Share of search is an easy concept to get your head around. You gather up the search demand for your brand and all the other brands in the category and work out your share of search.
Why? Because it correlates quite nicely to market share. But that’s not all, because the data gathered by Les Binet, James Hankins and the team at the IPA shows that share of search for at least some markets predicts future market share.
So, it’s like an early warning system for businesses.
In fact, depending on your market, share of search will indicate how many sales you’ll make in the future, up to 12 months in advance for some sectors. That’s valuable data.
In a nutshell, share of search indicates the relative interest in a brand. The problem is most businesses don’t invest in brand marketing. So, what happens to them?
Brands got thrown under the performance marketing bus
Over the last decade, Google and digital agencies have encouraged businesses to spend money on pay-per-click advertising. The allure is fascinating. Get the consumer to spend big, charge for your services based on a percentage of ad spend and report on the return on ad spend.
It’s easy to optimise around, and you get excellent returns. But it’s not building a brand. It’s capturing existing demand.
Or, to quote Byron Sharp: “Paid search was very different from advertising and was much more like shelf space. It’s true that some brands have been built without publicity or advertising. But it’s very risky to rely entirely on physical/purchase availability delivering sales that then (probably) build mental availability. Mental and physical availability work best together.”
Share of search volume is the mirror you hold up to your face to show you how well your marketing is cutting through the noise.
In my daily work, I meet marketing managers and business owners who have activated PPC and thought this was ‘advertising’. Indeed, many have placed 90% of their marketing budget into paid search. However, these businesses never invest in brand marketing. It’s seen as a cost that is difficult to measure and track performance.
They threw their brand under the performance marketing bus. Yes, you got sales, but you didn’t get some of the main advantages of having a strong brand, namely either an increase in sales volume or a profit increase through charging more than the competition.
This is like short-changing your own business, but why is this addiction so powerful? It’s all down to the data.
Finding marketing’s magical edge
If marketing were a medieval battleground, the knights of the budget would be charged with protecting the sales king. And for most people, that sales king is the last click.
The problem is that the last click is the marketing equivalent of the Lady of the Lake offering up Excalibur. You’ve chosen a ruler based on the fantasy story that you can build a brand through a small number of today’s buyers.
Yes, you won the click and can credit it to your PPC listing. But it’s not telling you anything about your business. It’s not helping you to make marketing decisions. And it’s not helping your brand to grow.
Thankfully, a new measure, share of search volume, has come to the rescue. It’s more like Merlin, giving you a magical edge to your marketing.
Marketing insights from share of search volume
While share of search interest is helpful, there isn’t much search interest for many SMEs and other brands. Thankfully, online tools allow us to dive deeper into search and make more granular, evidence-based marketing decisions.
The first of these I call share of search volume. Share of search volume tackles organic search as a marketing channel. Here’s how it works.
Using an online tool such as Ahrefs or Semrush, you can place your website against the competitors, and you’ll not only see where your site is in the field, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve grown (or not). This is third-party data, but generally speaking, it’s reasonably accurate. But what insights do you gain?
When I look at share of search volume for clients, I use it to direct my SEO strategies, and it gives me four valuable pieces of information.
1. The searches for a brand, compared with others
Brand search is the same data as search interest but at a more granular level. With share of search volume, you’ll be able to dive into your competitor’s traffic and see how many people are searching for their brand compared to you.
2. The physical availability of products and services
Ahh, we’re back into Ehrenberg-Bass land here. In reality, brands pay a fortune to be listed in ads on the SERPS (search engine result pages), but the real winners are those ranked organically. Because they gain a greater share of search traffic, and they’re not paying per click.
Share of search volume will show you which brands are gaining more of today’s buyers through organic listings.
3. The research searches for information around a category
Google’s messy middle will get a lot messier in the future. It recently announced its new Search Generative Experience (posh words for AI), which takes content from ranking articles and spins it using AI to answer queries. Thankfully, it gives credit and links to the content it (cough, cough) borrows from.
SGE isn’t out yet, but people actively research categories when considering buying into them.
Share of search volume not only gives you the questions that people are asking, it tells you how your brand compares with others in answering them. And you’ll be able to see where the gaps are.
4. The ‘shoulder’ informational searches that ‘not in the market’ consumers make
Once we get out of category research, consumers research a topic. For example, if you’re a SaaS business that provides accounting software for small businesses, it makes sense to try and reach all small business owners using organic search.
These people aren’t directly in the market for your product, but they do other searches for information. They might be looking for sales, tax and marketing information for SMEs. Covering ‘shoulder’ topics allows you to rank online and reach people for free.
Share of search volume tells you what share of informational reach you have, compared with your competitors.
Now, let’s look at what you can do with share of search volume.
Using share of search volume for growth
So, you got your data, and it shows how you’re doing in organic search compared to your competitors. But so what?
Share of search volume is like a no-nonsense drill sergeant screaming in your face: “Your brand searches are lower than the competition. You reach fewer people than the competition. You only reach some of today’s possible buyers. You need to show up when your prospects are researching. Now down on the floor, I want 200 press-ups.”
If your brand has less interest, share of search volume tells you to invest more in brand marketing. If you reach fewer of today’s organic buyers, share of search volume tells you to invest in organic search rankings (SEO). If others control the narrative when researching your category, share of search volume is telling you to answer your consumer’s questions.
Share of search volume is the mirror you hold up to your face to show you how well your marketing is cutting through the noise. It informs your marketing decisions with data your consumers are searching for.
But how do you monitor your improvements?
Search console is a free Google tool that only some marketers use or even look at. And yet it’s full of data and insight.
Here, you can confirm what third-party tools tell you about your website. Also, you’ll directly be able to see your marketing results feed into search.
Have you invested in PR? You’ll be able to see the spikes of traffic it brings as people search for your brand. Are you running TV ads? You can see exactly how that translates into searches for your brand in a single snapshot.
Search console is your brand ECG. The heartbeat tells you the organic health of your business, and if it’s not good, it’s telling you to take action.
In my experience, this mirrors what Binet and Hankins say about share of search interest. It’s also a predictive measure. And if you’re traffic is declining, so will future sales.
So here’s my challenge to you. Go and check out your share of search and log into your search console. How’s the data looking? If it’s not good, take action. And take action quickly.