Paid Search Marketers Should Move Beyond the SERP

Traditional search engines still rule paid search, but right now we’re in the midst of a fundamental change in how people find things online. Way back in 2009, traditional search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN (now Bing) were a one-stop shop for searchers. Today, searchers satisfy their needs in increasingly complex and non-linear ways.

Before making a purchase, a person may search for a product on Bing, see what their Facebook friends are saying about that product, read a few tweets from their phone, watch YouTube videos, peruse Yelp reviews, view a display ad, return to Bing and buy. This is the new “splintered” way of finding, considering and purchasing products. And it’s likely here to stay.

Facebook has been the main catalyst in this fundamental shift in how people find things. In fact, according to comScore, Facebook drove 10% of all Internet page views in 2010 and there were some months in 2010 where people spent more time on Facebook than on Google. Facebook had 600 million users and $1.86 billion in ad sales in 2010. The potential 2011 upside for Facebook? One billion users and $4 billion in ad sales.

Paid search marketers must extend their programs to Facebook. Traditional paid search skills and strategy are directly applicable.

For instance, Facebook CPC ads are bid-based, and they can be keyword-triggered based on likes/interests in users’ profiles. The ads also allow marketers to go beyond keywords to apply contextual information from Facebook users’ profiles like age, gender, geography, education, language, connections (users who “like” your fan page) and friends of connections.

When it comes to copy and bid strategy, the overall approach on Facebook is the same as on the SERP: research, test, evaluate, optimize, rinse and repeat.

Tried-and-true paid search skills are also directly applicable to Twitter search. For instance, a brand can run a “promoted tweet” triggered by a Twitter user’s search query. The Promoted Tweet serves on the top of the Twitter search results and looks like a regular tweet. Creative (links and copy) within a promoted tweet can manage reputation or feature product information, coupons and offers.

Like paid search, the advertiser only pays when a searcher engages with the tweet, which is called cost-per-engagement (CPE). CPE can be a click on the tweet, re-tweet, favorite or an @reply to the tweet. In 2010, CPEs were reasonable because of limited competition and low search volume. Yet search volume should increase in 2011 if Promoted Tweets become more integrated into users’ timelines instead of living only on Twitter search pages.

EMarketer also predicts that Twitter users will jump 26% in 2011, and ad revenue will triple to $150 million. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, keywords on YouTube Search can also trigger paid video ads, like commercials.

Google and Bing are well aware of the new splintered way that people are finding things. Consider that most SERP updates over the past two years have focused squarely on adding more social content.

These engine updates may help to keep people on the SERP longer, but true paid search marketers must be visible wherever there’s an opportunity for driving performance through keyword and bid-based advertising. In 2011, that opportunity is not only on the traditional SERP, it’s also on the social networks.

Craig Greenfield (craig.greenfield@performics.com) is senior vice president, performance innovation for Performics, the performance marketing company inside Publicis Groupe.

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