We can all feel how the search landscape is changing. Every day I hear a new stat – 50% of search in 2020 will be voice, search queries are getting longer with 50% now over four words, and using an image within search results increases the likelihood of conversion by up to 40%. I could go on.
Search is the primary indicator of changing consumer behaviour. It is estimated that people today interact with up to 200 digital touchpoints before visiting a store or completing a purchase online. The conversion path is now so dynamic that when we consider partners, we need to react with it. The stat that even some of my most sophisticated clients raise an eyebrow at is that 40% of product searches are direct to Amazon vs. Google, which receives 30%.
So what does this mean for the brands and advertisers? How do big and small players prepare for the battle? How do they make sure they stay in the search game and win the consumer amid the digital pollution and noise of the competition?
Shopper marketing vs. channel marketing
The answer, first and foremost, lies in focusing on shopper marketing vs. channel marketing.
One way to achieve this is to embrace the ‘holistic search’ approach, not only by integrating paid and organic search into a single search strategy, but also by rolling it out into the broader search ecosystem beyond ‘traditional’ search engines.
For example, OMD has delivered this approach for Bacardi by expanding its search activities directly into its retailer domains using Criteo’s machine learning technology (formerly known as HookLogic). The campaign helped the brand to overcome the fierce competition on the retailer sites and delivered outstanding results – over 700% ROAS and gaining half of the market share for the promoted products.
Levi’s closely follow suit, and has taken a step further to penetrate the ‘walled gardens’ of Amazon Search (AMS) in a bid to overcome the crowded organic space and firmly establish its dominance on Amazon. But despite endless commercial opportunities on Amazon, the challenges for search marketers are immense – AMS activation and management is fundamentally different from that on ‘traditional search engines’.
To overcome this challenge, OMD teamed up with Levi’s and Kenshoo, as a product design partner, to help the development of the AMS management solution which allows for AMS campaign management on scale. Within a month of on-boarding, OMD managed to scale up Levi’s AMS campaigns increasing traffic by 500% and delivering 4x more sales. As a result, Levi’s is now considering including AMS into the framework of its always-on search strategy.
So while media players continue the race of innovation to meet the modern consumer’s expectation of immediate access to information and goods at the snap of their fingers (or voice!), search evolves as an organic part of daily life.
Approaching search holistically
It is therefore important that brands and marketers start approaching search holistically in the context of the consumer path to purchase. Multi-channel API integrations, pursued by marketing software companies, marketing analytics and attribution solutions, can help in providing adequate measurement framework to understand the impact of each channel on overall search performance.
This may not be achieved overnight while many brands still operate in silos with little collaboration between brand and performance marketing, and a lack of coordination between marketing and merchandising or the online and offline. However, marketers are best positioned to lead clients towards consumer-centric strategies using the wealth of cross-vertical expertise and technology solutions they possess.
Search is currently going through a renaissance which has implications for agencies and brands. I went to IAB’s Search 2017: 24/7 Search conference last month to find out more about the latest thinking from a range of key industry players.
We began with Sam Fenton-Elstone, Chief Digital Media Officer at VCCP Media saying, “it’s a nice sunny day and we are inside a windowless room talking about Search.” The auditorium, situated in the middle of the building, had numerous TV screens on the walls and the ceiling was cloaked in strip lighting. I almost got the feeling that Batman might soon be returning to his lair after a night fighting crime.
Sam argued that Search is no longer a channel: it is an intrinsic human behaviour. He explained that Search is prolific and, as visualised in a Wheel of Search, some brands even become access points themselves – think ASOS, Skyscanner and Argos.
Clearly this dispels the notion that Google dominates Search. Search marketers all know the figures: Google has almost 95% of the search engine market share, depending on which source, but it does not own Search completely as people now search for information through various ways such as apps, social media and video content.
Conversely, Harry Davies, Marketing Leader at Google UK, not surprisingly stated that everything starts with Search. He began by saying more people now access the internet more often with 87% of them turning to Search in their first moment of need.
Key reasons people use Search
One of his main points, which was also reiterated several times throughout the day, was that the attention span of consumers has got shorter. Indeed, at least two presentations featured goldfish to drive home this point. Whilst 18% of people expect a website to load instantly, Google recommended that the top limit should be around 2 seconds. Most retail sites have an average 3.8 seconds wait time, so there is room for improvement.
After lunch we returned to the Batcave. For the afternoon session, Aaron McGrath, Sales Director at Bing Ads, covered the main ways that Search will evolve. Through predictive search, textless and screenless search, image searching, and face recognition, Search will become more personalised, immersive, situationally relevant and interactive.
When Microsoft HoloLens browsing is brought to physical reality consumers will potentially see how products, like furniture, can fit into their home. Moreover, the uptake in voice search will mean that 50% of all Search will come through voice by 2020 (Bing).
The final presentation was delivered by Scott Abbott, Head of Product for Paid Search at iProspect, describing how user behaviour has changed. The increase in searching on mobile and through voice search is clearly changing the way people search. For example, the number of ‘near me’ queries within retail has risen by 200% YoY.
He went on to suggest that as voice search becomes more prevalent it is important to keep in mind that these types of searches are generally more ‘long tail’. Quite a few people say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to Siri!
Overall the three main themes across the presentations were the importance of speed for a website, adopting a strategy for voice/visual search and understanding how consumer behaviour is changing. Undoubtedly, it is imperative for us to be adaptive since Search is constantly evolving and is likely to look very different in five years time.
During the announcement of Google Home at the opening of the Google I/O conference, Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, mentioned that 20% of mobile queries are now voice searches. While the market for virtual assistant slowly heats up, a MindMeld survey found that there has been a significant increase in the number of people now using voice assistant and voice search capabilities within the past 6 months. Transactional queries will become even more common as virtual assistants integrate a range of third-party services such as OpenTable, Spotify, WhatsApp, Uber and Ticketmaster. While the topic of voice and virtual assistants can be a conversation starter with tech hobbyists, it is also true that the general public is now starting to take interest in this field.
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