5 tactics for combining search and display

This digital marketing business is not for the faint of heart. Not when there's a lame economy limping along, revenue growth expectations to be met, and tighter overall budget expectations to be dealt with. If you're thinking of digital marketing -- or any marketing for that matter -- in terms of either/or, it's time to move on. This is not a Chinese menu. No column A or B. Digital marketing is the science of "both." It's no longer search or display, display or text, SEM or search retargeting. It's all of the above.

The combination of search data and display advertisements represent the perfect intersection. It is intent-based display targeting. After all, there isn't a more compelling time for a brand to put a display or text ad in front of someone than after they've searched for a specific product.

There are two reasons that brands need to innovate in their use of search engine marketing. First is to show improved ROI for their efforts. Second is to integrate the new behaviors of the "searchers." Search retargeting, which applies consumer behavior and purchase intent to display, will be one of the best engines to drive the future of search for advertisers, and most importantly, for the searchers.

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For brands, the searcher experience has become more important as consumers migrate from vertical search engines (such as travel or medical) to general search engines. Now, they want a better experience from Google, Bing, Yahoo, or others. A recent research paper published by Magnetic supports this by going back to IBM research analyst Andrei Broder, who published an academic study of search intent categories in 2010. He found three main behaviors:

  1. Navigational -- the immediate intent to reach a particular site
  2. Informational -- the intent to acquire some information assumed to be present on one or more web pages
  3. Transactional -- the intent to perform some web-mediated activity

All three of these behaviors are still directly addressed by search retargeting.

It is evident that search is among the best performing forms of advertising on the internet, but for marketers, it is not the only factor -- scale, reach, and price also come into play. According to a report from the Internet Activity Index, shared by the Online Publishers Association and Nielsen Online Data, search only represents 4 percent of users' share of time online. Thus, there is a need for technology innovation to take the power seen with the solid results and high ROI from search and apply it to display, where 96 percent of time on the internet is spent. Utilizing search and display together is the logical next step in terms of search expansion for two reasons:

1. By combining search data with display retargeting, marketers can better scale their SEM campaigns, and display advertisers can achieve a new level of targeted awareness. Search retargeted display will offer many more times the impression opportunities per keyword search than traditional paid search advertising.
2. With more opportunities to target based on keywords, advertisers achieve more efficient pricing than with traditional keyword advertising seen within the search engine. The scale from display and precision of search enables brands to reach the same consumer who searched for your product within the search engine on content sites like The New York Times, USA Today, and others.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's the value to the consumer, or the searcher. The July 2011 McKinsey & Company report draws some interesting and underexposed conclusions about the benefits of search for consumers. It identifies the areas in which consumers find unique value from using search engines, including price transparency, entertainment, time saved, people matching, problem solving, and raised awareness. These areas reveal that the average search engine user derives between 30-65 percent more value from using search than any other media. While the report did not quantify search retargeting, it is clear that it has the potential to exponentially increase customer value through its efficiency and technological innovation. Again, this will be key to the growth and innovation of search retargeting over the coming year.

It's time to throw away your Chinese menu and select digital strategies that leverage the science of both search and display advertising. By applying the power of intent data to digital display advertising, brands have access to a cohesive online approach that ties searchers' immediate interests with their online behaviors.

Here are five key tactics to follow when you combine search and display strategies:

Define strategy
Leverage strengths of each channel to define a strategy to reach your campaign goals. For example, Magnetic recently worked with an online retailer that not only needed to maximize reach, but also wanted to focus on driving sales for specific products. By using search data combined with different creative to reach in-market shoppers, its search retargeting program delivered nearly a 300 percent return on ad spend.

Test, test, and retest
Display ad effectiveness can be challenging to measure. Fortunately, one of the great advantages of search is that there are various ways to test campaign strategies and optimize for performance. By combining search and display, marketers can use A/B testing to evaluate variables within a campaign such as frequency, creative, time of day, and day of week.

It's still about keywords
Search retargeting is the logical future of search innovation. But it's still based on SEM basics, and that includes keywords. Each brand and campaign has a unique target audience and set of objectives, and therefore, requires custom keyword segments. Using keyword generation tools enable marketers to expand beyond SEM lists and build out specific custom segments to target against. By optimizing at the keyword level, coupled with serving different creative assets based on specific search terms, Magnetic has increased campaign performance and helped retail clients push consumers through the funnel.

It's also about creative
Keywords have helped many companies capitalize on search retargeting. But hyper-targeted creative -- dynamic creative -- can also be essential in any given campaign. Layering specific ad messages and creative over the highest form of intent data also helps push consumers through the funnel.

Use varied metrics
There are a lot of ways to measure the success of search retargeting, especially metrics that go beyond the click. For search retargeting, it's best to evaluate a myriad of metrics including CPA, CTR, CPC, return on ad spend, cost of marketing, and more.

James Green is the CEO of Magnetic.

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