Search Marketing

Managing SEM & PLAs Together to Create Cross-Search Harmony

August 5, 2015

For years now, Search Engine Marketing’s (SEM) evolution has been described as “fragmented” – a generalization for how a once distinct research and shopping path has been forked by time and technology.

What is unclear, though, from the descriptor is just how much search has been disrupted, and in what ways. Device fragmentation emerged with smartphone popularity and shows no sign of slowing. Mobile fragmentation came with explosive app growth and makes smartphone searchers difficult to reach. Customer fragmentation swells as Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and in-store compete with engines for retail shoppers.  And now, traffic fragmentation is surfacing as Yahoo reclaims control of its search ads.

There is one type of search fragmentation, however, that often goes unnoticed, despite its adverse effect on SEM performance: management fragmentation, or, the action of dividing text and product ad control between parties. Below we dive into the challenges of management fragmentation in the search landscape today and how search marketers can mitigate it to create cross-search harmony and optimization.

The Challenges of Management Fragmentation
While it can be an effective strategy to manage distinct marketing channels separately (i.e. display vs. social), the same does not apply to search. Text and product ad delivery methods differ (e.g., PLAs), but the formats are two sides of the same channel – both targeting the same shoppers on a search results page. Retailers understand this duality and aptly supply budgets between the two, yet, many of those same retailers still choose to split management. It begs the question: “Can advertisers maximize search performance if transparency between its two paid mechanisms is severed?” The answer in the majority of cases is simply “no.”

Management fragmentation creates several challenges, including absent or poor communication between different stakeholders, inflexible budgets, unequal measurement models, and data inconsistency – which can lead to an erratic search experience and stunted results. Fortunately, the solution is easy: simplification – namely, the consolidation of SEM ad control, as well as campaign management and analytics platforms.

The Advantages of Simplification
Synchronizing search teams and data systems enables cross-search harmony that is essential for ad curation and active optimization, and serves the best way to overcome current obstacles. Several advantages of simplifying include:

  • Channel Solidarity: Siloed SEM control blocks the flow of information and ideas. Simplifying the team and data breaks down that barrier and encourages close-knit communication between text and product ad managers (if not facilitated by the same person). Details around performance, campaign structure, optimization tactics and pain points can be more easily shared and can transform simple discussions into profitable strategies.
  • Fluid Management: Consolidation also gives data-visibility on both sides of the fence, affording the team the flexibility to maneuver in real-time. Ad managers can manipulate campaign or product prioritization, adjust bids and shift budgets between text and product ads as performance dictates. This strategy ensures each search dollar is spent where shoppers are buying on a given day.
  • Data & Attribution Consistency: Divided SEM typically means incongruent tracking and measurement systems, which leads to data discrepancies. Search marketers can eliminate those headaches by standardizing their tools – from campaign management platforms to analytics suites. Data will not only be more reliable, but attribution models will better align and the true value of a marketer’s search program will appear.
  • SERP Dominance: According to Google, shoppers are 90 percent more likely to visit a retailer’s site, and 83 percent more likely to purchase, when they see both a text ad and product ad in their search results. Advertisers should take advantage of those odds by leveraging cross-search data sets, pinpointing their best campaigns and purchasing listings for each ad format. The result will be a full-funnel shopping experience, as the text ads offer general category options (via headline and site links), and product ads zero in on specific products from a brand’s catalogue. Not only will an advertiser command a varied presence on the best queries, but chances are the brand reinforcement will pay off.

For 360i, this “two for one” approach for clients with search under one roof has unlocked previously hidden potential and led to better performance. In fact, retail partners have seen 15 to 25 percent average lift in revenue and ROI on coordinated campaigns that prominently display text and product ads – incremental gains that would go untapped without synchronization.

In a particularly impressive case, one of 360i’s retail clients saw 40 to 50 percent improvements on select categories in the fourth quarter of last year. We uncovered areas the retailer had strong product ad presence, but weak corresponding text ad placement, and increased bids on the latter. We hypothesized that boosting text ads to positions “1” or “2” would enable the retailer to dominate the top of the results page and drive better sales – and the method exceeded all expectations.


Many advertisers view search as a mature, effortless channel – but in reality, search marketers are constantly faced with new challenges in search as time, technology and fragmentation advance. Like other channels, such as Programmatic, SEM struggles with multiple infrastructures, partners and systems that hinder advertisers from integrating their strategies and remaining nimble. It is important for marketers to create flexible management models that deliver solutions for their brands’ unique needs.

For fragmentation, the fix varies. Device fragmentation requires careful campaign and optimization planning. Mobile fragmentation needs unique tracking and attribution. Customer and traffic fragmentation both call for publisher expansion. In each of these examples, the solution is something more – adding layers of complexity to a search program. Conversely, management fragmentation is solved with less – simplification through one team and one system. Experience has shown such streamlining delivers the flexibility and results that marketers desire and need – proving that sometimes less really is more.

Cover photo via Google.