Search is the beginning, middle & end of every buying journey

More than a decade ago, when I started my digital marketing career, concepts like consumer buying journey were non-existent in the agency parlance. In fact, no marketer was even asking this question to their agency. Perhaps digital was not considered strategic enough.

But travel e-commerce players (like MMT, Yatra etc.) changed it all forever, when they showcased the true power of the digital world to all marketing folks. From that point, it truly opened a perennial chapter of gold rush in the advertising business.

Arguably, if there was one company who was in the middle of this (never ending) gold rush, it was Google. Google’s success in the online business compelled a lot of people to try their hand at creating disruptive online products, but most of them ended up failing miserably.

Today, optimising customer buying journey is the most critical aspect of any digital strategy. Search continues to dominate every buying journey across categories.

Buying Journey – The Beginning

Over the years, humans appetite for information search has touched gigantic proportions. Mobile only added more fuel to this insane pace of growth. (see below image)

mobile vs desktop internet users - last 5 years

mobile vs desktop internet users

The journey which took desktop 20 years, mobile not just covered it in just 7 years but outpaced desktop in no time at all. And the result was quite apparent from there onwards. It triggered a never seen before surge in human appetite for information “search”. So much so that it became the penultimate lifeline in online discovery.

 

eCommerce buying journey in mobile

By 2013, more than 48% of online audience were discovering products through search only in the automobile (42%), home and garden (41%), apparel & beauty (38%).  Mobile only accelerated this phenomenon further.

Over the years, Mobile (or rather Mobility) has not just amplified the overall searches across categories but also altered user’s path to discover new products & services.

consumer journey by devices

Source : Forbes

Over 75% of product discovery starts on a smartphone or tablets, whereas only 25% is happening on PCs. This phenomenon has forced the brand teams to re-look at their entire marketing funnel and create a mobile first strategic approach.

Buying Journey – The Middle

Usually, the discovery cycle for any product category is longer, take for example the automobile category.

Source : Google Insights

In automobile, any purchase consideration cycle can go up to 120+ days. And the reason is quite obvious, there are multiple layers to any purchase consideration and it can get extremely complex if the category is highly competitive:

  • Type of vehicle to purchase ( Sedan vs Hatchback vs Crossover vs SUV etc.)
  • Variant A vs Variant B (Petrol vs Diesel vs CNG )
  • Brands A vs Brand B ( Honda vs Hyundai )
  • Car Dealer A vs Car Dealer B ( Outskirts vs Suburb )
  • Color Preference ( Metallic vs Non Metallic )
  • Finance Company A vs Finance Company B

When beginning a new purchase journey, most consumers consider an average of 3 to 4 brands, if they are not already loyal to one in particular. During this stage it becomes vitally important for marketers to increase their brand visibility while consumers are developing their considerations sets.

The search allows the consumer to deep dive into various parameters that can assist them in decision making by comparing multiple complex options at ease.

Buying Journey – The End

Customer Care Search Trends on Google

10 Years Customer Care Search Trends on Google ( Source : Google Trends)

Last 10 years Google search trends shows how customer care related queries have sky rocketed.

This shows that search does not stop at purchase, in fact it is a great tool for brands to engage with customers on ongoing basis by helping them find solutions to their problems. A lot of brands miss out on this opportunity to connect with their customers in the post sales phase.

 

With RHS gone, search marketing has changed forever

With right hand side ads disappearing in search, google is clearly telling brands to focus on mobile in their paid search marketing strategy.

Adwords will soon display four ads above organic search results, no ads to the right of search results, and three additional ads below search results, according to The SEM Post.

At the same time, the company says it may show an additional ad — four, not three — above the search results for what it calls “highly commercial queries”.  Google has also confirmed that this change is global and that it applies to all languages supported on Google Search. It’s expected this change will be rolled out to all Google Search users by February 22nd.

This is certainly a major shift by the search engine giant and would force brands and agencies to re-look at their search marketing strategies.

Here are some of the early observations based on the news stories trickling in:

Desktop Search Marketing going Native

The removal of ads in the right sidebar of the results means Google’s desktop search results pages will look a lot more like mobile search results pages, which are displayed in a single column for obvious reasons. Google is clearly moving in the direction of native search advertising where the line between paid and organic would actually disappear.

Also Read : On Google, Teens can’t tell the difference between sponsored links & organic listing

Making Search Marketing More Premium

Search Marketing Changes impacting Google YOY Ad Revenue

Search Marketing Changes impacting Google YOY Ad Revenue

Google’s share of revenue per search ad has slid recently. For years, Google ran up to eight paid ads on the right side in desktop mode. While the total varies for each search, there will now probably be fewer paid spots for each result — and, therefore, a scramble by advertisers to bid more in Google’s auction.

What falls under highly commercial queries in search marketing?

According to Search Engine Land, This would involve searches like “hotels in Mumbai” or “car insurance” and the like. There are also two exceptions to the right-side change:

  1. PLA boxes will be the only time ads will continue to show on the right side of the desktop search results page.
  2. Ads in Knowledge Panel

Poor score in search marketing might get penalised

Although the update is limited to desktop search results pages, so your brand’s desktop traffic may get affected. However, ads that appear beneath the third or fourth position may see a decline in click-through rates immediately. This means that google PPC campaign would require a lot more optimisation than ever before. This would also force the site owners to improve the overall content quality on their landing page to improve their search score and build more deeper relevance for the search engine.

Digital Marketing Course ‘Squared’ is now in India

 

For all those who wish to enter the Digital Marketing industry in India, these are truly fascinating time. Google has just launched their much popular and award winning online learning platform “Squared” in India as well. Squared programme has been crowdsourced by leading employers to meet the need for high calibre digital talent and leadership.

I seriously wish if something like this existed when I started working 10 years ago in the Digital Advertising space. There was a huge vacuum for freshers like me. Most of that learning happened on the job itself. There were very limited trusted resources to know more about digital marketing as a science.

A clinically crafted course by Industry experts, squared is an ideal for Marketing managers, advertising leaders, Digital Talent Hunters ( I think they badly need this one as they have limited clue about the profile of candidates they are looking for). One of the most critical features of the course would be collaboration, which, to me is the best form of learning in today’s times.

Squared was first piloted in Britain, where more than 300 employees from 60 agencies and advertisers participated over a period of time.

“Digital is an integral part of any successful brand strategy today, yet finding people with the right skills on digital is a constant challenge. Squared focuses on addressing this need,” said Punitha Arumugam, head of agency business (India and SEA) at Google.

Google will kick off the Squared programme on June 22 in India.