Beyond Attribution: Harvesting Demand With PPC Search

last click modelNearly every search dollar currently spent on Google, Microsoft adCenter, and the other engines is based on last click attribution. This method works well – at least from the perspective of justifying search spend levels to management. Recently, however, the buzz around attribution of media “beyond the last click” has been all the rage. However, attribution models that allocate credit away from search without re-evaluating the ROI targets for a campaign can result in a significant loss in profit. Here’s why.

At best, most marketers are baking into their attribution models digitally delivered media types that, for reporting purposes, share a common cookie pool. Unless the only marketing you are doing is search and Web display, your attribution model is missing far more information than it actually has to work with. Here’s what may happen in this scenario:

  1. The data you have on the effectiveness of your banner campaigns indicates they should receive 25 percent of the credit for delivering the sale or lead.
  2. Your paid search bid must drop in order to share the ROI with the media that influenced the search behavior or influenced the direct navigation to your site (via an immediate click or a delayed view-through visit).
  3. Those searchers who were the result of the media impression, as well as any other searchers engaging in that keyword search, are less likely to see your ad, because the lowered bid (to keep overall attributed ROI in range) resulted in a drop in position.
  4. Other marketing you are doing is driving search traffic as well as digital paid advertising marketing.
    • Perhaps your social media campaigns are resulting in curious social media participants engaging in search behavior only to click on the competition’s ads (yours being too far down now).
    • Your CRM team does an e-mail blast to 375,000 customers; some of those turn to their favorite search engine to learn more. Your competition gets the clicks due to high position.
    • Your catalog division drops a half a million piece catalog mailing, resulting in a surge in search activity.
    • Your offline agency starts buying TV and radio advertising and curious prospects turn to their search engines to learn more.
  5. All hell breaks loose as your attribution model breaks your overall media ecosystem because without the last click, you have nothing.

If this sounds familiar, then the risks of imperfect attribution models have been driven home already. If not, let it be a lesson to you regarding the unintended consequences of attribution models.

At this point, you are probably asking yourself, “What’s the solution?” since clearly other media and marketing (earned media and paid media) are in fact helping influence consumers to decide that your brand, product, or service should be the one they buy. When your media and marketing influences search behavior, the first thing you should know is which keywords are spiking up the most. Generally, the keywords we’ve seen spike most heavily as a result of effective marketing and media are the brand keywords (product names as well as your domain and company name). Usually these keywords should already have a high enough reserve price on the bid that they won’t be impacted by a modest shift of attribution to other media. However, I’ve seen many instances where brand keywords are insufficiently bid (perhaps because the bids are set based on a seat-of-the-pants method, rather than algorithmically by the marketer or agency), or budgets for campaigns overall are insufficient to allow for surges in search behavior.

Also, if you spend media dollars elsewhere or devote significant energy to earned social media marketing, then you should revisit your ad creative and landing pages. Don’t send all brand or product users to their respective existing home pages when that traffic should be otherwise routed to specific landing pages that resonate with the messaging being pumped though your other media, perhaps because of incremental media spend, social media buzz, or PR.

For example, Apple, Best Buy, and J&R all were running PPC ads against “iPad” when I did a search here in NYC, but they were apparently not taking into account the fact that this week many iPad searches will be related to information on the iPad 2. Clearly, one should be treating iPad searchers differently this week due both to media being spent and marketing buzz (earned media).

Search marketing shouldn’t sit in a silo, but attribution isn’t the only way to look at search media in comparison to other media. Search is an altogether different beast, because other media and marketing drive search behavior.

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