GRAND RAPIDS — Popularized by the auction-bought ads of Google, Yahoo! and MSN, search engine marketing has become a hot topic for marketers. The difficulty, as explained by Performics general manager Stuart Frankel, is capitalizing on and understanding the impact of search engines outside of sponsored results.
Frankel was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s meeting of the Ad Club of West Michigan. He is a senior vice president of DoubleClick, the leading online advertising giant. Its clients include eight of the top 10 global advertising agencies. Among other things, he heads its performance-based division, Performics, which specializes in affiliate, search engine, and data feed marketing as well as online lead generation.
“You have to understand the power of search,” Frankel said.
When he learned that he would be speaking in Grand Rapids, Frankel decided to look up an old girlfriend from West Michigan, with the premise that he was “happily married” and “he dumped her.” Using nothing but the Yahoo! search engine, he discovered that she was living in Alabama, was married with at least one child and had recently hosted a wine tasting.
This “pseudo-stalking” was indeed a testimonial of the power of search, but it also identified the inherent weakness of contemporary search engine marketing. He was not looking for a hotel room in Alabama, parenting products or wine. He wasn’t looking to buy anything.
“What role does search play?” he asked, rhetorically. “I think it should all be about touch points.”
Because the pay-for-click model of companies like Google — where targeted ads appear on the screen related to the search, assuming that the user is looking to buy a related product or service — is so easily measured, Frankel often has to deal with angry clients. More often than not, the metrics don’t show a correlation between search and sales.
The problem is, up to 50 percent of a search’s real impact doesn’t appear in its metrics. He estimated 25 percent of activity occurs online outside of the pay-per-click channel, and another 25 percent happens in the offline world, when the original “touch” translates into word-of-mouth or brick-and-mortar sales.
In DoubleClick’s internal research, the company has found that a company’s Web site was the No. 1 influencer in a purchase, print and television advertising was tied for second, with online marketing third.
When broken down into the stages of awareness leading to a purchase — first hear, further learn and decision to buy — search is the least effective as an initial touch. Print ads — and to a much greater degree, television — are far more effective at introducing consumers to a product or service.
Search, however, becomes the most effective influencer when a consumer seeks additional research. As such, products that don’t usually carry a large degree of further learning might not be as effectively marketed through search or other online marketing, as compared to purchases with lengthy decision-making processes such as cars or homes.
But the key, Frankel reminded, remains the intangible aspects of search.
“What you want is to turn people into influencers, people who influence others to buy things.” he said. “These people are five times more likely to have been influenced to make their purchase by the Internet.”
Frankel also emphasized that search engine optimization, building a Web site to maximize search result rank, is equally, if not more, important in creating touch-points as paid results.
“I’ll see people make million-dollar investments in a company Web site, and it’ll be completely invisible to search engines,” he said.