According to a study by US marketing site eMarketer (you can check it out here) the ad dollars flowing into search (or SEO or SEM, for the more sophisticated) will grow from almost $US30 billion in 2016 to a whopping $US40 billion in four years’ time.
It highlights one of adland’s difficult but fundamental truths – brands decreasingly want “old school” advertising (think print, TVCs, even banner ads) and clients would far prefer to spend their marketing dollars being found, being found before their competitors, and then selling customers “stuff”.
These days every brand has a website and a search capacity. But what works and what doesn’t? Here B&T takes a look at the top seven myths when it comes to search engine marketing and attempts to uncover the truth from, for want of a better word, the bunkum.
1) “I have to spend a fortune on SEM to even play in the game, particularly against my bigger competitors”
No, you don’t, says Deb O’Sullivan, Microsoft’s head of strategic sales APAC. “It’s all about making yourself as relevant as possible to the query the user has typed into the search engine,” O’Sullivan says. “You can do this by making sure that you are frequently testing fresh and relevant creative, and you are bidding on the most relevant terms for your line of business.
“Given search is an auction, it’s absolutely an even playing field. A small player has just the same ability to compete as the bigger player, based on relevancy of their ad against search query,” she says.
2) “Google offers the best ROI on my search dollar”
Actually, that’s not true either. The internet marketing firm Kenshoo recently analyzed nine search programs to determine which publisher yielded the best return on the next dollar of investment. According to the report (download it here) in five of the nine campaigns studied it would make more sense for the marketer to invest their next dollar on Bing. Three cases showed that dollar could be better spent elsewhere, and the final case delivered no clear differentiation between publishers.
The report stated that, “Given the nature of the paid search market, it should not be altogether surprising that Bing holds a bit of an edge here. For example, marketers frequently put many of their eggs in the basket of a single search engine, where they may face greater competition and price pressure, and subsequently receive a considerable amount of attention and optimization.”
3) “I don’t have the knowledge or the full-time staff to properly manage my SEM”
Microsoft’s O’Sullivan outlines four easy tips that anyone can do to improve their business’ search:
One: Make the content fresh and creative. “Keep testing and trailing it,” she says.
Two: Remarketing: “Reach people who have already been to your site with a message designed to pull them through the decision making cycle. For example, if they drop off at the basket stage, retarget them with a ‘free shipping’ message.”
Three: Negatives: “Set up negative keywords to make sure that your ad doesn’t appear in places that aren’t relevant to your business, and reduce wastage.”
Four: Use extensions: O’Sullivan says: “There are a heap of useful extensions these days that enable you to get more real estate on the page. We find that extension significantly drive up conversion rates. Make sure to select the relevant extensions to your business. For example image extensions, call out extensions, product extensions etc.”
4) “Content is king”
It’s the much bandied about catchphrase of SEM, but for Nital Shah, managing director of the Sydney-based SEO specialist firm Octos, says it’s not necessarily true. “The rhetoric is flimsy,” Shah tells B&T. “While it’s true that quality content is an important piece of the SEO puzzle, content alone is not a categorical shortcut to SERP (search engine results page) glory.
“The content-is-king myth relies on a particularly unreliable logic of ‘if we build it they will come’. But the act of creating great content isn’t enough. The content must be supported by sound site architecture and robust on-page optimisation,” he says.
Shah likens content to a great song that needs radio, streaming, whatever to get people to hear it let alone buy it. “To turn a song into a hit, you need an audience, a marketing strategy, a stage, speakers, and so on. Similarly, online content also needs a supporting framework – a platform from which it can be seen, heard and valued,” he says.
5) “Search is all about the sale”
Sure, the ultimate aim of SEM is to get customers to load-up the cart and hit the buy button. But for Chris Wallington, Microsoft’s advertising business lead (ANZ), it’s as much about the customer experience as it is the sale. He tells B&T: “The relationship between brand owners and consumers has become increasingly conversation driven across paid, owner and earned media.
“Whether first or last click, the evolution of the search experience is providing the consumer with ever increasing signals (e.g. customer reviews) and validation (social media follows/commentary); understanding the relationship between these signals, validations and search ecosystems is an increasing focus for marketers managing brand loyalty.”
6) “SEM allows me to target a huge amount of potential customers”
That’s simply not going to happen, says someone whose business is dependent on search – Kenny Tse, digital marketing manager of tradie comparison site hipages.
“It’s really important to just focus on the primary purpose of your business; you’re not going to appeal to everyone all the time,” Tse tells B&T.
“That’s why user segmentation is so important, being able to identify where a user is in the conversion funnel makes converting that user a lot easier. With segmentation you’re able to be there in the right place at the right time with your marketing activities.
“Everybody is turning to search to find a solution to their problem before anything else. But with any activity I would say the main point would be to know your brand, and to know your audience and their behavior,” he says.
7) “SEM’s the silver bullet to a brand’s success”
Ask any SEO company or consultant and they’ll be telling you the amazing results their services will bring before handing you a very large invoice. But you need to be on your guard, says Octos’ Nital Shah.
“Any offer of infinite SEO guarantees or the promise to deliver top ranking overnight should be taken with a grain of salt,” Shah says. “A closer look at those lofty SEO promises usually reveals fine print that is riddled with disclaimers – there’s always a catch.
“Some SEO companies guarantee rankings by promising a certain number of keywords that they reserve the right to choose. By selecting obscure, non-competitive or irrelevant terms, they might deliver on their promise.
“But there’s no proof to suggest that those cunning keyword rankings create any kind of meaningful traffic,” he says.