The Battle Between Branded vs. General Keywords

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ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — You spend many years cultivating a brand and building its equity. Or, in contrast, you build a business selling the brands others have built. Either way, when it comes time to market your self through SEM, you leverage that equity. Logic dictates brand-based keywords should perform best, and they often do. But can you distinguish what percentage of your sales are just brand-based conversions and what percentage is new market share generated through your SEM efforts?

Despite the emergence of robust tracking systems, strong analytical tools and a library of best practice data to help people properly structure their PPC campaigns and target their SEO efforts, I continue to see major advertisers making incorrect conclusions about the value of their branded and general keywords.

A recent campaign audit my agency conducted clearly illustrates this point. The prospect came to us seeking volume growth and complaining that sales had steadily declined over the past year. While the sales that were being generated provided positive ROI, they simply were too few in number. As we always do, we immediately added our tracking code to begin collecting data from the existing PPC campaigns, allowing them to continue running while we developed a new strategy and built out new campaigns. We also dug into historical campaign data to see what lead to the decline and where we saw opportunity for growth.

One thing immediately jumped out at us. Over time, we noticed the campaign’s concentration of branded keywords increasing. Every month, more and more general terms were excluded because they were deemed of little or no value. Although clicks were generated, typically at much lower CPC’s, Google wasn’t tracking any conversions associated with those clicks. Seems like a no brainer, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Within the first week of our tracking system being in place, we were able to justify the fact that general terms were converting…indirectly as assists. We knew the commercial intent of many of the general terms was in fact quite high. In other words, those searching for general terms were looking to purchase. We explained to the prospective client that those searchers simply were likely to be higher up the buy funnel, still considering options and comparison shopping.

We now had data to support our hypothesis. Let’s say somebody conducts a general search today and becomes exposed to your brand and your products. Then tomorrow, they search for your brand or product name using the search engines to help them relocate your site and make the purchase (i.e., convert). In reality, that general term searched for yesterday is directly responsible for the conversion today.

What happened in the accounts of this prospect is not all that uncommon. Systems that overwrite the tracking cookie with the last touch point miss the boat on being able to demonstrate the entire buy funnel. To win in SEM, you need to appreciate all touch points and account for metrics like assists, latency and the relationship between PPC, SEO, affiliates, etc. A user may search for a general term today and click on your paid search ad, but not convert. Two weeks later, that same user conducts a follow up search that is now a little more detailed or long tail. This time they click on your organic result. Again, they don’t convert. A week later, that same user Googles your brand, clicks on your paid ad at the top of the page and converts. Don’t you need to appreciate this entire funnel?

Understanding the value of assists is fairly easy. But appreciating latency can be key to maximizing ROI. For example, keywords that generate interest with an average conversion cycle of four weeks can be sent to a landing page that doesn’t overtly try to get visitors to buy, focusing instead on directing them to download a comparison guide or register for product updates. These mini-conversions become critical tools to help you maximize the percentage of those people that ultimately convert into a sale.

The search engines provide a rich opportunity to build market share. While the navigational side of search is valuable, marketers cannot overlook this opportunity. Every day, potential customers are researching and evaluating products and services to meet their needs. They can only consider those competing for their attention.

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