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Exploring Three Major Trends in the Current Search Landscape

in Mobile Marketing, Search Marketing with tags , , , , , , , , Both comments and trackbacks are closed.

SMX West is a three-day, jam-packed conference featuring the who’s who of Search Marketing. The 2015 conference – which took place in early March – set the stage for today’s top opportunities in search and explored how search marketers can prepare for the future. The conference inspired us to share our views on the search landscape through three main themes that all search marketers will want to start paying close attention to, including data collection and audience segmentation, machine-driven search and the implications of a mobile-centric consumer.

Data Collection and Audience Segmentation
The idea of people-based marketing isn’t new to most marketers, especially when it comes to e-mail and programmatic, but it’s new territory for search marketers and is being driven by the rise of RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) and DFSA (Demographics for Search Ads), household income (HHI) and the ability to connect search data points within a DMP framework. However, today there is limited scale of audience targeting capabilities in search. RLSA necessitates a specific consumer behavior – requiring consumers to visit a brand’s website and then perform a search after – and DFSA and HHI are in the early stages of development, with the data powering these not yet exceeding 50 percent of total impressions for most advertisers. What’s more, much of this data is still inferred – calling into question the ability of these tools to make small subsets of inferred data actionable.

While still in early development and testing, now is the time for search marketers to start testing and using data collection and audience segmentation, or risk losing consumers in the future. For RLSA, marketers should mirror top performing campaigns and take a ‘target and bid’ approach for past visitors – bidding up and altering ad copy or landing pages based on their value and consumers’ expressed intent or behavior.

For DFSA and HHI, marketers can segment a top performing ad group by gender or by age range, depending on what makes the most sense, and compare performance between standard segments and audience-targeted segments. If differences occur, marketers should begin bidding up or down to improve performance; then, depending on volume, begin testing ad copy and landing pages catered to that specific audience.

By gleaning insights from early learnings, marketers can get ahead in their understanding of “who” a brand’s best customers are beyond the keyword, allowing them to gain first-mover advantage once some of the current data limitations are alleviated.

Machine-Driven Search
Dynamic ads, ad customizers, AdWords Scripts and the increased complexity of bidding by keyword, audience, device, location and time of day is making it more and more difficult for marketers to manage search manually. Because of this, the keyword is no longer the most granular option for bidding. Marketers must now target keywords for a specific audience, in a specific location, on a specific device, at a specific time of day, all within the broader context for “why” consumers are searching at that moment.

Search marketers should be familiar with the purpose and potential solutions for any new advancements, such as the ability for dynamic ads to automatically match ads to relevant queries based on landing page content. Based on setting up an ad template for description lines, AdWords will dynamically insert the consumer query into the headline and display URL.

Ad customizers allow advertisers to dynamically populate ad text based on a specified rule or set of rules. For instance, the most common ad customizer is Countdown Ads, which insert dynamic copy, such as the amount of time remaining for a promotion, directly into an ad (e.g., “3 days left to save. Act now!”). Recently, new use cases have begun popping up, such as using Google Calendar to tell AdWords when it’s a national holiday, and to automatically insert the holiday name and promotion amount directly in ad copy. This capability can help advertisers who are constantly changing promotions manually to allow them to focus on fewer details without needing to update thousands of versions of ad copy.

AdWords Scripts are a time-saving and data-mashup solution for advertisers who have some understanding of code. Using simple “if, then” formulas, search advertisers can set bids based on behavioral data. For instance, AdWords Scripts can set rules to automatically increase budget caps when performance is above a certain amount based on actual spend instead of when budget cap is over a certain percentage. In addition, any data set with an API can be imported in order to take a specific action on a marketers’ search program, such as census data. One of the more unique examples shared at the conference was a real-estate company dynamically populating crime rates within their ad copy. It appears search can be dangerous after all.

Search marketers should begin embracing and testing automated bidding tools to drive greater efficiency and ROI tied to consumer behavior versus keywords alone if they haven’t started already. Currently, many search marketers set up advanced bidding templates that look at keyword performance at a daily or weekly frequency then look at device, location, time of day and audience behavior on a monthly or quarterly basis. This approach however evaluates each segment in a silo and does not consider how consumer behavior changes when these segments are combined. For example, a consumer searching in New York City at 9p.m. on a mobile device is likely not searching for the same thing as a consumer searching in Lexington, Kentucky at 11a.m. on a desktop, even if the keyword is the same. Due to this, marketers need to advance their bidding solutions to support consumer behavior over keyword performance.

Implications of a Mobile-Centric Consumer
Mobile searches are set to pass desktop searchers this year, and mobile fragmentation is becoming a greater concern as more and more consumers start their journey with an app and not a web search. Mobile ROI is still a mystery box that many marketers have been unable to unlock. As this trend continues, search marketers should begin tapping into new opportunities with mobile to follow consumer behavior.

The mobile search space is incredibly valuable for reaching consumers in the right moments, but it is a more fragmented space that doesn’t operate the same way as desktop search. Many consumers these days prefer to visit branded apps instead of do a mobile web search, which may results in marketers seeing fewer brand searches overall. As such, the search environment poses significant challenges for marketers. At SMX West, several presenters referenced a stat that indicated that mobile search ads with an average position worse than four, receive zero impression share. These ads are simply not seen due to limited ad space on mobile – which will drive competition to rise and a zero sum game to begin, forcing marketers to play in a space with rising costs and decreasing return in order to simply have their brand or product discovered.

So, what should marketers do? First, marketers should consider using RLSA to support the consumer journey. They should create audiences to determine the “freshness” of converters – that is, converters in the past three days, or seven days, or 30 days, and all the way up to 180 days. When a search happens on mobile, if deemed “fresh,” promoting a branded app could be a better strategy for the brand – where purchase and browsing data is more readily available and the marketer is able to up-sell or cross-sell.

The same can be done for non-converters, but the true value will be realized when search marketers can begin deep linking into apps instead of landing consumers on the app “homepage.” Imagine a consumer looking at a specific pair of shoes on a retail website. Later, that consumer comes back on mobile. It’s expected that that conversion rate will be lower on mobile due to many factors, such as mobile experience and required data entry from thumbs (payment information, shipping information, etc.); however, providing a more streamlined experience by deep linking that consumer to that same pair of shoes within an app environment where that data may already be saved, a marketer could expect higher conversion rates.

Don’t stop there though. The rise of mobile’s share of search and app-centric consumer behavior also requires SEO experts to understand how in-app content can be deep linked and indexed by search engines so that content appears organically in search results. Marketers should attribute clicks from search to in-app activities to create value proxies for app downloads, which can be accomplished through Yahoo Flurry, Google Analytics for Apps and more.

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Today, there isn’t a silver bullet solution for mobile search, but marketers who rely on last-click conversions coming from desktop, need to prepare for change and look for new ways to leverage mobile to reach customers and drive greater efficiency. The three areas they should be paying the most attention to in search which will evolve to be the front lines of where we see the most progressive advancements in the future are: data collection and audience segmentation, machine-driven search and the implications of the mobile-centric consumer.

Cover photo via Pinterest.