Group Media Director

Putting Search to the Test: Validating the Worth of Branded Paid Search

There are a few ways marketers (and often their agencies) develop search campaigns. Some focus their time and effort marketing to keywords and search queries. However, our team at Rise believes in marketing to the people behind those queries. This means working to understand consumers’ search intents and where different types of searches fall within the customer journey, so that you can provide them with relevant content.

Advertisers have long debated the differences in search intents for branded and non-branded search terms. It has been argued that a consumer searching a brand name has a much greater interest in interacting with that brand than those searching for general terms. Some believe this intent is so great that the user will find his or her way onto the brand’s site regardless of whether it’s through paid or organic channels. And, since paid search ads charge for every click, this idea has led some advertisers to question the merits of running branded paid search ads, thinking that they could get the same visitors for free.

At Rise, we seek to build a comprehensive and varied digital marketing strategy for each of our clients, so we were similarly intrigued. If they’re seeing stellar organic search results, would cutting branded paid search mean that organic search could shoulder the burden and enable overall site traffic to remain unaffected? We set up an experiment to uncover the impact of removing paid search ads for branded keywords.

Putting it to the Test
We tested the following hypothesis: removing branded paid search spend will not negatively impact search performance or total site traffic. To do this, we set up an A/B test. Variables were held constant by testing two regions with similar search volumes and comparable geographic locations to avoid differences in search behavior (e.g. weather patterns, brand awareness, etc.). We assigned Region A as the control group, keeping its bids constant throughout the experiment, and Region B as the test group, pausing its paid search ads.

During the 10-day test, we analyzed daily paid and organic clicks and calculated how these compared to the daily average from several previous weeks, the standard deviation from average visits, and the distance from the average, to determine statistical significance.

The results were conclusive. They strongly rejected the hypothesis that decreasing branded paid search spend would increase organic clicks and leave total site traffic unaffected. Region B, with paused ads, had significantly fewer total sessions than Region A, the group with active paid search ads. Additionally, overall site traffic decreased in Region B and organic clicks did not increase with any statistical significance. In other words, Region B lost all of its paid search clicks, and almost none of those clicks were picked up by organic results, as many advertisers assumed they would be.

These results should be something of a wake-up call for online advertisers. While it may be tempting to assume that a consumer searching your brand name is almost certain to visit your website, our experiment shows that this is not the case.

Diving Deeper
Our analysis of the experimental results provided a pretty inescapable conclusion: spending on branded paid search ads is worth it. However, the numbers don’t tell the whole story of branded paid search ads’ value. They offer a host of other benefits that are valuable to your strategy:

  • Message Control: Paid ads may be constructed to target an exact audience with a specific message, increasing their relevance and effectiveness.

  • Page Domination: By having paid search ads, as well as a high position in organic results, your brand can own more space at the top of page one, making searchers more likely to click on your page.

  • Brand Protection: It’s bad enough to lose traffic by not running branded ads through paid search, but even worse that many of those lost clicks are going to your competitors’ ads!

  • Search Term Mining: Using the search terms from branded keywords can offer insights into what words consumers associate with your brand.

The Bottom Line
As the search landscape continues to evolve, it’s increasingly important to understand your customers’ intents and use this information to inform your overall search strategy. As our test concluded, searcher intent for branded terms is not great enough for them to seek out your website through any available channel. Rather, to win consumers’ business, marketers must make intelligent use of every digital marketing tool at their disposal and develop a well-rounded search strategy — with paid search ads being an essential piece of the puzzle.

For more information about how you can best optimize your search strategy, reach out to Rise.

07/15/2016 at 08:05