Search Marketing and Customer Sales Cycle

Today’s major search engines let you show your ads both through their search (keyword advertising) and content networks (contextual advertising). One common mistake that we see happening in the industry is that companies run both their search and content advertising the same way: same keywords being targeted, sames ads and same landing pages. By doing so, they also compare their search and content network performance side-by-side and typically see better results through their search network.

Does this mean that you’re better off discontinuing the contextual advertising and putting your budget towards search advertising? Not necessarily. The reality is that these two networks serve very different audiences and with proper strategy, you can leverage them both optimally. We’ve even seen customers who do much better within content network compared to search networks.

In order to explain this, we’re going to look at the customer sales cycle first, which is shown in the figure below. This is a simplified version of the AIDA model (Attention > Interest > Desire > Action).

Customer sales cycle

Within the online world, the sales cycle consists of three key stages:

  • Awareness: clearly the first stage is that future customers will have to be aware of you or your company. How can someone do a search for you or your products if they don’t even know your industry or what you do? Awareness is mostly created through channels such as press releases, news sites, blogs and many of the social media outlets.
  • Influence: once people are aware of your product or industry then you can influence their sales decision. In the online world, this is done through the traditional online marketing channels such as banner ads, PPC advertising, email and newsletter campaigns.
  • Action: this is the step of actually converting. This component can either be an e-commerce transaction, an online lead generation, a newsletter registration or else.

From here, we can now see the different audiences that search and content networks serve. The search network is serving those who are doing an actual search. That means that they’re already aware of the industry or the product and as a result, search generates high click-through numbers and high ROI.

The content network on the other hand has to be treated differently. You cannot assume that those who see your contextual ads are already aware of your products and you will very likely see much lower click-through numbers within content networks. So for many companies with complex sales they’ll be well served to use content networks as a venue to generate or increase awareness. We’ve even seen companies serving new industries that have seen much better performance on contextual advertising. This is because they’ve been able to leverage the content networks to increase customer awareness about their products.

This also means that you cannot rely on click-through and conversion rates to compare your search and content network performance. Instead, you’ll have to look at the effect of your content network at increasing your search click-through and ROI.

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