to allocate the rest of the marketing budget. Don’t keep cranking up bids on your bottom-funnel terms because you can afford to be just a little less efficient with those high performing terms. Invest in the top!

Even for the experienced search marketer, it can be hard to make the case for funding upper funnel spending because marketing measurement is inherently flawed and it is virtually impossible to track every brand interaction back to purchase behavior. So, even if you know that participating at the beginning and middle of the consumer purchase path is philosophically the right thing to do and will lead to more sales or leads, the numbers won’t always back you up.

And if the numbers don’t back you up, then bosses and clients might have a hard time being convinced that they should support upper funnel spending.

Stuck at the bottom

Let’s face it. Digital marketing and its wealth of data can make even the savviest marketer become myopically focused on bottom line KPIs. Not a bad thing, you say? Maybe not. After all, ROI is why we’re investing in paid search in the first place.

But consider this: When you hyper-optimize every channel to get the best possible Return on Ad Spend, you may miss opportunities to influence the consumer buying process earlier in the cycle. You’re only reaching those consumers who were likely already considering and might have purchased your product anyway. In effect, you are creating a narrower funnel and limiting your overall volume.

There can even be a case made that a lot of bottom-funnel paid search might be just navigational and questionably incremental. Many buyers at this step of the funnel have already made up their minds and are simply searching and then clicking ads to get back to a website in order to take action. They might not have needed a paid search ad at all and would have clicked an organic search listing if there wasn’t ad displayed more prominently above the natural results to take them where they already wanted to go.

Of course, not all bottom-funnel search is navigational, but certainly, there’s less of this behavior on top and middle funnel searches where it can be safely assumed that the ads had more of an effect on the final conversion.

One thing is for sure: if you want to grow your search programs, it’s not about grinding conversions at the bottom but rather filling your funnel at the top and middle because your bottom-funnel search is going to work really well. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work hard and optimizing at the bottom—you most certainly should.

The only way you’re really going to grow your total business impact from SEM is by investing in upper funnel tactics to drive more consumers into your funnel. Believe me, your bottom funnel search will always be there to convert them.

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The future of search engine marketing is full funnel /the-future-of-search-engine-marketing-is-full-funnel-313579 Thu, 07 Mar 2019 13:00:05 +0000 /?p=313579 A search click is not just a click. It’s a consumer on a purchase journey.

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Paid search might be one of the greatest bottom funnel advertising tactics in the history of marketing.

After all, every bit of advertising drives interest and awareness with the potential to lead to a query on a search engine that paid search can then convert. Like a net at the bottom of your entire media portfolio, search engine marketing is ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year to capture demand and route it to your best landing pages.

No one can argue that paid search works great at the bottom of the funnel, but what about at the top and middle? Historically, upper funnel terms have higher CPCs and lower conversion rates, so sometimes a search marketer might feel justified in deprioritizing those terms and focusing on bottom terms where the metrics look better.

But, focusing on the bottom funnel isn’t aligned to the way people search. Consumers use search engines across the funnel during their purchase journey. I know that I do.

According to research from Forrester Consulting, we all do, too.

  • 95 percent of respondents use at least one search channel for discovery (top funnel)
  • 94 percent of respondents use at last one search channel for consideration/purchase (mid-funnel)
  • 93 percent of respondents use at least one search channel for engagement (bottom funnel)

The data is clear and common sense is even clearer. Consumers search throughout the funnel, and yet many (but not all) search marketers tend to look at upper funnel SEM as “inefficient.”  They might have some of the most relevant and obvious top and middle terms in their search accounts, but only to supplement the bottom funnel terms that have limited scale and that can’t spend the entire budget on their own.

But, what if…? What if the myopic focus on chasing the most efficient KPIs is literally holding today’s search programs back from fully flourishing?

Think about your own paid search program. Is it aligned to the way that consumers use search engines in purchase decisions for your category or is it purposefully bottom funnel-focused so that it can deliver the highest ROAS in the monthly marketing report? Maybe we – search marketers – have helped to perpetuate this narrow view of what this channel can deliver by setting expectations at our company and agency that SEM is best as a lower-funnel tactic.

Could our bottom funnels be much, much larger if we filled our funnels with top and middle funnel search? The top and middle KPIs might never stack up to bottom funnel performance, but maybe they can impact more business goals than other upper funnel marketing tactics such as online display or even television.

Every search represents a potential customer

If 90 percent of searchers haven’t made their mind up about a brand before starting their search, it would seem that getting in front of a consumer when they’re just starting their purchase journey should be prioritized. And the time when consumers are searching for middle funnel terms as they round out their research and get closer to buying can be a very valuable inflection point for brands to influence them.

One of my favorite quotes that really hammers home just how valuable every search can be is from Bing’s Christi Olson in the 2017 article, The value of search across the modern consumer decision journey.

“In many ways, today’s search marketers must unlearn some old practices and adopt a new mindset, delving deeper into individual customer journeys and query paths,” says Olson. “Paid search is no longer a product with broad KPIs, such as conversions and clicks. Clicks are no longer clicks; they represent individual consumers on specific journeys.”

Let that sink in.

A search click is not just a click. It’s a consumer on a purchase journey.

Once you embrace that, the value of the upper funnel search suddenly becomes clearer. The justification for paying a few bucks more per click for upper funnel keywords makes more sense and evaluating every search effort against your most efficient bottom funnel [unicorn] terms makes less sense.

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The state of cross-channel paid search, part 3: SEM & display /state-cross-channel-paid-search-part-3-sem-display-245447 Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:41:58 +0000 http:/?p=245447 In the third installment of his series on cross-channel digital marketing, columnist Josh Dreller explains how search and display can work together to inform one another and drive results.

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In the first part of this series on cross-channel paid search, I posited that cross-channel marketing will one day be the standard for most marketing organizations.

I also presented some ideas on how paid search and social advertising could better work together, as they are natural cousins — they share the biddable, auction-based format.

In the second part, Search and TV, I made the case that even small gains and lifts in marketing performance from cross-channel coordination are a valid enough reason to push past today’s single-channel norm. TV’s mass reach and influence means that search marketers should make it a focal point for this evolution.

Ultimately, the point I’m trying to make with this series is that search marketers should be the ones to reach across the aisle and be the agents of change to help push cross-channel marketing forward. This is because of search’s unique place in the funnel as a “catch-all” net for all other channels to drive consumers towards.

In essence, search already is a cross-channel medium. If you’re going to build a cross-channel foundation, search has to be where you start, and it’s the responsibility of search marketers to lead this evolution.

Cross-channel operationalization is a dance

Take it from me — moving from a siloed, single-channel approach to a cross-channel one is not easy. Even though most marketers know that coordinated marketing across channels has the potential to yield higher returns than working via single channels, to put it into practice can sometimes simply be too big for their organizations to handle.

A few years ago, I worked for a cross-channel attribution company. This was when holistic measurement was really gaining legs and interest in the industry, and a lot of marketers were looking to go beyond the “last click” measurement standard.

However, as companies began investigating what it takes to bring all channels together, they quickly learned that it’s the operationalization — getting people on board to change to a new way of thinking — that is the biggest barrier to a cross-channel approach.

Most organizations seemed to have tried to approach cross-channel operationalization as a military exercise. You lay out the plan, you hold teams accountable, and then you hit the Go button. However, this didn’t work that well. Channel teams, already extremely busy and with a lot of pressure to continue delivering strong results, failed to prioritize accordingly — and thus, the new system would fail.

The right approach seems to be more like a group dance than a military mission. One team (dancer) must begin and leave room for the others (dancers) to follow. You have to take small steps at first, until the entire group feels comfortable to move on to more advanced moves. Slowly, the ones moving faster gear down to let the slower ones catch up.

Eventually, you have something that looks coordinated simply because everyone is extremely aware and cautious about how the entire dance looks, not just their part.

In a way, a successful cross-channel operationalization rollout looks less like a marketing operation and more like the electric slide.

Search and display grew up together

In this series, I’ve written about search with social and with TV, but online display is really the channel that has already been pioneered the furthest to work closely with search.

When digital marketing first started in the early 2000s, all of the sub-disciplines were simply labeled as “interactive” and put into a small bucket that hovered at three to five percent of total marketing spend.

Eventually, search really took off, and it’s no secret that its meteoric success was a big driver for all of digital marketing to earn a rightful place at the table. To this day, it still provides some of the most valuable ROI in the entire marketing plan. Even during the recent recession in the late 2000s, when marketer budgets were being cut left and right, brands were spending — and increasing spend — on paid search.

However, display (which includes banners, online video and rich media) needed to adapt or die at that time. Dominated by ad networks that bought impressions from publishers at an extremely low price and sold them for many times their cost to advertisers, display’s value was shrinking.

But then some folks (early on, Right Media, and then Invite Media) began pioneering what was then called “performance display,” which then became “programmatic display” — and biddable, real-time auction display began a renaissance.

A lot of search marketers were either recruited over or found their way to programmatic display because of its obvious parallels to biddable paid search. And now, programmatic display is the dominant method in which display ads are purchased and is set to eclipse paid search in 2016 and become the biggest digital marketing channel in terms of advertiser spend.

Today, paid search and programmatic display are the foundation of digital marketing.

Search retargeting to display

Today, there are already multiple cross-channel opportunities for marketers looking to connect search and display.

The search term that a consumer uses to research online is probably the strongest intent signal a brand can have for that person. Regardless of which pages or apps a consumer clicks to, nothing tells more about a consumer than their keyword history.

For display marketers, leveraging the keyword for their channel in the form of search retargeting is a practice that has been around almost a decade. Marketers simply bucket website visitors based on the keywords that drove them to the site, and then retarget those cookies with relevant ads — sometimes with the search term embedded into the ad as a strong flag to attract these consumers.

This practice was a lot easier before Google began obfuscating the organic keywords of website visitors, but it can still be accomplished with paid search traffic, as the originating keyword is still provided.

Search retargeting has advanced over the years. Some technology vendors have been able to cut deals with online publishers and aggregate giant proprietary lists of cookied users and their search terms. Display marketers can then purchase the right to target (anonymously via cookies) these users based on keywords relevant to these cookied users.

This is useful because most brands don’t have enough volume with their own website visitors to make search retargeting a scalable program.

Where we could go with this: Search signals drive display

Even though search retargeting has proven itself to be a viable marketing tactic, I see an opportunity for display marketers to take this concept even further.

What if programmatic display platforms (DSPs — demand side platforms) were able to truly ingest an entire paid search account and utilize all of the signals as part of the bidding algorithm?

The average paid search account contains numerous valuable signals, including what ads are working, how valuable certain types of traffic are, trends of interest (searches) for certain product lines (campaigns) and so on.

For example, if the search campaign for skateboards begins to shrink in volume while the campaign for hoverboards suddenly spikes, that could be a strong indicator for the same programmatic display campaigns to change the way they are being bid.

The paid search data stream at worst is a daily data feed, but it could potentially be in line with how often the engines update their numbers. So, in virtually real time, display campaigns could be reacting with real market feedback in the form of paid search performance.

I’m actually not sure if any programmatic display technologies are doing this right now, but if they’re not, they’re missing out on what might be the strongest data feed to help guide their campaigns.

Moving forward

Search and display have had a strong connection in this nascent digital marketing industry. Unlike TV, which is offline, and social behind walled gardens, search and display are digital media that can freely use anonymous cookies as the point of connection for cross-channel coordination.

With display now primarily a biddable channel, the connection to search is even closer. As we progress further, there will be more opportunities to find ways to strengthen the connection between these two channels.

As a search marketer, if you haven’t already begun working closely with your online display teams, then it’s time to start. No other channel offers more readily available cross-channel options.

Even if it’s not clear how this will directly help your search accounts immediately, you could provide valuable insights and data to the display folks that will end up driving more interest — and searches — that will drive better search performance downstream.

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The State Of Cross-Channel Paid Search, Part 2: SEM & TV /state-cross-channel-paid-search-part-2-sem-tv-242727 Mon, 22 Feb 2016 15:27:43 +0000 http:/?p=242727 In the second installment in a series on cross-channel marketing and search, columnist Josh Dreller explores the relationship between TV and SEM, discussing how these can be used in conjunction with one another to improve ROI.

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In the first part of this series, which focused on SEM and Social, I made the case that search marketers should be leading the charge in pushing their (or their client’s) organization towards a cross-channel marketing approach.

After all, search is the ultimate net for all of the other channels, right? What channel interacts more with the rest of the marketing plan than SEM?

When consumers learn about an interesting new product or service, one of the first places they go for research is a search engine. Banners drive searches. Tweets drive searches. Videos drive searches. Even billboards and newspaper ads drive searches, eventually.

Because of this unique position that search engines have in consumers’ lives, it makes sense that search marketers could have the most influence to help move the needle when it comes to cross-channel media planning and buying.

What have you been doing to push the envelope?

Is It That Hard To Imagine Cross-Channel SEM Could Deliver 1% More?

I’m not talking about omni-channel marketing nirvana with every channel in sync with each other. Just imagine if your paid search accounts were even loosely coordinated with every other channel in the marketing plan.

Budgets, bids, creative — all elements working just a little more in sync to push just another one percent of efficiency when searches were triggered by the other channels. One percent more engagement. One percent more sales.

Those one percents add up!

Let’s break down that one percent. It just means influencing one more person out of a hundred to take action at each step — and remember, another channel already generated enough awareness to have caused a search engine query for more information, so these are already interested consumers. Could the right ad for the right keyword make a difference with all of the settings (geo-modifier, device-modifier, match type, bid and so on) even slightly affected by cross-channel intelligence? Makes sense to me.

For example, an online fashion retailer is set to start marketing its bathing suits hard on April 1. But maybe it’s been an unusually warm year, and consumers start searching in mid-March for bathing suits. The website starts getting more traffic to the bathing suit pages, and because your practice is in sync with the website, for two weeks you could beat the market to the punch and start pushing up bids and budgets to take advantage of this trend.

A one percent higher click-through rate on one percent more searches and one percent higher conversion rate? It all adds up in the end.

Is search simply too much in its own bubble? Maybe it’s simply a matter of changing our approach, our process, our tools, our data ever so slightly to be more cross-channel focused that could be the last bastion of paid search optimization to go untapped.

So I’ll ask you again: Are you getting the most out of your SEM? How much more valuable could SEM be if it were more aligned to the other channels?

Maybe one day we’ll look back at today’s virtual one-note, always-on paid search approach and wonder why search campaigns in this era didn’t morph and adapt to help squeeze out all of the power of the other channels.

It might look like we were pretty lazy to SEM pros in 2025.

TV & Paid Search: Now Is The Time!

If we are going to really align SEM with other marketing channels, it would seem that the best place to start would be the biggest channel in marketing: television.

There’s been no better time than now to take advantage of the Era of the Distracted TV Viewer, where 87 percent of people who watch TV are also second-screening on their tablets, phones and laptops. In fact, you can pretty much count on the fact that consumers are certainly “watching” search engines while they’re watching TV.

And every TV commercial moment could spark a thought in a viewer’s head to go to a search engine. Even competitor ads could benefit you. Imagine someone is watching a show, and a life insurance ad airs during the commercials.

Out of the millions of people watching TV at that moment, there are going to be some folks that have been meaning to look into life insurance — and that commercial just reminded them. They lift their device off of the couch cushion and begin searching either via text or voice.

Without that commercial, they may have forgotten that need for weeks or months.

One of the studies I often see on the impact of TV on search is from Google. Check out the article link, but the chart below is the money shot. It demonstrates that search volume for a brand spikes when television commercials air.


In a study with one of my own clients, their TV ad occurrences had a significant positive impact on paid search, including a lift of 39.8 percent in click-through rate (CTR) and an increase of nine percent in conversion rates

Even more significantly, competitor ads had a negative impact on performance as click-to-sales conversion rate from search dropped significantly (35.8 percent) during competitive TV ad occurrences.

And there are other studies out there, as well. Here’s one from a previous post here at Search Engine Land. Folks, these charts so obviously show the impact of TV on search that I’m not going to even waste your time with my analysis. Just see the evidence.


Here’s a study from BKV that shows that 80 percent of branded search for direct response TV (DRTV) campaigns is driven by television.


If you still needed to be convinced of TV’s impact on search, then you are one skeptical marketer. Of course, that’s a good trait. Don’t take it from me. Do your own tests.

How To Get Started

It’s a bit tough to coordinate SEM with TV commercials, because many television advertising deals are day-parted into a several-hour window (i.e., prime time, mornings) versus being scheduled to run at a specific hour and minute. Also, many buys are literally just “run of network” and could appear any time.

However, if you know a big television campaign is going to start on a certain date, it might be worthwhile to up your bids and budgets slightly and boost relevant ads for a week or two to see if you can leverage the “halo” effect when TV positively impacts on search.

There are options now for you to automate the process of syncing TV activity to your paid search accounts. In full disclosure, I work for a company that has a TV-Synced Ads product as one of our offerings. There are a handful of vendors that do this, so you have a few options out there.

TV monitoring systems were originally designed to verify that TV buys actually occurred — when you’re buying $50 million in TV, you should have some accountability. These technologies literally watch TV all day and use ACR (automatic character recognition) to detect content, a bit like the music discovery app, Shazam. They can identify TV ads within seconds the same way Shazam can detect songs within seconds.

With automated TV syncing, a trigger is sent to your SEM platform within moments when a TV ad is detected and can activate paused campaigns, change bids and so on, based on how the campaign is set up.

Then, after a specified period of time (maybe 15 to 20 minutes), the system goes back in and reverts the change, then waits for another ad to be detected to do the whole thing again. 


Moving Forward…

Before you get started, you might be able to prove the benefits of coordinating SEM and TV with a simple analysis. Find out when TV spend spiked last year, and then pull a search performance report by day for the same time period.

Overlay the data, and see if you can see any proof that might suggest that TV was impacting performance. Try pulling multiple metrics such as CTR, CPC, conversion rate and impressions to see if you can find any correlation. If you find meaningful results, maybe then you could rally the team to try more cross-channel coordination.

The only way to know if your search programs can benefit from coordinating with TV is to test. Start simple. Here’s a chance to lead. Reach out to your TV buying team and find out when the next big television flight is going to start. Get hold of the TV ads and build out relevant keyword lists and ads to be aligned with the campaign messaging. Do your own tests to see if there’s any value there.

Simply being aligned with messaging when TV is pulsing should provide you some immediately value. Let the TV advertising ping their interest, and put your best foot forward on the search engines to capture that attention.

Remember, those one percents add up!

The post The State Of Cross-Channel Paid Search, Part 2: SEM & TV appeared first on Search Engine Land.

The State Of Cross-Channel Paid Search, Part 1: SEM & Social /state-cross-channel-paid-search-part-1-sem-social-240911 Wed, 27 Jan 2016 14:08:35 +0000 http:/?p=240911 In this first in a series on cross-channel marketing, columnist Josh Dreller discusses how paid search and paid social efforts can work together to improve overall marketing efforts.

The post The State Of Cross-Channel Paid Search, Part 1: SEM & Social appeared first on Search Engine Land.


In just about every survey ever conducted on the value of a cross-channel marketing approach, most marketers acknowledge that using coordinated marketing channels has the potential to be more valuable than operating siloed channels individually.

Of course, that’s an easy thing for marketers to theoretically agree with…

Meanwhile, in almost every survey conducted on the current state of cross-channel marketing, a minority of marketers feel that their organizations are armed and ready to coordinate multiple channels.

Paid search has historically been a very siloed channel with its own metrics, processes and tools. It’s almost become its own universe, where even the best-paid search marketers have little understanding of how other marketing channels work.

But when you think about the fact that so many other channels eventually drive consumers to search engines, wouldn’t it be better if search marketers took a stronger position on how and where paid search can play in the cross-channel world?

The truth, search pros, is that your leadership is needed.

What’s Your Cross-Channel Point Of View For SEM?

If you are a paid search marketer who is reading this, what level of understanding do you have of how paid search can drive value to the rest of the channels in the marketing plan?

Put yourself in this hypothetical solution: Your boss (or your client, if you’re at an agency) has called all of the channel managers together for a week-long internal summit to figure out how to better coordinate a holistic marketing plan.

You’re up first. What do you say?

  • What’s your point of view on how SEM impacts and influences other channels?
  • How do other channels impact and influence SEM?
  • If you could make changes to move SEM towards omnichannel nirvana, what would be your plan for the next 12 months?
  • What would be the action steps required by your team to accomplish this?
  • What would be your “asks” to the other channel managers?

Without question, marketing is headed towards a coordinated, cross-channel approach. There are simply too many dollars on the line, and today’s consumer path-to-purchase is just too complicated to expect siloed marketing channels to have the impact they once did.

What will your place be in the cross-channel world? Over the next several posts, I will outline paid search’s current relationship with the other major marketing channels in order to kick-start your own thinking process and be prepared for the next (inevitable) evolution of this industry.

In the first post of this series, we will explore the relationship between paid search and social advertising.


Paid Search & Social Advertising: A Natural Fit For Search Marketers

As consumer social media adoption began to rise in the mid- to late 2000s, the first marketing angle with social was leveraging the organic opportunities with Facebook, Twitter and other early social media sites.

PR firms (and then social agencies) were the first to claim this territory, as organic social falls more into the marcom category than the advertising category. It was around this time that “social gurus” and “social ninjas” began to spring up to set their leadership in this space. The popular social tools at that time were strictly focused on organic posting and management.

As Facebook and other social publishers began to release ad platforms, brands began allocating some rather significant budgets toward social advertising, and it became increasingly clear that the PR and social agencies’ organic search expertise wasn’t translating as well in the paid media space.

Thus, the eventual stewardship of social advertising was passed to search agencies, whose expertise in bid management, text ad generation and ad analytics proved them to be better equipped to succeed in the auction-based channel.

Of course, not all social advertising is run by former or current search practitioners, but a large portion of enterprise-level spending (i.e., $200K+/mo) in the social sphere is funneled through marketers primarily trained in paid search.

With search folks taking over social advertising, the channel has flourished, with double-digit growth in the US expected to continue through 2017.

I’m not going to make the case that social advertising’s meteoric rise is attributed to search marketers taking over the channel. However, every new marketing channel takes time to build best practices, determine the right KPIs and metrics and figure out how to optimize to increase performance.

Search marketers and agencies brought proven tactics and solid thinking from almost a decade of paid search experience to social advertising. This immediately brought a comfort level with social advertising that brands could bank on.

Although it would be hard to go back and quantify the effect that this “instant expertise” had on brand adoption of social advertising, it would be hard to ignore how important a role search marketers played in the channel’s rapid growth.

Cross-Channel Tools Still Nascent With Paid Search & Social Advertising

The evolution of digital marketing channels closely follows the evolution of the tools available. For example, no matter how badly a marketer might want to run Reach and Frequency targeting on Facebook, if Facebook had never opened up that option in Power Editor, then it would be impossible to utilize that tactic.

The cross-channel tools in the digital marketing industry are really few and far between, as most platforms are truly single-point solutions (even if they have some cross-channel features). There has been some significant innovation in cross-channel measurement over the years, but media buying platforms have been slow to react.

It’s not their fault. Marketers themselves haven’t demanded cross-channel tools, so technology providers continue to invest primarily in silos.

Some of the larger paid search tech vendors have built some integration between their search and social tools, but it would be a stretch to say that a true cross-channel platform exists for these channels — which is a surprise based on the fact that so many search marketers are now today’s social ad practitioners.

Understand How To Leverage Social’s Push & Search’s Pull


The biggest difference between search and social is also what makes them complement each other so well.

Paid search is a pull medium, meaning that it requires a consumer to query a search engine to deliver an ad. This is a fantastic marketing channel because it reaches consumers while they’re in research mode and puts relevant ads in front of them based on their intent.

Social advertising is a push medium, meaning that advertisers simply push ads to consumers. Although a pull medium like paid search has proven to be an incredibly powerful way to capture consumer intent, it is limited by the need for consumers to search. Without a query, paid search does not have a way to reach non-searching consumers.

Thus, social advertising is a great way to generate the interest and demand that search can fulfill. And the relationship between these two channels is even more complex than that. Social can generate awareness, which drives consumers to search. Once they convert, they may then broadcast your products or services to their friends and families on social channels, which then sparks more searches.

Truly understanding how your customer base is impacted by both channels working well together will build cross-channel synergy that has more power than each channel working independently.

Moving Forward…

What are some other ways you can benefit from coordinating paid search with social advertising?

What are some ways paid search can help social advertising?

Cross-channel marketing is not easy when each channel has evolved separately in its own bubble. Measurement solutions like attribution can bring an organization together to help put the puzzle together.

But it is going to require more than simply looking back on campaign performance. Advertisers need leaders to reach across the aisle to their counterparts and think outside the box about how to best work with each other.

Leaders like you!

In the next part of this series, I will examine the relationship between the advertising industry’s most dominant channel, TV, and paid search.

The post The State Of Cross-Channel Paid Search, Part 1: SEM & Social appeared first on Search Engine Land.

10 Reasons Why You, The Search Marketer, Can Call Yourself A Data Scientist /10-reasons-search-marketer-can-call-data-scientist-237896 Tue, 15 Dec 2015 16:44:00 +0000 http:/?p=237896 You may consider yourself a paid search marketer, but columnist Josh Dreller explains why "data scientist" may well be a fitting label.

The post 10 Reasons Why You, The Search Marketer, Can Call Yourself A Data Scientist appeared first on Search Engine Land.


A standard definition for the job described as “data scientist” hasn’t yet been agreed upon, but the common denominator among the various interpretations out there identifies three key skill sets:

  • An understanding of data (what it is, how it’s collected and its meaning).
  • The ability to manipulate it to derive insights.
  • Connecting data insights to real-world value and communicating it clearly to non-data people.

Is that not what you do every day?

An Understanding Of The Data

1. Working With Metrics

Search engine marketing, whether organic optimization or paid placements, has a defined set of metrics that need to be understood at a language level of native proficiency.

If you don’t understand what those metrics are and why they are important, then you just can’t be a search marketer.

And it’s more than just knowing what they are. Anyone can learn what a bounce rate or click-through rate is, but what makes SEMers data scientists is they understand how these metrics were captured, the math behind them and what their value is to marketers.

Professional search marketers can easily take a quick glance at a table of these metrics and understand if they’re good, bad or ugly.

Data is a key language of your world. You are a data scientist.

2. Mastering Tools

Whether they’re using Excel, an SEM-focused platform or any other data tool, search engine marketers have become masters at bringing in data sets and prepping that data so it’s in a good state to analyze. Our proficiency in these tools is similar to that of a data scientist who uses SQL or MicroStrategy or other analytics platforms.

Search pros also have an expert knowledge of the value of their various tools and which one to pull out from their toolbox depending on the analysis required at that moment. I would imagine the average search marketer works with at least five data tools. Of course, these tools may have multiple purposes, but there will always be a data component of the platform.

Data Tools Of Paid Search Marketers: Native engine platforms, bid managers, website analytics, Microsoft Excel, reporting or optimization systems and more.

Data Tools Of Organic Search Marketers (SEOs): Website analytics, webmaster tools, keyword research platforms, ranking trackers, link miners and more.

Do you have tools to pull and view data? Of course you do. You’re a data scientist.

3. Inventing New Ways To Look At The Data

As this marketing discipline has matured, so has the the data science behind it. Great SEMers obsess about metrics and how to find new ways to slice and dice the data.

Every new curveball in our industry requires new thinking about how we can manipulate the data in different ways to see new sides of the problem and potential solutions.

This is an important consideration for any scientist. Data science is an evolving art, and it requires smart professionals to think outside the box to move that particular discipline forward. This is how breakthroughs happen in the various fields of science, as well as in search engine marketing.

The very best search marketers in your company or agency are always looking to build their own custom metrics. One of the baseline requirements is for search tools to allow marketers to take any two metrics and build custom calculated fields, such as “cost per” whatever. The off-the-rack metrics work in most situations, but not for every situation.

Data scientists like you are always thinking outside the box to bring new thinking to how the data can be sliced and diced.

Ability To Analyze & Derive Valuable Insights

4. Analyzing Data

This is at the heart of data science and the real value of what this role brings to the table. Search marketers are on a constant search for little golden nuggets of truth that help paint the picture around what happened and how to either continue that success or change the negative trend.

In seems like all great SEM stories begin with, “I was looking through the data and saw…”

Even if you don’t consciously realize it, while going through your search data, you swiftly switch from one type of analysis to another and another as you dive for insights.

The six recognized archetypical analysis types are below. Think about how you use most of these — if not all of them — every day.

  • Descriptive. The discipline of quantitatively describing the main features of a collection of data.
  • Exploratory. An approach to analyzing data sets to find previously unknown relationships.
  • Inferential. Use a relatively small sample of data to say something about a bigger population.
  • Predictive. Use the data on some objects to predict values for another object.
  • Causal. Find out what happens to one variable when you change another.
  • Mechanistic. Understand the exact changes in variables that lead to changes in other variables for individual objects.

Do you see your tasks in that list? Of course you do, you’re a data scientist.

5. Running Experiments

What is more scientific than running experiments every day? In fact, next time someone asks you what you do, tell them you run experiments for a living.

It wouldn’t be untrue, would it?

When you think about it, every decision you make to improve search results is an experiment. That is the right attitude for the professional search engine marketer. Nothing is assumed. Every opinion is simply an assumption (a hypothesis) that will be tested and then analyzed. Rinse and repeat.


Question: Have you ever made a change in your search strategy, gone back later to see if it worked, and then made a new decision (whether to keep things the same or change) based on those results?

That’s the scientific method, Professor, which means you are a data scientist.

6. Utilizing Other Datasets To Build Advanced Insights

Data scientists view raw data as ingredients that will be used to build a new understanding about the goals at hand. Because of this, in the same way a chef will go to his or her spice rack to add a new flavor to a dish, the data scientist will look for different datasets to help “flavor” their own.

External data helps to provide more context to the source dataset. For example, very early on in paid search, marketers starting using organic tools, as well as website analytics, to build a stronger understanding of the value of their strategies.

I remember the first time I saw bounce rate in a paid search report, maybe around 2004. It was an “aha” moment for me. Of course, I would want to understand the behavior of paid visitors once they made it to the site! We were tracking conversion events within the paid search tools, but it had never occurred to me to understand if they bounced out without going beyond the landing page.

Over the years, I worked with clients and analyzed second-page bounce rate and third-page bounce rate to build an even deeper understanding of the paid traffic.

Attribution tools have also now become commonplace with search marketers. For years, we only looked at our own conversion rates for optimization. However, Search — as much or more than any other channel — is absolutely impacted by the other channel activity.

Consumers don’t just wildly come up with the idea out of the blue to search for long-tail keywords such as product SKUs without being driven to that action by other marketing and research touch points. It’s very important to understand the influences on search marketing, as well as how your search initiatives impact other channels.

Looking at your dataset and realizing there’s more information you need is how a data scientist operates. You already think like that because you are a data scientist.

Connecting Analysis To The Real World And Clearly Communicating Value

7. Knowing What Needs To Happen To Improve Performance

The final link in the chain for a data scientist — after he or she has pulled the data, manipulated it and analyzed it — is to take action. After all, what value do data have on a page? None. It’s what you do with data that makes them powerful.

This is undeniable proof that search marketers are data scientists. You use data to enact change and elicit positive results on behalf of your company or clients. If you can’t do this, then you can’t be a search marketer. This is at the core of what data science is all about; studying the data and applying the insights of your analysis to make things better.

Whether you are validating a previous strategy, finding proof to take a different direction, or even verifying that more evidence is needed to make a decision, data are at the heart of this discipline.

This is what you do every day because — you guessed it — you are a data scientist.

8. Using Data Visualizations To Tell The Story

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, and the data scientist knows how to bring data to life using the proper visualizations.

Try putting a data table in front of a group of peers. Each of them will come to different conclusions as their eyes wander through the columns and rows. However, if you use the right combination of charts and graphs, the group will be able to easily see what you need them to conclude.

The right bar graph will highlight an outlier in the data — such as a day that had a big traffic spike. A good pie chart will clearly demonstrate how one tactic is eating up the budget. Line charts show how performance over time has slowly been growing. These are all insights that aren’t clear in spreadsheet form but pop out in visualizations.

Get to know all of the different charts and why you would use one over the other. It will take your search marketing to the next level.


Data scientists understand how different visualizations affect viewers’ perceptions and use them to their advantage. Use them properly, and you will be able to tell the data story in a third of the time with three times the impact.

You eat pie charts for breakfast and bar graphs for lunch because you are a data scientist.

9. Communicating To Others

Reporting what we’ve discovered so the client or your peers can understand what you’ve found is a crucial skill for search marketers.

After all, even if you’ve discovered the best approach to solving a problem, if you can’t clearly articulate the rationale behind your conclusions, in a sense, your conclusions aren’t valuable.

The core reason data science is the sexiest job of the 21st century is that those who do it aren’t like the classic quants of old who talk like computers and aren’t able to relate to anyone in the office.

The data scientist is not someone who sits on the other side of the building and is never involved with key decision making. They are the folks executives enjoy having in the boardroom who can contribute to the conversation and bring data to the table.

I learned early on in my career that almost anyone can learn to analyze data. But the ability to apply it in real-world situations and explain it to others in a way that will make sense for them is what distinguishes a data scientist from an analyst.

But you are good at that, right? You can sit with your boss or your client and walk them through the tables and charts so they can conclude for themselves why you’re recommending a certain course of action.

But you already knew that, right? Because you are a data scientist.


There are different definitions of data scientists. Some are very strict and require a working knowledge of various type of coding and database management. However, if you look at most of the definitions, they all converge on the three points we’ve discussed here today:

  • An understanding of data, what it is, how it’s collected and its meaning.
  • The ability to manipulate it to derive insights.
  • Connecting data insights to real-world value and communicating it clearly to non-data people.

My final piece of evidence is that you have already realized that the title promised 10 reasons, and I’ve only covered nine.

10. Recognizing Discrepancies

This is a crucial skill for data scientists and search marketers, because sometimes the data aren’t right. They’ve either been corrupted by a hiccup in the system or accidentally partially deleted as the spreadsheet changed hands so many times.

You have to have a critical eye to notice these things, or you’ll spend your entire afternoon spinning your wheels on data that will never reveal proper insights because they’re not correct.

This is something only a human can do — computers can only work with the data fed to them. Unless they have instructions on how to verify the validity of the dataset, they’ll just keep crunching the bad information.

So go get yourself a lab coat. Because you are… well, you know what you are.

The post 10 Reasons Why You, The Search Marketer, Can Call Yourself A Data Scientist appeared first on Search Engine Land.

The 5 Reasons Paid Search Will Be Second Behind Display Starting Next Year In The US /5-reasons-paid-search-will-second-behind-display-starting-next-year-u-s-234546 Wed, 04 Nov 2015 14:18:23 +0000 http:/?p=234546 Spend on display ads is projected to surpass that of search ads in 2016. Columnist Josh Dreller explains why, and what this means for search engine marketers.

The post The 5 Reasons Paid Search Will Be Second Behind Display Starting Next Year In The US appeared first on Search Engine Land.


Well, my fellow SEM pros, the long-foreseen time has come.

In 2016, search engine marketing will fall behind online display as the dominant channel for US digital marketers in terms of dollars spent.

According to eMarketer (which aggregates marketing industry data from multiple sources), marketers will only spend $29.24 billion on search ads in 2016 versus $32.16 billion in display ads.


And the trend will likely continue. Display is expected to blow past SEM forever starting next year.

Is this a reason to freak out and worry about your job? No, not at all.

Did I do something wrong? you’re asking yourself. Ha, no. It wasn’t you. (Well, maybe…)

Then why did this happen? Let’s dive deeper…

5 Reasons Paid Search Spend Is Dropping Behind Display

1. Search engine query volume is stabilizing. Paid search is, by definition, a pull medium, meaning that it requires a consumer to do something to trigger an ad. Paid search spend isn’t necessarily directly correlated to query volume, but it’s obviously a huge factor in SEM spending.

I know from being in this industry since 2002 that query volume growth has slowed down, but the actual data has been hard to get to (as detailed here on Search Engine Land earlier this year). Volume does grow every year, just not at the exponential rates we saw in the early days of search engines.

I found this from

After expanding significantly in the first decade of the 21st century, Google’s search volume growth rate started to decline in 2009 and 2010, and is currently estimated to be at around 10% per year.

In the start-up phase growth was phenomenal, with a 17,000% year to year increase in search volume between 1998 and 1999, 1000% between 1999 and 2000, and 200% between 2000 and 2001. Google search continued to grow at rates of between 40% to 60% between 2001 and 2009, when it started to slow down stabilizing at a 10% to 15% rate in recent years.
Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.00.20 PM

If you look at the chart, Google query growth began to flatten and then dip around 2005, which is when broadband penetration growth also peaked in the US. The takeaway here is that once internet users had high-speed access, they pretty quickly reached a point where they starting searching as much as they needed in a day and have only been searching incrementally more since then.

I mean, how much searching can you really need to do in a day? You’re not going to double your number of searches every year, right?

Of course, the rise in mobile over the last 10 years has probably accounted for the growth of searches over the time when we all only had a desktop or laptop computer. So the trend remains: queries continue to grow year over year, but only at a stable rate.

As you can see in the five years covered in the eMarketer chart, search engine ad spend growth has similarly stabilized, to about 10 percent to 15 percent.

Coincidence? Probably not. It makes sense that search query volume affects ad spending with the channel.

2. Display ads are readily available. Search is a pull medium, but the opposite is true with display. It’s a push channel. Yes, it does require a consumer to reach a page where ads can be shown, but there are 47 billion web pages on the internet, and that number is growing every day. Plus, there can be (and usually are) multiple ads on every page where advertising exists.

That’s a LOT of ads!

So there’s plenty of inventory in display. In fact, the lack of scarcity is often cited as one of the problematic issues with display advertising. For publishers, it’s hard to put high price tags on even their best premium ad space, because there’s so much inventory available.

Unlike SEM, where there’s basically a trio of self-service partners where practitioners buy ads, display publishers are in constant competition for eyeballs and have a variety of tactics they use to sell their inventory.

Some have in-house teams that put deals together for large advertisers. Others offer self-service platforms. Publishers also work with ad networks and yield management partners to push their inventory into reselling channels — they don’t make as much as selling directly to advertisers, but that becomes a “make it up in volume” game. It’s better to get something for your unsold ad space than nothing at all.

So not only are there a lot of ads, but there are a lot of folks selling them. Display ad revenue is growing at around 20 percent per year and probably only accounts for a fraction of available impressions, so the ceiling is very high for display.

The fact that there are more and more ads every day with display is both a challenge and a boon. In the context of this piece — why display is outpacing SEM spend — more ads available definitely means there are more opportunities to purchase ads.

3. Marketers are scrutinizing dollars more and more. Ten years ago, in a relatively unsophisticated, last-click world where digital spend was 10 percent of total marketing budgets, the paid search teams were the darlings of the advertising world. “It works better than anything else!” you’d often hear quoted (and still do).

The Great Recession of 2007–2009 forced every business to get smarter and savvier, and it has forever left its imprint on marketing. Today, every dollar is scrutinized, and each channel must prove its worth or risk its budget being allocated elsewhere. Although this was very disruptive for our industry, it helped shake things up a bit in a positive direction; after all, dollars should be spent on the best advertising, right?

On one hand, paid search benefited from this pivot, because it is a highly measurable medium and can prove out the investment very easily. Even during the recession, marketers were spending heavily in SEM. However, over the last few years, even paid search budgets have been cannibalized a bit for social and other rising channels.

Marketers will probably never take money away from the low-hanging fruit of SEM, such as branded terms, but the rest of the budget is up for grabs. As I outlined in an article here on Search Engine Land in 2009, “Paid Search’s Law of Diminishing Returns,” no one looks at the entire ROI of their paid search campaigns any more.

They look at every “tier” because they know their branded terms get awesome ROI, their next best terms get great ROI, and so on and so on, until the lower tiers of their account, which don’t perform very well.

It’s that lower tier, maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of most paid search accounts, that savvy marketers sometimes pull away and put into better-performing vehicles or just test budgets for emerging channels. This could also be a factor in SEM’s stabilized growth.

4. Marketers have become more sophisticated and savvier with display. Display was getting a bad rap in the mid-2000s. Ad networks were getting a bit out of hand, making tremendous margins on the arbitrage of selling banner ads for basically giving marketers the privilege of buying from them. I remember one of my colleagues at an ad network referred to his jobs as “slinging banners,” which was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to the commoditization of that inventory.

There were also few controls in place to watchdog the ad impressions. We still live under worry of bots and fraudulent clicks, but the industry also has viewability and verification systems that help marketers avoid the bad inventory.

More accurate market measurement — such as advanced attribution — has been able to paint display in a better light and prove out its efficacy. Under “last ad click” conversion measurement, display was often under-credited, and that has changed with advanced measurement. Marketers can now view their display ads’ contribution to the total pie, which has certainly helped its reputation as being an effective channel.

The big evolution for display has been the well-documented programmatic revolution that began to catch fire around 2009. The Great Recession shook up the display marketplace more than any other digital channel, so publishers and display marketers needed to evolve or risk the loss of billions.

At that time, a few cutting-edge folks saw the value in the fair, auction-based marketplace of paid search and the Google Content channel (later the GDN), so Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) were born to tap into banner ad inventory and sell it like paid search.


A virtual explosion of data vendors arrived on the scene to help drive advanced targeting, and now what once was a small fraction of programmatic buying and selling will soon be 72 percent of the display market.

Display is now “sexy” again, and every major agency now has an in-house trading desk practice specifically to buy display ad impressions at a high rate. Display has seen a resurgence and in many cases rivals the ROI that paid search can bring to a marketer’s portfolio.

5. Digital marketing budgets are going up, and SEM doesn’t dramatically scale. Ten years ago, digital marketing comprised 10 percent of the total marketing budget. Then it was 15 percent. Then it grew to 25 percent. By 2017, it will be 35 percent. As budgets grow, digital marketers are expected to dramatically scale up their efforts but keep the same efficiency.

And that’s where paid search falters. Most advertisers are already “maxed out” on paid search. And as all of us who have managed paid search accounts know, eventually, you hit the law of diminishing returns, and there just isn’t any more volume on your core keywords.

To keep spending, you end up filling your campaigns with keywords with fringe relevancy at best — and of course, they don’t convert as well as your primary terms.

So as time goes on, your paid search accounts will most likely only grow effectively on a parallel path to the growth of queries on your primary keyword set. That’s an organic growth trend in line with the 10 percent to 15 percent year-over-year growth that we’re seeing with search engine advertising revenue in the eMarketer chart.

SEM Is Still #1 In My Book… And Many Others

In summary, if we put it all together, the formula is:

Search query volume is growing, but stabilized


Total digital marketing budgets are growing fast and with more intense scrutiny on value


The fact that it’s quite hard to dramatically scale up paid search efficiently


A virtual limitless supply of display ads


Display’s data-driven, programmatic resurgence


Display spending is overtaking Paid Search spending in 2016 and beyond.

Hey, I still think SEM is #1. I could write pages and pages on the benefits and value, but certainly there seems to be a cap on effective budget growth, whereas display seems to be a limitless opportunity for ad buying.

So, my fellow SEM pros, don’t look at this change as a bad thing; search engine marketing helped usher in the digital marketing revolution and helped pave the road so that one out of three dollars spent in marketing will soon go to digital channels.

Search may now be second, but I bet if you asked any CMO which digital channels they would cut first when they’re forced to scale back, SEM would be the last on the list.

The post The 5 Reasons Paid Search Will Be Second Behind Display Starting Next Year In The US appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Re-Examining The Top 10 Paid Search Best Practices, Part 2 /re-examining-top-10-paid-search-best-practices-part-2-232273 Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:18:13 +0000 http:/?p=232273 Do the established best practices in paid search have merit? In Part 2 of his two-part series, Contributor Josh Dreller examines five more best practices to see if they truly hold up.

The post Re-Examining The Top 10 Paid Search Best Practices, Part 2 appeared first on Search Engine Land.


In Part 1 of this series, I cited a really great article here on Search Engine Land on why search marketers should reconsider using broad match that challenges a common best practice in paid search. That article got me thinking about other best practices and if we should reconsider some of other tried and true tactics which most of consider as important to our approaches.

Once again, the idea here is not to try to prove these best practices ineffective. This is an exercise to see what we can learn by taking the counter view and see if anything surfaces that can help us get better as search engine marketers.

6. Big Keyword Lists

At the beginning of search engine marketing, the idea that bigger is better was the dominant strategy. After all, if you could identify keywords that your competitors hadn’t thought of, then you could earn top positions for a fraction of the cost of the most common, highly competitive terms. Why spend $1.00 on a competitive term when you can spend $0.25 on all of its variations and get four times the clicks for the same budget?

In fact, the keyword building tools at the time truly focused on iteration after iteration of keyword phrases to turn a small paid search account into a gigantic one in minutes.

Eventually, Google set the standard that quality matters by introducing Quality Score, and suddenly, these giant keyword lists were actually kept from growing too far out of control.

However, having had recent roles at some of the largest SEM tool companies in the market, I can tell you from firsthand experience that it’s still very common to see millions and tens of millions of keywords for enterprise-level advertiser accounts.

Insights From Counter View?

This is definitely one of the best practices that I think needs some serious rethinking. First of all, it’s very difficult and inefficient to simply manage these giant accounts —  simple tasks such as global bid changes and reporting can take a lot of time to process, both by the technology platforms and SEM teams.

There has to be a resource check in play to recognize that the effort used to manage a ton of keywords that generally have less than a handful (or even zero) clicks or even impressions a month may not be worth it.

Another reason to question this best practice is the lack of insight you will be able to have over such a large account. With so many campaigns, so many ad groups, so much creative and so on, how can anyone keep track of how these keywords work at granular levels?

Without a strong understanding of every aspect of your account, you won’t be able to be very nimble or effective at the speed needed to react to market changes in paid search.

I’m sure there are some paid search teams who can handle giant accounts fairly well, but for most search engine marketers, keeping the keyword level down might be more advantageous in the long run, as it frees up resources to work on other tasks.

7. Conversion Tracking

Early on, the main goals of paid search were high clicks and low CPCs. Over time, search marketers realized that getting tons of clicks at low costs didn’t mean much if the traffic being driven to the websites wasn’t valuable.

Enter conversion tracking — which changed everything. Now, search marketers could see clearly which keywords and ads were driving true value for the advertiser and why it was worth paying twice as much for certain keywords if they drove a lot more sales than the cheaper ones.

How could anyone argue against this approach?

Insights From Counter View?

Having personally educated countless clients in the first decade of paid search to migrate away from the simplistic high click/low CPC search marketing approach to a value-based, ROI-driven one, this one is hard for me to reconsider.

However, I do sometimes think we can get too reliant on KPI (Key Performance Indicator) metrics rather than using our common sense.

For example, if you sell skateboards, to devalue the term skateboard simply because it doesn’t generate the ROI you think it should could be detrimental to your bottom line. After all, conversion tracking isn’t 100 percent accurate based on how consumers search and then buy. In some cases, it may be downright misleading.

If search marketing plays a major role in your conversion funnel to stimulate purchase behavior to other channels versus having every conversion trackable back to the keyword, then you almost have to disregard what you’re seeing with the SEM metrics.

If you’re a skateboard company, getting into the consideration set of any internet searcher looking for skateboard information certainly seems like a no-brainer and should lead to more sales down the funnel.

I do believe conversion tracking is vital, but with today’s highly fragmented advertising “conversation” between brands and consumers, conversion tracking is becoming less accurate. You have to balance the diminishing value of conversion metrics with what common sense and experience is telling you.

8. Specific Landing Pages

It may shock today’s paid search pros that many advertisers pointed much of their early keyword traffic to their home pages or a handful of top-level category pages. However, that only lasted a short time, as one of the earliest best practices to emerge in paid search was to build very specific landing pages for your campaigns and ad groups.

There are even technology solutions now that can dynamically build unique landing pages on the fly using various data points known about the search visitor — such as the term/ad clicked, the geography/language of the user, and even previous click/website history — to provide the most relevant content possible.

Are landing pages important? Of course! Most search pros will tell you they are the difference between average and great SEM.

Insights From Counter View?

You shouldn’t obsess about your landing pages in terms of getting the most bang from your buck. Yes, you should be concerned with having strong landing pages, but some search marketers spend almost too much time on this optimization tactic.

There may be better, more impactful ways to use that time to apply a handful of other tactics that might have more positive effect on your return on investment.

I’ll say for the record that getting landing pages right is absolutely an important step that paid search pros must not skip. But make sure you don’t stop there. Put in a process that lets your team get good landing pages on the site nimbly, and then move on to other optimization opportunities.

9. Watch Your Competitors

For all marketers, it’s important to know what your competitors are doing.

On one hand, you can watch how they react to the constant moving market and make sure you’re not being leapfrogged in position on your most important terms. Each keyword is basically a unique battlefield with its own landscape of competitors.

And remember, you’re not just competing on keywords with your set of business competitors, but you’re also competing with companies that don’t compete with your products or services but with your keywords.

For example, you might bid for the term life insurance with your natural competitors being other insurance companies. However, other folks bidding on life insurance may be lawyers looking for cases involving life insurance legal cases or books on the topic. So, yes, it can get complicated very quickly.

Another reason you want to watch competitors is that you will learn things. You may catch some interesting directions on creative and landing page design which you can apply to your own accounts.

The bottom line here is that you have to truly understand the keyword landscape in which you’re competing, and I consider that a crucial part of an advanced SEM approach.

Insights From Counter View?

Why would watching your competitors not be a best practice? Well, you might get pulled into distracting directions. For example, if some of your competitors started offering free shipping, maybe you would think that you should too — but is that the right move for your bottom line?

Sometimes SEM pros also obsess about position too much. They might get into a bidding war for first position dominance that doesn’t fiscally make sense but just plays to the competitive side of the advertiser, as in, “We’re not going to be second fiddle to THOSE guys!”

Of course, knowing your keyword landscape is very important, but you don’t want to lose sight of what’s important, and that’s marketing ROI and long-term value from your SEM budget. If you have to “lose” a few battles to win the war, then that is what you might have to do.

10. Query Mining

It’s well known that a ton of searches on engines are unique — meaning that it is almost impossible to capture every instance and iteration of every query that visitors may use to reach your site.

This phenomenon has been increasing since the rise of mobile search, specifically with voice command features on today’s phones. Whereas on a desktop, you may search for local plumber, with voice search, you can ask your phone to search for is there a good plumber in my area that is open right now?

It’s no surprise that search engines are more than happy to help large advertisers fill their campaigns with queries that don’t appear as keyword phrases within their accounts. Each new keyword in your account is accompanied by a CHA-CHING sound in their coffers.

Some SEM pros run almost exclusively on exact match anyway, so the thinking here is to load up your accounts with these terms that consumers have already used to trigger your ads, and then you can just optimize out of those terms if they fail to produce any positive results.

It’s a no harm, no foul approach…

Insights From Counter View?

… or is it?

Are all of those queries even worth anything? After all, they triggered an ad already attached to a keyword in your account to be shown. You could argue that the exact match version is better due to quality score/bid implications, but is that just a best practice you assume to be true, or have you actually done the research to see if there is a major impact?

Also, those unclicked queries may bring down your Quality Score if you don’t prune the low-CTR ones out. Have you ever come across a keyword phase in your account that uses one of your core terms but is obviously not related at all to the business goals at hand? It was probably added as a part of a bigger query mining exercise.

Could your query mining simply be ballooning your accounts to unmanageable sizes (see #6 on this list)? Could your team be spending their time on more impactful tasks, rather than reinventing the wheel month after month by adding, analyzing and reporting on excess keywords that don’t provide incremental growth?

The Best Practice For Best Practices

Ultimately, best practices are merely a starting point for marketers — not just paid search marketers — to consider. Nothing is guaranteed, and there are even some instances where, at best, they can waste your time, and at worst, they could actually be detrimental to your SEM strategy.

So what is the best practice for best practices? Heed the experience of those who have come before you, but also put in controls and measures to make sure you’re doing what’s best for each unique paid search account you manage. What may be a sure-fire best practice for 95 percent of other accounts may actually be a complete waste of time for you.

It doesn’t mean we should pooh-pooh best practices, either. They’re best practices for a reason, and they are often the right course of action. But make sure to build your own best practices versus just listening to the pundits. Keep trying new things and keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Over time, you’ll refine your approach and continue to hit your goals.

The post Re-Examining The Top 10 Paid Search Best Practices, Part 2 appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Re-Examining The Top 10 Paid Search Best Practices, Part 1 /re-examining-top-10-paid-search-best-practices-part-1-229407 /re-examining-top-10-paid-search-best-practices-part-1-229407#respond Mon, 07 Sep 2015 13:10:17 +0000 http:/?p=229407 Is following the conventional wisdom on search advertising actually wise? Contributor Josh Dreller asks tough questions about five of the biggies.

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Best practices — by definition — are a set of highly recommended tips and tricks born of repeated and ongoing expertise in a specific subject matter. As professionals, we rely on these tried and tested procedures every day because we assume them to be correct and effective.

But are these best practices always the right course of action? If anything, they might just be, as many describe, “just a good starting point” that shouldn’t be relied on as the only way to manage paid search.

Susan Waldes’ recent post here at Search Engine Land on why search marketers should reconsider using broad match challenges the best practice on avoiding that match type when possible. I read this piece and was inspired to re-examine other best practices search practitioners take for granted as being hard and fast rules.

The goal here is not to try to debunk these best practices — they’re all highly effective methods — but rather to explore a counter view of each to see if there are any interesting insights we may uncover from this exercise.

The Top Ten Paid Search Best Practices Re-Examined

The following best practices are not ranked in any order. This is a list of tips that frequently appear on best practice lists published on the Web and shared at industry conferences.

1. Avoid Broad Match

Search marketers generally try to use as little broad match as possible in order to gain the most control of their accounts.

After all, on broad match, search engines tend to include plurals, misspellings and other close variants automatically, which can steal traffic from other ad groups that overlap. With potentially millions of keywords across thousands of ad groups, it may be hard for you to steward the budgets toward the strategies in the way that you want.

Overusing broad match can also submit your campaigns for auctions that aren’t necessarily for audiences you hope to reach. If you’re a chocolatier, you don’t want to show up for every search for candy, dessert, etc. Wouldn’t it be best to limit yourself to folks searching for chocolate only?

Insights From Counter View? As Ms. Waldes explains in her article, broad match can be a valuable tool to reach consumers who may be interested in your products/services but don’t search on the terms within your account. She reminds us that on any given day, 10–20% of Google queries have never been seen before.

Broad match can effectively become the catch-all net to ensure that you do show up for everyone who may be interested in your business. Broad match also becomes a very strong research tool to mine queries that may not already be in your account.

2. Test. Analyze. Optimize. Repeat.

This is a best practice at the very heart of search marketing (and many other digital marketing disciplines). Because of the rapid-response nature of paid search, it is an ideal advertising channel to continuously try out new things, examine the results, and then build upon what is and isn’t working.

In essence, you can load up new creative or keywords on Monday, let them run for a few days, pull the results on Thursday, and upload improvements to your campaigns on Friday.

In some instances, you may be able to analyze thousands of clicks and millions of impressions over just a few days. The value of that data has been instrumental in making paid search the largest (and arguably the most valuable) digital marketing channel.

Insights From Counter View? This is not just a search marketing best practice, it’s nearly a mantra for many practitioners — including myself. It will be hard to argue against this approach. However, I could argue that a lot of time is spent testing things that have already proven to be highly effective. Maybe we could do less testing (quantitative research) and more qualitative research.

The answers aren’t always in the numbers. Sometimes the best data comes from speaking to your customers via surveys or talking to them one-on-one. In the hours it takes to analyze the data from your search account, you may be able to speak to a half-dozen consumers who provide you even stronger direction on how to best reach them with the paid search channel.

3. Don’t Solely Use Google

When I first started in paid search in 2002, there were a dozen or more viable search engines: Ask Jeeves, Excite, Alta Vista and Dogpile, to name a few, as well as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft. Because market share was spread across so many publishers, the only way to get scale was to tap into an aggregated stream of the entire search universe.

Over time, Google pulled out ahead, and for some time now, it has represented about 65 percent of all US search traffic, with Yahoo and Bing making up around 33 percent.

Let me say this emphatically: You must unequivocally be on all three engines at this point if you are serious about your paid search efforts.

Insights From Counter View? For the biggest search advertisers spending more than a couple hundred thousand dollars a month on paid search, it’s almost impossible to solely use Google. The available inventory from Bing/Yahoo (especially those incredibly valuable brand terms) completely dictates that you must run outside of Google to maintain a healthy search account.

However, for the 99 percent of AdWords customers who are not the giant spenders  — those whose budgets are sub-$1,000/month — it certainly makes sense to focus on Google for your SEM efforts.

Being the search marketing expert for all of my friends and family, I’m often asked to talk to their friends or colleagues about the paid search they’re doing for their small businesses or personal projects.

For those people who read that they should be using other engines, I often tell them that it’s okay that they’re just on Google. As long as they’re not capped out on branded terms in AdWords, small businesses that are stretched thin across so many tasks (even outside of marketing needs) don’t need to spend the time it takes to learn and manage accounts on other engines.

But if you have a zillion things to do in a day and you’re wondering if you should carve out time for other engines, unless you’re an Internet-only business, AdWords should be just fine for you. When you grow and start spending more, that’s when you can hire someone to help you expand to other publishers.

4. Utilize Negatives

Managing negatives effectively is a very strong technique to help control when the engines submit you for auctions, as well as which campaigns and ad groups are submitted for specific use keyword queries. They’re one of the main levers search marketers use to pare back keyword groups in order make them more streamlined.

I personally think advanced negatives handling is one of the key differences between average and expert search marketers. Whenever I audit a paid search account for the first time, I always check out the account’s negatives in order to understand how advanced the approach has been to date.

There are some really amazing ways marketers are hacking the negatives field, and there are plenty of great articles available online to help you get your negatives to the next level.

Insights From Counter View? This best practice is super-tough to counter because negatives are such a valuable parameter for search marketers. However, for the sake of this exercise, I imagine there are some marketers out there that haven’t truly mastered all the ins and outs of how negatives affect their campaigns. They may actually be limiting their effectiveness and scale by not managing them correctly.

Additionally, if there are multiple practitioners managing the same account (as there generally are with big advertisers), they could be utilizing different negative strategies that could bring a level of chaos to the account that the practitioners don’t realize.

I’m reaching there a bit to counter the negatives best practice, but if you’re on a team of SEM pros managing the same account, you might want to make sure you are all on the same page on how negatives should be used and when they should be used, and you should make sure all of you are using them in the same way to avoid any performance issues.

5. Use Different Creative For Mobile And Desktop Ads

Mobile, once a traffic outlier in single-digit percentage of clicks, has now become the dominant sub-channel for paid search for most advertisers. As mobile grew in importance and volume, many best practices for mobile search were written, the main one being that search marketers should utilize different ad copy for mobile and desktop ads.

This totally makes sense. We know that user search behavior on mobile devices often differs from desktop usage, even for the same query. Mobile users are on the go, have smaller screens, are looking for more localized content and so on.

Insights From Counter View? I’ve gone back and forth in my career regarding the importance of ad copy. Of course, it’s part of the triumvirate of paid search (keywords, ads, bidding), but I do believe practitioners sometimes overthink just how many variations of those 95 characters should be used. Do we really need to test 25 versions of the new promotion’s ad copy? Does changing one word here or there really make a difference?

Generally, I would emphatically say, “Yes! Of course it matters.” However, in the context of this article, could we learn something by arguing against using different ad creative for desktop and mobile campaigns?

The only reason I may take the counter view on this best practice would be that it takes a lot of time to write, edit, load manage, report, analyze and test twice as much creative as it would to use the same ads for desktop and mobile. If you are unable to complete your daily search duties due to time constraints, you might try deprioritizing this tactic in lieu of adopting other best practices.

By taking that time and applying it to advanced bidding analysis or to match type management, might you move the needle faster than by focusing on device-specific ad copy?


In part two of this article, we will re-examine the next set of best practices and see if we can learn anything new from the counter view:

6. Big keyword lists

7. Conversion tracking

8. Specific landing pages

9. Watch your competitors

10. Query mining

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