Ebay shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss search marketing

Ebay’s denouncement of search marketing following a report into its effectiveness misses the point about the channel. It is how you reinvent paid search for the content-centric arena that will drive clicks not the age-old method of bidding on millions of keywords with ads.

Seb Joseph

The online retailer slammed the digital marketing staple in a report published in partnership with Berkeley and Chicago universities. Paid search may be “beyond the peak of its efficacy”, the company claimed, after it found that customers are just as likely to click on natural search results.

To test the theory, eBay halted advertising for its brand-related search terms in the US for a period of 60 days and found it had “a very small and statistically insignificant effect on sales on average”. It concluded that US consumers do not shop more on eBay when they are served paid search ads.

The study said: ”This is strong evidence that the removal of the advertisement raises the prominence of the eBay natural search result. Since users intend to find eBay, it is not surprising that shutting down the paid search path to their desired destination simply diverts traffic to the next easiest path, natural search, which is free to the advertiser.”

To ignore paid search given the market data available – granularity, the ability to make quick changes, rich data – is crazy. A comprehensive strategy is to underpin your paid strategy with analytics to measure campaign performance and learn from the insights.

Its all too easy to come across small paid search instances that do not look like they are adding much value but are actually influencing areas such as direct traffic and assisted conversions.

Beyond keyword planning, the two main drivers of search marketing are content marketing and social media. Content itself shows up in search results and when tailored toward specific categories will appear high in search queries. But it is not as simple as adding a few keywords in content. It is about trying to understand how your audience look for information and how content works together in a way that it is easier to be discovered.

Some of these advancements will come to the fore around the upcoming World Cup where some brands plan to integrate content marketing with search engine optimisation. Search volumes will ebb and flow in accordance to memorable moments around the tournament, spawning hash tags, videos and internet memes that brands will be able latch onto to boost their rankings and click throughs.

If a brand like eBay is only interested in last click attribution then it is much easier to prove that paid search keywords do not drive incremental sales. But the future of search will be more about themes and what the meaning is behind a customer’s search.

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