Are you reaching your influencers?

Years before Google, the Web, and the personal computer, Bill Ziff built a publishing empire on a very simple proposition: that targeted media creates value, both for readers who consume it, and for advertisers who support it. Ziff’s formula, which he repeated in a slew of publications from Flying to Car and Driver to PC Magazine, took account of the key role played by what he called “influencers.”

In a status-conscious society, influencers acquire their social status from their encyclopedic knowledge of niche topics. In every community, you’ll find these people, who pride themselves on their exhaustive knowledge of digital cameras, Plasma TV’s, or any other specialized subject under the sun. Advertisers, quite naturally, are especially eager to reach such people, because they specify brands, products, services, and exert enormous influence over the buying decisions that people in their social circle make.

From a search marketing perspective, it’s vital that your search strategy takes account of the key role that influencers play in buying behavior. This can be a problem for marketers who mechanically lock their search spend to an inflexible CPO or CPA based on conversions. But most influencers don’t convert: they’re clicking on paid ads in order to perform product research that they’ll pass on later to someone who will convert at a later point in time. Consequently, it’s possible that search campaigns which are in fact successful in terms of reaching the all-important influencers may be killed or be starved of resources because their reported ROI is sub-par.

How do you get a handle on whether your campaign is reaching your influencers? An analysis of post-click behavior can give you some answers. How much time did a given, non-converting user spend on site? How many levels deep did he or she drill down to? Which product pages were viewed, in what order? By devising appropriate proxies, you can measure the effectiveness of your search campaign in terms of reaching these all-important influencers.

Search marketing is not just about sales: it’s about marketing. Part of this task is reaching people who don’t convert on the first bounce, or may never convert at all. Don’t sell your influencers short by living by too restrictive a set of success metrics. Measuring engagement is not as precise as measuring conversions, and the degree to which your influencers are recommending your products and services offline is by definition unknowable. But unless you take account of the role that influencers play in the buying process, and spend enough to reach them, you’ll not be taking full advantage of the full benefits which search marketing can deliver.

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