Aug 20, 2007

Search Ads Not Replacing TV Commercials, Web Banners After All

An article in today's Adweek highlights a new Microsoft study that purportedly shows that search ads are a waste of money.

Relevant quote:
"The reality is those people are already intending to go to your Web site," said Young-Bean Song, vp of analytics for Atlas, formerly part of aQuantive and now a unit of Microsoft. "What you're really paying for is a glorified Yellow Pages listing."
Also noted was that when eBay stopped advertising with Google for 10 days this June, their traffic was "not noticeably impacted."
This conclusion should come as no surprise, particularly to those of you who follow Toad's Tirades. If you think about how you interact with search ads, it's fairly obvious you're using them to find what you're looking for. So if I put "Volvo" into Google, intended to visit the car maker's site, it's sometimes easier to click on the search ad that comes up on top than to go to the list of link Google creates.

Not to say search ads are a complete waste. They're great for small companies in niche businesses where there are no well-known players. So if I'm looking for bird houses, and you're an investment banker who quit it all to open a small carpentry studio in Vermont, a search ad that links to Barry's Organic Bird Houses will definitely yield some results.

10 comments:

Jonathan Trenn said...

Silly Toad.

The two takeaways in the article are that it may be a waste of money to invest heavily in branded keywords and that the effectiveness of search may be somewhat overrated because the entry point into a sight it the click thru from a search engine.

Regarding the first point, last year I ran a search campaign for a tractor company and it increased traffic substantially. That's because we chose terms as 'small tractor' and 'farm tractor' and 'utility tractor'. We tied it into dealers as well.

Search can be very effective as a tool to reach people who have an idea what they're looking for but aren't exactly sure where to find it. And I'd say that's a lot of people.

The article didn't mention banners. Silly Toad.

Toad said...

Yes, as in my birdhouse example, your tractor case study is proof that search ads work for small companies who can't saturate the market and who are the logical destination for people who are actively looking to buy the product in question.

But for large, well-known companies, it's pretty much redundant.

toad's sixth reader said...

and neither search ads or banner ads can justify a week in Shutters. the real issue!

Toad said...

Although I realize you were half-joking, truer words have never been spoken, TSR.

When we lose the week at Shutters and all that stands for, we lose the notion that advertising is a glamorous and fun business, very much akin to show business. And without that, we're going to have a tough time attracting the type of talent we need.

toad's sixth reader said...

exactly.

i think it's funny to watch advertising morph into what is essentially promotional "activity" and we pretend it's cool because we're doing it for the first time. so that makes it cool?

our industry is becoming a lot less cool. just a fact jack. tv ads wuz as cool as it was ever going to get IMHO.

Jonathan Trenn said...

Actually, Toad this wasn't really a mom and pop outfit. But they weren't John Deere either, and there enlied the problem. We needed to get people who weren't specifically tied to one brand. And tractors are like motorcycles. Brand loyalty is strong.

The problem is that there's this battle line that's been drawn between advocates of new media and defenders of the guard (notice I didn't say 'old' guard).

In the case of our client - an Indain based company looking to expand it presence nationwide - search proved to be a perfect mechanism to interest people who weren't yet familiar with the company or their product lines. They may or may not have heard of the company. But search led them right to the site.

TV commercials couldn't do that. But what a commercial can do is be much more creative and give a potential customer a 'look' at what they may be buying. TV commercials tell stories and creates affinity, interest. Sometimes with enthusiasm. Search sparks curiousity withoug enthusiasm and them brings people to the door.

But you know, we never thought of putting up an island in Second Life. Darn.

Jonathan Trenn said...

Actually, Toad this wasn't really a mom and pop outfit. But they weren't John Deere either, and there enlied the problem. We needed to get people who weren't specifically tied to one brand. And tractors are like motorcycles. Brand loyalty is strong.

The problem is that there's this battle line that's been drawn between advocates of new media and defenders of the guard (notice I didn't say 'old' guard).

In the case of our client - an Indain based company looking to expand it presence nationwide - search proved to be a perfect mechanism to interest people who weren't yet familiar with the company or their product lines. They may or may not have heard of the company. But search led them right to the site.

TV commercials couldn't do that. But what a commercial can do is be much more creative and give a potential customer a 'look' at what they may be buying. TV commercials tell stories and creates affinity, interest. Sometimes with enthusiasm. Search sparks curiousity withoug enthusiasm and them brings people to the door.

But you know, we never thought of putting up an island in Second Life. Darn.

Toad said...

@JT: I think we're making the same argument.

It sounds like search was a smart move for your Indian (Indiana?) tractor manufacturer because no one knew their name.

TV and search hit people at different points in the sales cycle: TV gets them to consider your product at some point in the future or it reminds them of why they like it.

Search is a great way to reach someone who is ready to buy: either by reminding them that you exist or by providing a way for them to find what they're looking for (e.g. small tractors)

The problem with using search for very well known clients is that no one looking for a safe SUV needs to be reminded that Volvo exists. The article seemed to indicate that when people put "Volvo" (or Cheerios or Verizon) into a search engine, chances are they're already looking for that company's website

Jonathan Trenn said...

Yes, you're so right.

The client was Mahindra (or in the US www.mahindrausa.com). Very big in India, well known in only about three states in the US. But they did get a cover story in BusinessWeek last year.

Here's an article that shows the importance of search - and how it, yep, still relies on offline (or traditional) marketing:

http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.san&s=66045&Nid=33460&p=293507

Make the logo bigger said...

The one thing about search that gets me, okay, many things, but the one thing that bugs me is how non-relevant some of the sites I see for certain search results are, and I blame those brands who use 15,000 affiliates to get their word out.

A search that takes me to another search page is useless, and actually pisses me off. This is SOP however for dumb brands who follow old school models of reach and frequency thinking that, “I want to get my message out to as many people as possible.”

Ok fine, problem is though they don’t realize that their brand image becomes more deluted. This is, er, was the tactic of online law programs, travel discounters, until Phoenix University went more upscale and decided to be less obtrusive.

Small case in point, one client at my former SEO shop was an online education brand who saw their enrollment application abandonment rates increase because they had too many affiliates getting the word out and not sending people directly to the brand.

As for keywords though, they can be effective to help reinforce messaging in your mind about a particular brand, so if I type in ‘washers’ ‘dryers’ ‘kenmore,’ Sears or Kenmore better be in the top 10. I just expect it. That’s just the cost of doing business and having your brand be part of consumers’ awareness these days.

And with all the previously mentioned affiliate pages out there, search is becoming more specific because they’re just too many results now. You almost have to type in a particular model now to weed through the six million hits you can get.

Still, for agencies in the SEO game and having seen what some major brands spend in one day on search, it sure as hell beats selling Florida real estate to old ladies.

Enjoy the gouging while you can fellas.