DM News' Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing: Search as Part of the Online Marketing Mix

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There is no question that paid search is a great online marketing tool. Direct response folks have known this for years and the brand guys are just starting to jump on the bandwagon. However, if paid search is the only online tool you are using, you are leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.

Below are items to consider for even better results as you evaluate your complete online marketing mix.

The consumer is looking. According to Harris Interactive, 80 percent of Internet traffic begins at a search engine. But that does not necessarily mean that is where their buy decision ends. To understand how consumers make decisions about your offerings, you must start by analyzing the consumer decision/purchase funnel.

The identified steps consumers go through on their way to buying your product or service are awareness of product/service need; information gathering; evaluation of features and benefits; purchase decision/action; and post-purchase reactions.

DM News' Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing

[For a PDF of the guide, click here or on the cover image]

These steps vary by client and by product. But the real question is, where does search and the keywords you are using fit for your products or services within this funnel? More important, how can you integrate your findings from search into your other online media buys? Examples of search findings include geographic data, competitive placements, contextual sites and the actual keywords themselves.

The consumer sees your brand, not the marketing plan. As marketers, we sometimes think of the message by the media channel or message we are using. But that is not how consumers think. They expect to see your offering promoted the same way, no matter the site or search engine they are on, or the ad or keyword that drove them there. It's vital to test your creative, offer and placements but to scale consistently across your entire plan. Inconsistency not only decreases response, it will also provide inaccurate findings. These inaccuracies can potentially drive incorrect campaign decisions.

Portfolio management: financial risk versus brand risk. Somewhat unique to the online space, there is a constant balance of brand control, response volume and customer quality. All online media channels are not the same. On one side of the continuum, CPA buying via affiliate marketing provides a higher level of pricing accountability but less placement control. On the other side of the continuum, premium placements bought on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis on larger sites provide high placement control but carry more financial risk against your return on investment control. Paid search's popularity is partly due to its ability to control message/placement, while buying in a more accountable, performance-based pricing model.

The goal is to treat your online media plan as a portfolio by establishing tight tolerances against price, quality and placement. If you skew too heavily against just one of those elements, you risk missing either volume or ROI goals. Worse yet, you can end up doing significant harm to your brand.

In conclusion, first integrate for brand consistency and increased response. Test different approaches within channels but scale consistently across channels. Second, increase the use of findings between channels to drive better spend decisions. Quantitative data tells you what your consumers did, qualitative data tells you why they did it. Finally, keep constant balance of control, volume and quality. Always evaluate results against these goals to ensure you are not too heavily weighted toward any one objective.

Jason Wadler is senior vice president of Leapfrog Online, Evanston, IL. E-mail jwadler@leapfrogonline.com.

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