Study: Search Aids Branding

Though search listings have taken off as a direct response ad vehicle, new research reveals that high-placed search results lift brand awareness.

The research, conducted by Nielsen//NetRatings for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, found that the top search listing increased unaided brand awareness 27 percent. The study compared consumer recall in a group exposed to a search listing to a control group that did not see the listing. The IAB study also found that paid listings on content pages bumped brand awareness 23 percent.

“This definitely implies that search should be part of the marketing mix,” said Marc Ryan, senior director of analysis for Nielsen//NetRatings.

Most advertisers count on graphical ads, particularly rich media units, to boost brand objectives. Text ads have caught on mainly with direct response marketers.

Nielsen//NetRatings analyzed the brand recall of a survey panel of 10,500 participants exposed to both search listings and paid listings on content pages. Nielsen//NetRatings created a custom search page to show users, instead of using a popular search engine such as Google or Yahoo.

The page contained a list of search results, without paid listings highlighted on the top or off to the side as with Google and Yahoo. A mock content page also was used, testing responses to text listings in four different ad units. The study examined search listings for six industries including autos, finance and retail.

The research showed the importance of the top search position. Search listings in the No. 1 position increased overall brand metrics by an average of 14 percent across all six industries. Nielsen//NetRatings found the listing in the fifth position had a negligible effect on branding.

Fredrick Marckini, CEO of Arlington, MA, search marketing firm iProspect, said branding is likely to remain an afterthought in search campaigns for structural reasons.

“There’s no one charged with brand metrics that’s involved in search marketing,” he said. “The brand marketers are on the brand side of the house and not even talking to the search marketers.”

Search engines have taken tentative steps to make search listings more attractive beyond direct response. Most engines have stayed wedded to text listings in lieu of graphical units with more branding capacity.

Ask Jeeves has 200 advertisers using its “branded response” units. These ads are interactive graphical banners that are returned in the top search position in response to certain queries. For example, an search for “get a loan” returns an ad from with a drop-down menu for choosing information regarding various types of loans.

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