It took two decades, but in 2016 digital display advertising overtook once-dominant search advertising in spending for the first time in the United States. To some, this changing of the guard was an indication that search’s day was done, that display and video now ruled.
Not so fast. It’s true that these days competition for the top of the page is fierce, but advertisers are nowhere near exhausting the effectiveness of search. In fact, as search undergoes its own transformation, new opportunities are arising.
Search Has Turned Full-Funnel
Though traditionally seen as a direct response channel, search—and the data trail searchers leave behind—is now being used to power brand advertising campaigns to raise consumer awareness, change perceptions, and tap into passion points across platforms, devices, and creative formats.
Consider the billions of searches happening outside of traditional search engines, such as in-market travelers planning trips on travel sites or auto consumers searching for information about specific car models on auto review sites. These searches are powerful indicators of what consumers are passionate about. This valuable dataset can help brands understand and identify audiences that they should be trying to engage through their top-of-the-funnel messaging and strategies.
Search advertising doesn’t have to be as simple or one-dimensional as exact-match keyword retargeting, either. Now brands can examine a multitude of user searches over time to build a holistic picture of a consumer who may, at different times, be a new parent, a young professional, a business traveler, a vice president, or a vacationer.
Connecting the dots between the expressed life events indicated by searches to understand consumers’ real, evolving desires enables brands to identify new and relevant audiences. In a 2017 campaign, Emirates, for example, served dynamic video creative to targeted consumer profiles, including family travelers as well as business travelers. This led to a more sophisticated, rich level of creative, empowering Emirates to speak directly to the varied interests of different consumers.
Putting the data to work, instead of simply reacting to a single search, enables brands to scale high-value audiences dramatically, driving improved performance.
Search Now Powers All Media
Some find it difficult to reconcile search and upper-funnel strategies because in the past, search campaigns have not included video or high-impact, rich media formats.
The breakthrough, though, has come with the arrival of APIs, which pipe in search data to programmatic platforms, allowing a combination of first-party data and advanced behavioral data from search to produce sophisticated video segments that can be deployed throughout the funnel.
Considering the unique ability to capture the consumer’s truest intent, search can play a critical role before a campaign even begins, providing key insights for planning, such as competitive analysis, brand sentiment, untapped audience segments, and moments that matter.
Voice Is Transforming Search
By 2020, Gartner projects that the average person will have more conversations with bots than with a spouse. Today, voice search is in a hyper-adoption phase, as more and more consumers become comfortable with tools like Siri and Alexa. Many users turn to voice search to multitask, so brands are responding by helping people streamline their activities.
For example, when ordering a pizza, instead of calling or going on a company’s website, mobile, or app portal, consumers can now use voice search to find the best or cheapest pizza in town. To take voice search to really take off, the industry will need to iron out some friction and create voice search results with choices for the consumer by asking, for example, whether the customer wants vegetarian or pepperoni pizza.
The Value Of Visual Search
What exactly is visual search? This new type of search functionality, which will be revolutionary for online retailers, allows people to search for something online not through a text input but through an image input. Visual search does for brands what other kinds of search do not, by allowing marketers to advertise other products to consumers that match existing products.
This year, for example, Forever 21 put visual search technology to work to provide customers with a more catered shopping experience. This function allowed shoppers to search for various articles of clothing not through text, but by clicking icons that displayed characteristics commonly used to describe clothes, such as neckline, pattern, or length, and then choosing the specific style that they were looking for. For example, options for length could be short, mid-length, long, etc. The AI technology then offered shoppers more relevant search results based on their choices.
Visual search can increase order sizes and create the opportunity to cross-sell, two e-commerce benefits that carry immense value, too.
Search is indeed undergoing an exciting transformation, giving brands valuable insights into consumer interests and allowing them to tap into new high-growth audiences that they may never have found otherwise. That, in turn, represents a powerful way to drive businesses forward.