Tracking Search Marketing Efforts: Getting More Difficult?

Paid search marketing is an essential part of any business’s marketing strategy. It provides immediate and consistent traffic, and it dramatically extends a business’s marketing reach. It’s also highly targetable. Search marketers can target their marketing efforts to specific demographics, regions, and even times of day. Search ads can easily be tweaked for optimum results, and they’re a great way to boost brand awareness.

But for all the benefits that paid search marketing can offer, one in particular stands out in the minds of budget-conscious marketers: it’s easy to track. When a business deploys a paid search campaign, calculating the ROI is a simple matter. The effectiveness of radio, television, and print advertising are notoriously difficult to track, but with paid search, it’s all there in black and white.

The Impact of Mobile and the Changing Nature of Search

These days, tracking search-marketing results is getting a bit trickier than it used to be. After all, most Americans have multiple connected devices. On average, Millenials use four connected devices, followed closely by members of Generations X and Z, which each average about 3.6 devices per user. Even senior citizens in our society are now more connected than ever.

As a result of the ubiquity of data access in our everyday lives, many of us will start a search on one device, and then finish it on another device. For example, we might research a purchase or read product reviews on a mobile phone, but we’re unlikely to actually make purchases on our iPhones or Androids.

Why is that? Well, as great as mobile phone interfaces are, they’re still less than ideal for activities that require lots of precise data entry, such as creating ecommerce accounts or entering credit card data.

Cross-Device Search Habits Can Make Measuring SEM Results Tricky

According to Ninth Decimal, of the 72% of us who research products on our smartphones, 38% actually end up purchasing in-store. Twenty-three percent complete the transaction on the mobile device, but nearly as many end up buying via laptops or tablets.

The public’s cross-device searching habits are making it difficult for marketers to accurately measure the results of current search marketing campaigns. When only a fifth of all mobile searchers are actually completing purchases on their phones, tracking the real-world ROI of a mobile-centric search marketing campaign can become quite a daunting task.

eMarketer’s April Report: An Interview With Elite SEM’s Chris Chang

This was just one of the findings highlighted in eMarketer’s April 2015 Report, Cross-Device Search Marketing, in which Jeremy Kressman, et al, present telling statistics and interview prominent digital marketing experts for their opinions on cross-device search marketing.

I sat down with our Director of Client Services at Elite SEM Chris Chang, who’s featured in this eMarketer’s report, to ask him a few additional questions about cross-device marketing and what it holds for the future of digital marketing as a whole.

Do you think the fact that such a high percentage of smartphone searches results in in-store purchases points to mobile search as an especially beneficial marketing avenue for small, local businesses?

Absolutely. At this point, we’re moving into a very mobile-centric environment. One recent survey conducted by an ad firm reported that 90% of the 12,000 individuals surveyed confirmed that people pull out their smart phones and do mobile research, price comparisons, etc., while in store. That’s a huge percentage of people, who are all looking to see if this is the right opportunity or place to buy a product.

For local businesses, mobile search is beneficial, and small local businesses should definitely 100% invest marketing dollars there. My only caution is to go into the space with the understanding that it’s not all rosy in terms of measuring true success.

Will mobile search drive more conversions? Absolutely! Will mobile search for small businesses improve ROI? More than likely, it will. Will there be an ability to measure the success of mobile search for small businesses from start to finish? Not just yet. This is simply because of the lack of standard measurement tools, and the fact that not all conversions will happen directly on mobile search click. Many mobile search clicks will result in store engagement and pick up, which is why having unique KPIs for mobile is critical!

For larger retailers, however, it’s easier – they are going to have the first engagement point or understanding of how mobile and digital advertising is impacting retail engagement.

Google is now starting to include estimated in-store engagement as a data point, looking at things like whether or not a user saw something on their phone, and if that had an effect on their behavior in the store. As an example – product inventory availability while you’re in store. Large retailers like REI can pull up the closest store where a product is available in the inventory after a person conducts an online search for that product, and direct them right to where they can make the purchase.

Will we see a future in which all conversions are tracked by individual user data across multiple devices?

Yes, we will. Will it be tomorrow? No. Next year? I couldn’t tell you that exactly, to be honest. The biggest issue is that our industry has to move away from being a cookie-centric society. Cookies work well on a desktop or laptop, but not at all within an app environment on a mobile device. Further, a lot of mobile companies are allowing users to block their cookies from ever being tracked. Ultimately, this will shift how marketers track online engagement.

There are workarounds out there, like Beacon technology, and still others are creating anonymous IDs that are based on the operating system that specific users are engaging with.

Another workaround is through consumer logins – such as Facebook and Google. Things like Gmail and Google Maps have you logged in, and in that capacity, they can figure out who the user is, and how they’re engaging in multiple touch points.

Finally, this whole shift is going to end up with a lot of “anonymized” data. Let’s face it – these days, people are jaded. Advertisers know this, and they’re veering away from personalized data, instead rolling data into consumer groups, so that people don’t feel the Big Brother effect that we’re all so aware of.

You mentioned that judging mobile search results by the same key performance indicators you’d use to evaluate web results is a mistake. By what criteria should marketers judge their mobile results?

This could be something as simple as a “call to.” With mobile, Google is talking about micro-moments, and that’s what they want marketers to focus on. Instead of saying OK – did the user’s search on a mobile device drive a direct purchase? They don’t want marketers to overestimate the value there, because this is a KPI that will ultimately fail.

Instead, marketers should be focusing on things like: did the user do comparison research, did they sign up for more info, did they hit the contact us button or link, or did they click on a call to action that’s more driven to direct in-store engagement. Bottom line – mobile should be focused on the “assist” KPIs instead of the final goal, which is typically the direct purchase.

What’s your take on the best way to effectively reach cross-device search users?

The best way to effectively reach cross-device search users is to make sure you’re reaching them at every single touch point: Facebook and social, Search, and Display. And to make sure you use all the approaches, instead of just one.

Also, understanding the consumer journey through all of those touch points is critical. It doesn’t make sense to show the same ads to every single user as if they’re all the same, because they might be at a unique or different point in their specific journey.

Think about evening engagement. The TV and laptop are often on at the same time. There’s programmatic advertising, where the user sees an ad on TV, and then within a 60-minute time frame, you can show them the same ad on the online device, but up the ante and deliver a unique message to them that is more compelling. For instance, the TV ad might include something like – here’s an opportunity to engage with us, and you show them a specific code that they can type in. Then the ad pops up on the laptop, and this time, it says, “Maybe you ignored our TV ad – well this is your 2nd opportunity to [engage with us].”

Or let’s say the TV version of the ad says, “type in CODE 10 and get 15 days free. And then on the tablet, you up the ante with the ad. What if you made it a 30-day offer instead of 15 days? With this kind of strategy, you can assess the value of upping the offer across different devices.

Most consumers are going to convert closer to the evening times – maybe an ad shown to them during business hours shouldn’t have the value proposition that talks about buying something. Maybe during those hours, for example, you talk about your value as a business or product, without pushing the sale. Then, during the evening time, you show them the stronger value proposition that’s ROI centric: buy now and get 10% off, or buy now and get free shipping. This way, you can test different scenarios that show you when the consumer is the most loyal, and the most likely time that they will convert.

For more information from Chris Chang and others on cross-device search marketing, read the full report from eMarketer’s April 2015 Report now.

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