Brands and Retailers Are Searching, Searching: Who Will Find the Pot of Gold?

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Q: What do the findings in Searchmetrics’ SEO Survival Guide/2014 Ranking Factors Study mean for brands and retailers looking to have an equal level of visibility outside of Google, Amazon or eBay and will there be a shift in visibility for these search players on mobile?

A: The findings back up a simple model that continues to hold true—search engines help people decide “where to buy” while retail sites are where they decide “what to buy”.

Retailers should look to engage customers up the funnel on search engines, while brands should focus lower – on the retailer sites themselves. Brands will generally struggle to compete for competitive keywords on Google due to retailer portfolio effects. For example, where a CPG brand must sell their body wash to meet return goals on Google CPC, a retailer bidding on body wash searches may sell the same body wash OR a body wash of a different brand, plus they can cross-sell shampoo, razors, lotion, and make-up in the same shopping cart. The higher conversion rates and larger average shopping carts mean retailers can outbid brands and still achieve desirable ROI.

Q: How can brands compete via search directly with other brands–instead of with retailers that might be selling their products?

A: The best way for brands to go head-to-head with other brands is through the retailer sites themselves, such as Amazon or the HookLogic network—which includes Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Costco and more. Retailers are the dominant advertisers on search engines like Google, driving traffic to their ecommerce sites. Because of that, the brands’ time to shine is when the shoppers land on those sites, and see brand content in their internal search results.

Q: How is the value of search affected by the increasing popularity of mobile?

A: With the rise of mobile, search is only becoming more valuable to retailers and brands. Smaller screen sizes mean less room for ads, particularly in commerce environments where interruptive ads can hurt conversion rates. Native search ads are the true winners as they fit naturally in list views, meaning higher visibility and click through rates, with a positive user experience.


Q: Seeing that brands have the ability to invest in Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs), does this investment truly impact their digital/mobile sales?

A: Google PLA impact for brands depends largely on what they’ve invested in direct to consumer strategy, particularly direct-to-brand ecommerce capabilities. Brands that can offer competitive pricing and have invested heavily in direct ecommerce fulfillment can achieve strong ROI via Google PLA. Most brands, however do not have the direct clout to outbid the retailers and win premium positions. This recent study seems to affirm that Google is generally more useful for retailers over brands.

Q: How do you anticipate this will impact retailers and brands as they build out their search campaigns?

A: Brands in particular should consider other options. This could mean investigating other search solutions, such as investing in the HookLogic network of retailers or Amazon. Or if they maintain an ecommerce store, it could also mean testing some of the new “buy button” solutions being offered by social media platforms like of Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram which allow for a more direct-to-brand purchasing option.

Q: What are the best practices for how brands can use search to their advantage beyond Google, Amazon or eBay?

A: Brands should seek different search solutions that allow them to effectively measure and achieve strong sales results. HookLogic has created an exchange between brands and retailers outside of Amazon that is crafted to provide access to shopper searches while closing the loop on sales. As new retailers join the network each month, we are on track to reach more shoppers than Amazon this year. Additionally, since shoppers usually visit three or more ecommerce portals when researching products, it makes sense to spend search budget in a retail network of multiple sites, rather than on a site-by-site basis.

Q: Looking towards 2016, do you anticipate brand marketers will continue to push their advertising dollars to Google PLA?

A: We definitely foresee a shift in spend. Universally, marketers would prefer to have a closed loop to measure their ROI from advertising. For most brands relying on retailers to sell their products, it’s very challenging to close the loop when advertising on Google, since brand.com sites often don’t have competitive or effective ecommerce sites of their own to drive traffic to. HookLogic and Amazon have built advertising models that start from the retailer shopping cart and work their way back through the path-to-purchase, meaning brands can now have that closed loop.

Q: Do you have any other thoughts or comments?

A: In the past, digital advertising, particularly search, as been ruled by advertisers with a built-in closed loop. This includes retailer sales, travel reservations, telecommunications subscriptions, financial services applications and education leads. Many of the largest advertisers in the world, however, are brands that have traditionally been focused up-funnel, concentrating predominantly on audience and reach. While there will always be a place for brand marketing, increasing sales remains the ultimate concern for brands. Performance marketing for brands has been a harder proposition to achieve, but is now a reality. We’re excited for this future.

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