What Does Winning In Search Look Like?

What Does Winning In Search Look Like?

There’s no easy answer for how to define search success, but columnist Andrew Ruegger believes you can reach your goals by asking the right questions.

One of the most frequent questions we get from our clients is, “What does winning in search look like?” Although it would be nice to have a universal response for every client, the problem is that the answer is vastly subjective.

An obvious answer would be that you have a good return on investment. In most cases, it’s difficult to calculate ROI unless you have a direct-to-sales shop, and even then, depending on the integrity of your analytics setup, you could misevaluate the campaign.

Instead of looking for an absolute, it’s best to apply a strategic method or decision tree-like framework to evaluate winning. Remember that search revolves around complicated, evolving algorithms which, because of their incredible usefulness, garner massive user loyalty. This, in turn, fuels an incredibly lucrative advertising arena that continues to expand.

What may be best for you today, may not be best for you tomorrow — “winning” today may not be “winning” tomorrow. So let’s explore how you should think about search and what kinds of questions you should be asking your agencies and search experts to help you reach your objectives and get closer to “winning.”

How To Think About Search

Agencies and other search experts can get you there, but often it’s unclear as to where “there” is. This is due to either a lack of understanding of search or a lack of a defined framework for what winning is. Keep this in mind when thinking about search:

You must make the strategic choice of what winning is for your company.

Options include being everywhere all the time; being lean, efficient, and conversion-centric; or focusing on brand building and storytelling; etc.

You must decide where you want to play, and how much you’re willing to invest.

A being-everywhere strategy is expensive — really expensive — so align your desired search presence with your primary business goals. This will then help define how to win where you want to play.

Then the fun begins and it’s time to pressure your experts to make sure your campaign continues to align with your goals and objectives. Remember, organic search is earned and is a long-term investment relative to other digital channels, while paid search is more immediate.

High-Level Questions To Ask Your Experts

You’re busy, and search may be only a part of your arsenal, but engaging your experts with the following questions will help ensure you’re “winning” and that your agency is executing toward your goals.

1. Am I currently present? What are my impressions; what is my impression share in the market; are we increasing?

2. What are my impressions getting me? How many clicks am I getting for my impressions (CTR); which campaigns are performing the best?

Not all campaigns will have high CTRs (avg. <2.0% in many cases) especially if you choose a full coverage type of account, so impressions may not necessarily be a very important metric for you. However, CTR can be an indication of how well your ad copy and landing page connect with consumers, or if you’re not bidding enough to be located in a premium position.

Therefore, appropriate follow-ups would be: Why is my CTR low? Is it budget, ad copy, or the sheer ambiguity of intent behind the query such as “castle?” Are consumers looking for the TV show of that name, information about castles, the definition, a recent news article, etc.?

3. Is it worth it? Is my business gaining value? Again, determining worth is subjective to the campaign. You want to be sure all user metrics like conversions, time on site, bounce rate, impression share, cost, clicks, user path, device usage, geo-location, scroll depth per page, and visits align with how winning has been defined.

Oftentimes this involves mixed media modeling to determine if search has a positive influence on ROI; this is complicated, but worth if it your investment is large enough. If yes, great — keep running the campaign and look for areas of expansion. If not ask the following:

4. What do I need to do to win? Sometimes it’s the change in the algorithm, or users don’t find your content as enjoyable as you thought they would; or sometimes other areas of your digital campaigns like PR, outreach, and social media aren’t executed in a holistic fashion, which is (at a high level) essential for search engines like Google to deem you relevant.

5. Is it worth the additional investment to get me there? Organic search is becoming harder to win in, and paid search CPCs (cost per clicks) are increasing as more companies enter the market.

With enough devotion, any website can still have first-place visibility organically; it just may require a near Wikipedia-sized investment of content to do so. Or if you’re a San Diego personal injury law firm, you may want to reconsider paying $343.13 per click in paid search.

If the investment makes sense, do it. If not, revaluate where it is worth paying for your business and repeat the process. Sometimes you’ll realize that only 5 percent of the campaign is worth running, or that paid search or organic search isn’t right for your business.

Your involvement is always essential as you determine what winning is, and it’s very unlikely that an agency selling you the service will say, “Oh yeah, you no longer need search.”

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