New Research: Paid Search Builds Branding

This article originally ran on on April 17, 2009. It remains current, however, because the research cited within remains the best single study of the synergistic brand-building benefits possible with PPC search advertising.

Additional research has been released that should erase one more layer of doubt about whether paid search can play a role in branding. Turns out that search lifts brand metrics, particularly when paired with other media. Better yet, post-click lift in search metrics is off the charts, perhaps finally validating my branding effectiveness index (BEI) hypothesis from 2002 that site engagement post-PPC (define) search click would be a great success metric.

In this time of tight ad budgets all around, it’s interesting to see just how many people in the online marketing ecosystem are thinking deeply about branding. One might think that there would be renewed focus on very easily defined, easy to justify hyper-measurable direct-response metrics.

At Re:think 2009, the 55th annual convention of the Advertising Research Foundation, Angela O’Connell, head of cross media research at Google Europe, and Lucas Hulsebos, media research director at MetrixLab, presented research validating what many of us have postulated for years: search can build brand lift. In particular, dramatic brand lift occurs after the click. I doubt that U.S. and European customers behave differently with regard to search and brand lift, but even if they do, the results are so positive that it would require a different species to invalidate the research.

In addition to simply measuring brand lift of search in a vacuum (as many earlier research studies did), the research looked at media interaction effects in order to determine lift in brand metrics as consumers were exposed to advertising in a variety of media.

If brand lift was found as a result of the search component, the study focused on two additional questions:

  • How effective is it compared to other offline media?
  • How efficient is it compared to other offline media?

In addition, the Google/MetrixLab research was designed to answer the bigger picture questions of: “Which media are most effective and efficient in a multi-media campaign?” and “What is the (additional) impact of search in this media mix?” Together, these objectives also allowed the study to evaluate the cost effectiveness of all media in the campaign, both individually and in combination, which is the holy grail of cross-media research because it looks at the marginal additive impact of each media type to the overall media mix.

Even after giving respondents a four-day gap between exposure to search and completing the survey to see the long-term effect of the medium, there was still a great deal of lift from the search component, particularly when there was click-through and engagement with the marketer’s site.

Campaign Awareness

Top of Mind Awareness

Brand Values

The results in lift are significant and, because PPC search marketers pay only for the click, the lift in branding due to the sponsored link is free. The huge branding metric lift as a result of visits is powerful and should be taken into account when the overall campaign objectives include branding.

The study also defined effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness combined the branding effect, multiplied by reach; efficiency was effectiveness divided by the spend for that media. By dividing by spending, the efficiency number was normalized to reflect the efficiency per exposed person, regardless of the size of the media buy.

Efficiency Equals Effectiveness/Budget

Search indexes at 1,049 vs. TV’s 100. Sure, you reach fewer people with search, but when you reach consumers and they click through, you’ve very efficiently raised their brand perceptions. The study stated that: “Search is 10x more efficient than TV and 3.5x more efficient than radio in raising Top of Mind Awareness.”

So, brand marketers listen up. Search and the resulting engagement on your site is definitely raising your brand in the minds of consumers. No one is advocating that TV and radio be abandoned, but failing to adequately support a media campaign with search leaves all those clicks and all the resulting top of mind awareness to your competition.

In a related piece of research, the recent Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) State of the Market Survey for the first time found that more advertisers selected “increase/enhance brand awareness” as a top objective of their paid search campaigns than the objective of selling directly online. Of course, brand impact was listed next-to-last when it came time to actually measure the results of PPC search and SEMPO survey respondents were asked: “What metrics do you track/measure/generally pay attention to gauge the success of Search Engine Marketing programs?”

If you’re looking for a reason to increase your search budget, it might be time to take yet another shot at convincing the brand stewards at your company that search plays an important role in lifting brand metrics and building a brand.