Admit it. You are a slave to your SEM direct response metrics, even when you use attribution models or assign an "assist" value within search - or across search and other digital media. However, an exclusive focus on direct response metrics may cause you to miss out on opportunities to invest in your business for the long term. As a savvy search engine marketer, you likely deserve access to branding budgets - not just direct response money. But if you're not factoring in SEM's ability to generate awareness and influence eventual purchase behavior, your chances of gaining access to these budgets is slim.
Most advertising dollars outside of search engine advertising are used to generate awareness and change brand preference at the product, retailer, or service provider level. Many folks call the metrics used to drive awareness and preference "branding metrics." In the old-school way of thinking about the buying funnel we have:
- Awareness. In some cases advertising is as much about awareness of a problem as it is about awareness of a specific brand. Pharmaceutical advertising, for example, often educates consumers that there is a fix for a problem they are living with.
- Familiarity/opinion (not always used or measured as a stage). This stage describes the fact that there is a recall of a brand or company in relation to a specific industry category, product category, problem, or solution.
- Consideration (sometimes called refinement). Only a few make it into the consideration set. Search can play a major role in assuring inclusion in the consideration set.
- Preference (brand, store, or service provider). At some point, the decision as to preference is made. This can be very proximal to the sale, and in retail can occur at the store (physical or virtual/online).
- Loyalty (not applicable in every business, but applicable in most).
Google Analytics even has a "Goal Funnel Visualization" tool that assists you in understanding the portions of behavior that occur on your site. However, we know that lots of touch points the consumer has with your company and brand occur outside of your site, including the web, social media, the regular press, the online press/blogosphere, retail stores, the SERP, and any other place where your brand could be mentioned.
Clearly, the old-school marketing funnel has evolved over time. Recent changes have included the addition of feedback loops to illustrate any repeat purchase behavior that might occur at the brand, retailer, or service provider level. For example, McKinsey published a report titled, "The consumer decision journey," in which the company used an illustration of the consumer decision-making process as a "circular journey with four phases." The reality is that when one thinks about search engine marketing, online marketing, and marketing more broadly, one can still use the existing funnel but add the concepts of trigger events and the concepts of influencers. Sometimes the two can be one and the same. Triggers are critical because they are the catalyst that gets consumers off their butts and into buying mode.
The explosion of social media that has made more visible the phenomenon of influencers is causing a wave of research, testing, and strategy around the value and role of influencers in the purchase decision process. Searchers don't search in a vacuum: something triggers that search and that's why the search behavior lines up really well with the trigger event used in the newfangled marketing funnels and marketing ovals.
To succeed long term in search, it's helpful to not only use the new way of thinking about the purchase decision process and a more advanced funnel paradigm, but also to add success metrics to our SEM campaigns that reflect the reality of how consumers buy and make purchase decisions.
Even for the best performing sites, the vast majority of visitors don't convert using your sales or lead-gen metrics and KPIs. This means you need to serve the needs of the early stage researcher and visitor. Since you've set yourself up to do that, it makes perfect sense to allocate some branding dollars to the SEM campaigns.
Consider these four metrics:
- Pages per click: How many pages of your site do visitors see after visiting and how do these change based on keyword, time of day, day of week, geography, and any other targeting variables at your disposal? Make sure that your site is informational and serves the needs of those visitors in the early stages of the decision-making process. The more engaging your site, the more pages per visitor and therefore pages per click you'll get.
- Cost per page view: Once you know how many pages the visitors are consuming, you can also factor in the cost of the visitor from search (or, for that matter, other paid media).
- Cost per touch point: Visitors are registering using good old-fashioned email, and increasingly they are liking, following, and engaging with you via social media.
- Cost per influence point: Not all social media followers are equal. The tools that can assign influencer value are just starting to evolve. Klout and Kred are just two of them and my team actually has an influence score we are working on that is node specific (not everyone is influential in every subject).
If you are only managing search to direct response metrics but have long-term P&L responsibility - and even if you don't - perhaps it's time to help your customers move down the funnel, regardless of what shape it is.