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Search and display -- better together

Doug Schumacher and David Singh
Search and display -- better together Doug Schumacher and David Singh

The connect between search and display advertising looks minimal at first glance. One is all HTML text with no graphics, the other is at its most effective when animated and highly graphic. However, the way people often integrate these two into their product purchasing quests creates a strong marketing partnership between the two.

David Singh heads up Underscore's search practice area.

People often search for products they've seen recently in display ads. Likewise, search activity can lead to sites where readers are exposed to display ads for the product or subject they just searched for. In either case, there's an opportunity to have search and display working as a one-two punch. Following are steps you can take to both better understand how that relationship is working, and to maximize the impact of both the search and display ads.

Consistent messaging
The need for consistent messaging across all communication vehicles is exemplified by the relationship between display and search. When someone sees a display ad, he'll often follow that up with a search based on the ad he just saw. There's a sort of hand-off happening from the display ad to the search listing. So make sure they're in sync.

Consider which words or terms from your display campaign the viewer will most likely recall. Then purchase those keywords in your search campaign, and use them in the listings you create. You can test those keywords and listings to determine which terms are searched the most and which listings pull the highest response rate.

Examples of likely search terms include: 

  • Tag lines: Everyone can associate "Just do it" with Nike, but for many tag lines, the brand isn't a quick recall.

  • Product names: They may remember the product name more easily than the brand or tag line.

  • Campaign themes: As an example, if you're using funny monkeys in your creative, buy "funny monkeys ad."

  • Likely misspellings: If you're Smirnoff, buy "tea party," "tea partay," "tea par-tay," etc.

  • Celebrity endorser names: Just review the Yahoo Buzz Index if you doubt the potential impact of celebs in search.

At its core, search is about users actively looking for something, be it information, a product or a service. Since it is the user that chooses to initiate or continue the relationship with the advertiser, paid search programs ought to have longer flight dates than display -- by as much as several weeks more. Your display efforts created the touch points where users became aware and interested in what you have to offer, but for many users, the story does not end there. Many of these users go on to search what they became aware of from your display efforts, and, as a recent Atlas study shows, the users are converting to search in large numbers.

Search is where we can bring these users home -- when the user conducts that search. The time between exposure to a banner and the search click can be very long. If you are able to combine display and search conversion metrics from viewthrough or click on the display side, to click and conversion on the search side the campaign, you should be able to measure the latency effect to get an idea of how long the search campaign should be live.

Moreover, bidding on competitor brand names has become the norm for paid search campaigns for a simple reason -- it works exceedingly well at taking conversions and mindshare. Don't let this happen to you by abbreviating the lifespan of your paid search program.

Behavioral targeting
BT is still a relatively new but exciting field that attempts to comb through user behavior (the websites and subpages a person visits over a given period of time) to serve ads relevant to the user's searching habits or profile.

Because BT is attempting to discern intent, it's only natural that search has become an important tool in its arsenal. When a user searches and clicks on an ad -- assuming that the keyword and creative are reasonably targeted -- you can assume the user has some interest, but if the user leaves the site without purchasing, you can use what you learned through search to retarget them later. Ad networks that utilize BT can step in and take that search intent and serve relevant ads to the user within a network of sites.

Why it works is easy -- instead of display driving search, BT flips the scenario, with search driving volume to display -- but not just any volume, it drives targeted users that already have some interest and familiarity with the site, making them more valuable and more apt to convert than in display alone. This is a powerful method to efficiently extend your ad dollars from the DR perspective.

Analytics and tracking
With both search and banners, we can track a mind-numbing amount of information. Where things get muddier is assessing search and display metrics collectively. On one hand, banners can create interest in a subject that someone might then search for, upon which the keyword buy then gets credit for the site visit. On the other hand, a search listing could refer a visitor who's already been cookied by a banner, and the ad serving tool gives credit to the banner.
What matters is not so much which ad is getting credit for the visit -- odds are it's a combined effort. This was demonstrated rather conclusively in the Atlas study. What's important is to better understand how these two consumer touch points can work cohesively to drive campaign performance. We know integration works -- and when it's working between search and display, it can be very powerful. (The Atlas study found an average conversion rate lift of 22 percent for combined display and search visitors.)

Integrating search and display tracking can help assess both the amount of cross-over, and the optimal number of impressions for the display campaign. Multiple display impressions can increase the conversions, as the Atlas study found. But of course, frequency has an inflection point where it turns to diminishing returns. There's no set rule, as every situation is unique, but that's a key point to determine.

Clear communication between search and display teams
Here it is -- the lynchpin that can either put you ahead of the competition or cause more problems than it solves. Clear communication between teams is essential from launch to campaign wrap up. Ideally your search team and display team should have some understanding of how the other works. The entire search team should be trained on the basics of media buying, the terminology (display and search use very different vocabulary and can be confusing to the uninitiated) and what to expect from planning to launch to analysis. Similarly, your display team should be trained in the basics of search.

Once both teams are speaking the same language and understand the process involved, a lot of miscommunication in the critical launch period will be cleared up. Launch is where 70 percent of all problems occur; there are so many variables to deal with from publishers and search engines to internal teams and the client themselves. Many things can easily go wrong, but clear communication and setting of expectations can solve most of them.

Moving forward, one person from your display team and one person from your search team should be in constant contact to go over what the other sees -- potential pitfalls and opportunities within their respective campaigns and how this affects the other. Both should be using this information to optimize holistically -- thus maximizing both areas. To blindly optimize one may actually make the other worse, and if you're working within silos, the situation may only deteriorate. 

Finally, when the campaign wraps up, the leads from each team must be able to fit their respective pieces together to not only show the big picture of how display and search worked together, but to demonstrate how this fusion benefited the client and helped achieved the campaign objectives.

There is no doubt that combining display and search will show better results than keeping them in silos. However, without consistent messaging to reinforce the offer and brand, intelligent timelines to maximize conversions, analytics to tie the two together and clear communication between your search and display teams, the results you will see will leave a lot to be desired and have you wondering if the work to bring them together was worth it at all.

Doug Schumacher is president/creative director for Basement, Inc.  .

David Singh is manager and search practice lead at Underscore Marketing LLC.


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