Are there any two online activities more ubiquitous than searching and socializing?

girl social networkingAccording to eMarketer, “search is the first stop on the Web when it comes to finding information on anything,” and 90% of U.S. Internet adults regularly use search engines.

Social is also huge. Research from Pew Internet shows that more than two out of three online adult Americans are social media users, including 83% of 18- to 29-year-olds.

With search and social being highly utilized by consumers and advertisers alike, the opportunity exists for brands to better connect with consumers, using the channels’ combined power to generate superior results across the board. A multitude of marketers are trying to tap into that intersection but what’s the best way to approach this opportunity?

Here’s an example of the potential synergy of the paid search and social channels.

Key Values Of Paid Search, Paid Social & PPC In General

Paid search’s key value is its ability to capture and leverage the “intent” of a searcher via the keyword and use that to drive better management.

Paid social’s key value is its strong targeting capabilities to drive “interaction” with consumers via likes and interests targeting as well as cookie-based or custom audience retargeting.

These two channels also benefit from the inherent advantages of being primarily Pay-Per-Click platforms (note – social retargeting is generally a CPM model). These advantages include:

  • No Charge for Impressions. Advertisers only pay when a consumer clicks
  • Granularity of Control. Bid to value, ad copy, landing page URL, etc.
  • Strong A/B Testing Capabilities. Make changes and see results of those “experiments” within a few days
  • Self-Service, Flexible Platforms. Scale up/down, perform quick changes/updates & launch new campaigns in minutes
  • Deep Reporting & Analytics. Develop additional insights through data for better optimization

Where these paid search and social channels greatly differ is in how the inventory is delivered. Paid search’s strength is that it can be served up to customers at the moment they’re searching on your relevant keywords. The downside is that it is a pull medium, meaning it requires queries on search engines in order to trigger ads. Simply put, if no one searches on your terms, you won’t serve any ads — and every search marketer understands the potential lack of scalability with paid search.

Paid social is a display channel, so it’s a push medium. Even though it doesn’t deliver the intent strength that paid search offers, marketers can scale up their campaigns very quickly. Social media sites can mine very deep like/interest data, which can be used for targeting segments. Also, because many consumers return to their core social media properties often, retargeting to your recent site visitors within a short time frame can be a very powerful tactic.

So, here we have two very powerful, self-service marketing channels that each offer unique value propositions for marketers.

But how do they work together?

A Real Example Of Search & Social In Action

Here at Kenshoo, I have access to information about over $3B in paid search and social spend, which means I have a lot of cool big data to sift through. One of the interesting out-of-the-box reports we have is called Path to Conversion, which tracks all of the clicks that individual customers performed on their conversion journey. This analysis gives us an inside view into how consumers are engaging with ads at all stages of the funnel.

The following table is an actual conversion path that I pulled out from our system for a client who heavily uses both paid search and paid social. (Note: I’ve anonymized some details to respect client confidentiality). Each ad click is time/date-stamped, with the most recent click at the top (6/17/2013 13:46:59) being the final visit before converting.

Let’s follow how this customer, “Bob,” engaged in both search and social advertising before making his purchase at “Web Electronics Empire,” an online home electronics store. The following is my fictionalized narrative on Bob’s journey:

On Thursday, June 6th, at 9:33 pm (bottom row/first click), Bob arrives on the Web Electronics Empire’s website via a Home Theater Systems ad on Facebook that was targeted to consumers who have already shown an interest in that category. (Bob is a member of a number of audio enthusiast groups on Facebook and has declared an interest in Music on his profile.)

Bob is currently updating his man cave (i.e., the basement), and he’s got a new 60″ flatscreen and receiver that deserve some rocking speakers.  The following Sunday, at 4:45 pm, he returns again by clicking a Facebook Exchange ad that was targeted to people who had previously visited the Web Electronics Empire site.

From Search To Social And Back Again

At work the next day, Bob’s buddies, Chuck and Dave, tell him that he absolutely needs to flush mount his speakers inside the walls “to be cool.” It’s a late day at the office, so Bob begins his search well past midnight and ends up back at the web store via a paid search ad on Google from his search for [how to install speakers].  He realizes that the proper term for these products is [in-wall speakers], so he pops back out to Google and performs that search, which brings him back to the site only minutes later via another ad click.

On Wednesday, Bob mentions his speaker installation project to the office audiophile, Frank, who urges him to check out soundbars, which are thin, single cabinets with multiple speakers — less expensive and easier to manage than in-wall products. Intrigued, Bob jumps on the computer when he gets home from work and begins his research. He sees a Web Electronics Empire ad for soundbars on Google and clicks. ”Holy Schnikeys!” Bob exclaims, as he has found what he is looking for.

As a smart online shopper, Bob continues looking online for more information on soundbars and begins bookmarking the best deals he finds. Almost an hour later, Bob returns to Web Electronics Empire via a Google Product Listing Ad (PLA) for Home Theater Systems.

Over the next several days, Bob is swamped with work and family commitments and forgets about his speaker project. On Monday the 17th, Bob is at his desk eating a late lunch and checking out his Facebook account when he is reminded about soundbars from an FBX ad and clicks.  “No time like the present,” he mumbles to himself as pulls out his credit card to place the order.

Key Takeaway: Reach Consumers At Key Apertures With Search & Social

Even though Bob and Web Electronics Empire are fictional, the data table and customer journey I have shared here is real, and I have literally millions of examples of similar paths in which both paid search and paid social were integral in helping to drive a purchase.

In Bob’s case, social advertising helped to open and close the sale, while search helped guide him through his research. However, other paths to conversion tell much different stories — in some cases, search helped to open or to close. Social ads also appear at various stages in the buying cycle.

My key takeaway from researching the intersection of paid search and social is that these channels can impact and influence consumers at any and every point on the path to conversion. 

Adopt An “Always-On” Approach

The actionable recommendation from this insight is for marketers to develop an “always-on” approach. This needs to be managed carefully so as to not waste budget, but it should also take into account that there is a value to reaching consumers whenever and wherever they touch social and search advertising.

If you consider the four stages of the classic AIDA marketing funnel (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), a strong case can be made for how search and social can aid marketers at each step. Although the funnel itself is a rather outdated model for what has now become a complex, multi-faceted, multi-device marketing environment, it’s easy to see that paid search and paid social can strongly impact customers in whatever model your marketing organization prefers.

There’s still more that can be done to connect these two powerful channels, and technology providers such as Kenshoo are working hard to create innovative solutions. The ceiling on the potential synergy between the two is sky high, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. The key is to always keep your customer hat on and remember to ask, “What about Bob?” (Note: video with sound.)

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Facebook | Paid Search Column

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About The Author: has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. You can follow him on Twitter at @mediatechguy.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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