Search Isn’t Sexy, But It Sells

search illustration

Just a few years ago, the most provocative thing you could say about ecommerce search was cliches like “search is always on, and that means its table stakes for ecommerce success.” While that is all still true, some brand managers have begun to question the value of search, particularly as a long-term investment.

We’ve examined the decision of “going dark” with search even for just 30 days; the negative impact on sales jumps out immediately, but the long-term health of your organic ranking on site is the bigger risk.

Why? Because when, for example, a customer searches for a particular brand of potato chips via an ecommerce site like or (not a broader search via Google or Facebook) roughly 50% of those first 10 results are paid placements. Therefore, brands need to be paying for search at the digital point of purchase to drive conversion and get that immediate sale.

Moreover, those clicks that paid search generates are helping with what’s weighting the retail media network’s algorithm to earn your brand those top ten search spots organically. In effect, you’re losing both a short-term sale and long-term brand opportunity by not paying for search. The algorithm measures keyword search too so it’s not as simple as clicks, views, and conversions. By paying for search, not just periodically, but always, you get the benefit of the sale and the peace of mind that you’re doing the right thing for the rank.

This is supported by multiple data points. Magic Number, a UK data consultancy, found that across 10 brands modeled during a 2021 study, TV was behind 42% of all visits, making up 50 million in total, leading to exponential growth in site traffic overall. One of our own clients went dark on search last year for two months and dropped in organic ranking. They wound up having to spend more to regain their previous position than it would have cost had they not gone dark.

Unfortunately, long-term growth from paid search can be difficult to measure. After all, how do you attribute the growth of your site’s organic rank to a single instance of spend? But the more significant risk is for brands to become complacent with their organic site ranking and not setting themselves up for long-term growth with a targeted paid search strategy.

Are there any instances where it’s not advisable to spend in search? Sure, if you’re a brand-new product with no organic ranking, and it’s going to cost you $10 per click to get to the first page of the keyword to sell a $4 product, you might be better off moving those dollars elsewhere. But you should spend something to ensure your placement on the digital shelf and consider the spending cost of doing business to start securing your space where you’re most relevant.

Once people know your brand exists, then you need to be spending on search. However, there is an efficiency cap, which isn’t always evident to marketers or agencies. Depending on the category of the product, and the competition, there is a point of diminishing returns at which reaching your total audience and increasing your investment no longer positively impacts the brand’s sales or sales share. The challenge is finding that perfect median. Thus, the safest bet remains continuing to spend on search but knowing it’s not infinitely scalable.

So, what else should brands be thinking about when it comes to search?

  • Think of your search spending the same way you think about spending on your brand’s in-store shelf position, end caps, merchandise promotion, etc. Spending in search is essentially your way of ensuring that your product is positioned correctly at the shopper’s eye level in store.
  • Look closely at who the shopper is and ask yourself: Are they likely to buy online or in-store, or both? What if they can discover my product online? When they search for my brand, how likely are they to convert to my product regardless of SERP (search engine result pages) position? Put another way, how heavily do I need to defensively combat competitors swooping in to steal potential customers?
  • Every RMN will show you data implying increased success by overlaying multiple ad products on top of search—but what that blinded data often doesn’t show is how specific that margin of success is to the category and advertiser. Ask for more data and info, and test and learn to see what works for your brand.
  • Search may be a baseline, but test and control measurement of parallel digital (display/social/offsite/coupon) campaigns during 1:1 sales periods. This can help define lift during key drive times and help chip away at a better understanding of the value of search.
  • Remember, while RMNs are constantly evolving, access to new or different data sets, ad products, beta opportunities, partnerships, etc. is constantly changing. The thresholds for access to these things are not set in stone and given that retailers have options in the marketplace, there’s competition within these platforms to deliver success. Most of these RMNs haven’t been around for longer than a few years, chances are high that your primary point of contact may not know the answer to your questions immediately.

Search may not be as fun or creative as a big brand campaign, but it’s clear when you look at the many negative ramifications of going dark on search, even for less than 30 days, it’s wise to keep your brand’s searchlight on.

William Blesener is VP of Retail Media at Advantage Unified Commerce