One of my favorite things to do lately is to ask people in the PPC world a deceptively simple question: “Why did they Google it in the first place?” I’ve been asking it all over — in one-on-one conversations with peers and in front of crowds (including during a presentation at the 2018 Hero Conference in Austin, Texas). The purpose of the question is to dig into what to do when you’re facing an overcrowded market and are having a hard time growing your search program, specifically your branded search.
I’ll admit, it’s a leading question. When I ask it, I’m trying to drive people toward understanding three major points:
- How to grow branded search through GDN, YouTube, and Paid Social
- How to allocate budget effectively across the different tactics, and
- How to convince key stakeholders to buy in, whether they are clients or bosses
Branded search: you’re doing it wrong
When I embark upon this conversation, I start by getting more specific with my questions: Why do people search for your brand in the first place? What caused them to do it? What was their motivation? (Nobody raises an eyebrow when an actor asks for a character’s motivation, and it works well in this situation, too.)
The answers I get are usually varied but — unsurprisingly — all revolve around search-based efforts.
That’s when I take the opportunity to let them know that they’re thinking incorrectly about search. (This was especially fun at Hero Conference. Telling a room full of professionals they’re flat-out wrong is something everyone should try once.) Search doesn’t create demand; it captures demand. Search is the troll under the bridge capturing the water running off the top, but it didn’t make it rain in the first place. We have to remember that the most important part of our titles as digital marketers is the second word: marketers.
Searchers have got to want it
Marketing is a lot like a relationship/friendship. As I mused in another blog, you wouldn’t walk up to the most attractive person at the bar and lead off with “will you marry me?” You have to get to know them. Learn about what makes them tick. Marketing is the same concept. You can’t just say “buy my product, please!” We have to give them a reason to want to buy our product.
How do we do that in markets that are getting more and more crowded? Let’s face it, most of us have small budgets. We’re all facing high competition. Non-brand terms get more and more expensive every year. And — for good or ill — we’re not all working for the Apples and the Microsofts of the world, so our brand visibility is often low.
What if I told you there was a way you could increase new users to your site by 100% and conversions by 40%? Yes, I know… you’re getting really excited. An though it may sound like it, this isn’t a gimmick or a too-good-to-be-true moment. What if I went further and said it could be done by leveraging your existing platforms?
Leveraging your existing platforms to grow branded search
Here’s how we go about it. First, we look at the GDN. Which, according to AdStage, saw 40% lower CPCs than search in Q4 of 2017. Then we look at YouTube, which has over 1 billion people using the platform — or one third of the Internet, for those of you counting at home. Finally, we look at Facebook, which has over 2 billion users/two thirds of the Internet. (Side note, all that fear of people leaving Facebook because of its recent issues was clearly overblown, considering Facebook actually reported growth in daily users when they reported their earnings).
So why these platforms? Why not one of the other, fancier options? Simply put, these tactics are already viewed as PPC. GDN and YouTube are both available in AdWords. Facebook is typically viewed as PPC, with a lot of advertisers doing both AdWords and Facebook. There’s no surprise that it’s easier to allocate budget to these efforts since it doesn’t have to come from a different source. Also, since these options are being used by many search marketers already, people already feel like they understand the tactics and they aren’t as “scary” as programmatic. Attribution is “cleaner,” because you can utilize AdWords and Google Analytics to determine performance. Finally, it’s cost effective. CPCs and CPMs are cheaper on these platforms.
Then we talked about “Why Video?” Because let’s be honest, video sounds SOOO expensive. But, did you know that 45% of people watch more than an hour of FB and YouTube videos a week? Or that one third of all online activity is spent watching videos? Still not convinced? Well what if I told you that viewers retain 95% of a message in a video compared to text? If none of that was enough to convince you, keep in mind that social video generates 1200% more shares than text and images combined. Plenty of reasons to invest in video! Pro tip: Google offers a service called “Director Onsite” where they will send a team from Google to your client to help create a video with high quality production. The cost? $350 of ad spend when the video is complete. That’s it. No strings attached.
Here’s a real-life example of how this can work
I’ve seen this strategy succeed in my work with clients at Point It. Without naming names, here’s a recap of the client’s challenges that we needed to solve:
- Non-brand CPCs ~$10
- CPA goal of $100
- Competitors with +10x budgets
- 8 competitors bidding on brand terms
- Non-brand impression share <10%
That’s a tough situation. In order to break even on non-brand terms, we’d have to get a purchase every 10 clicks. (If you know someone who can get a non-brand purchase every 10 clicks, I want to meet them. I’m not kidding.)
Our hypothesis for the client was that if we turned off non-brand search and focused on an upper funnel branding strategy, we could increase overall traffic, plus branded search and improve CPA without sacrificing conversion volume.
Here’s what we did. We utilized YouTube TrueView videos because you only pay if the user clicks or watches 30-seconds — resulting in a lot of free branding. Then we used GDN placements on websites and in Gmail. Finally, we used Facebook video views to optimize toward video views, allowing us to create audiences based off time spent watching our videos.
Within GDN and YouTube we utilized custom affinity audiences which factors in consumers most recent passions and ongoing interests. We also utilized custom intent audiences, which is people who are in-market for and interested in buying products similar to ours. Finally, we used lookalike/similar audiences to find potential customers that are like ours.
So what were the results? (After all, we’re PPC marketers. We want the data.) When comparing Q1 to Q4 (seasonality is not a factor):
- We spent 11% less
- We saw a 43% increase in transactions (within Google CPC and Bing CPC in GA), and
- We saw 145% increase in new users through Google and Bing CPC.
Are you kidding me?! That’s killer, if I do say so myself. And I do!
Allocating budget effectively
So back to my second objective with this line of conversation: figuring out how to spend the money. I recommend starting with what you’ve got, and let the data guide your decision. You’ll first want to start by fully funding your branded search if you aren’t already. It doesn’t matter if you increase demand for your brand if you don’t have the budget to capture the increase.
In terms of the tactics that you’ll be utilizing, split the budget evenly to start. You don’t know what’s going to work best yet, so collect some data before determining your tactic. Then, run it for two weeks before you make any decisions, collecting statistically significant data if you can. Then, adjust your budget based on your KPIs and whichever is helping to drive the best results.
Don’t forget to utilize click-assisted and view-through conversions. These are display tactics after all, so if you’re evaluating performance on a last-click model, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Convincing stakeholders to buy in
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “My boss/client will never sign off on this!” I’m not saying you’re wrong, but, you’re wrong. (Wow, that gets easier every time I say it!) Sometimes getting buy-in happens by starting small. Propose a test, and be brave about it. (There’s a common misconception among marketers: that all tests have to succeed. That just isn’t true. Even if something isn’t a success, you still learned from it and got better at what you do.)
Then, use the data you gather to support your decision. Show your stakeholders the market place, show them how it’s crowded. Show them that that they can get branding for an efficient cost in other channels. Tell them that it’s a chance to innovate. It’s my experience that managers and clients love innovating, being the first to do something — especially if their competitors aren’t doing it.
Finally, don’t be afraid to fail. Again, it’s just a test, not a long-term commitment. The worst thing that might happens is that you try it and it doesn’t work out. Even if that comes to pass, now you have data to support other decisions later on down the line.
The best part of having this conversation with people is trading stories and learning from each other’s experiences. Now that you’ve heard my side of the story, I’d love to hear from you, too. What are some ways you’re raising brand awareness and fighting the expensive and crowded markets?
Interested in paid search, but not sure where to start? Never fear! Point It offers a Paid Search Audit to help our clients get started. Read about our Paid Search Audit here.