Developments in Google & Yahoo! search technology are probably not bedtime reading for most people, but should Google commit to an IPO (initial public offering) this year, the subject is likely to achieve significant press coverage.
While the battle to deliver the highest-quality search experience on the internet is of great benefit to users, the challenge for technology providers is to provide a return on investment in technical development. One way to achieve this is via advertising revenue.
The demand for online advertising is extremely buoyant. In the next few years, the medium is expected to secure more revenue than commercial radio.
Search engines have fared well in this growth market, and the model that allows website publishers to bid for a ranking on a search engine is a key driver of this increase in online ad spend. This activity is estimated to account for more than a third of all online advertising expenditure.
This “ranking” advertising is commonly referred to as “paid-for search listings” and is popular with online advertisers as it’s a supply-and-demand market, where the price is a transparent function of how much advertisers are prepared to pay.
While the ad revenue already channelled into paid-for search listings is impressive, there is room for growth. Many brands have yet to realise the true potential of this communication vehicle.
Much brand-building activity is about “pushing” a message to communicate brand values and influence a buying decision. Conversely, a search engine is a “pull” media, as users actively request to receive Web-based content.
If a brand communication has prompted a consumer to find out more about a product or service on the Net, paid-for search listings provide the means of guiding consumers to advertisers’ preferred fulfilment content. This preferred content might be a site of a third-party online distributor, the advertiser’s own online store, or a site designed specifically to support the brand communication.
In principle, if an investment in a brand communication has prompted a consumer to seek more information via the Net, paid-for search listings are an ideal means of harnessing that interest in order to achieve a consumer action that will help drive the return on the original investment.
For instance, a car manufacturer might run a high-cost television campaign with a website address displayed on the ad inviting consumers “to find out more”. The advertiser might also produce a dedicated website to fulfil consumer desire for more information.
But, if the car manufacturer’s brand does not rank highly on search engines, the consumer is forced to remember the address to access the follow-up content. This is a lot to ask from a potential customer and minimises the effectiveness of producing a high- quality TV ad and website.
Buying a number-one listing for a brand in all consumer search engines is a low-cost solution to ensure more interested enquirers are able to reach the support site content. In turn, this small effort would help speed the ROI on the original TV execution.
Karen Mayer is group account director of Quantum