How to use branded paid search to deliver more clicks

Branded search engine marketing is a significant part of any plan. But what is the best approach? Yes brand level SEO picks up a significant portion of branded traffic but paid search can deliver more clicks in certain markets. EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta investigates

There have been so many search engine results pages (SERP) changes in the last year alone that it would be naive to think that bidding on brand terms isn’t necessary, even in presence of high organic results. So, whether it is to control the visitor’s journey or to protect their brand, specialists in search engine marketing (SEM) often consider the specific advantages of branded SEM.

Barbara Pezzi, director analytics and search optimisation at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International says the benefit of bidding on brand terms has been proved. “Of course, this is on the assumption that it is done correctly, with carefully selected keywords, appropriate match types and a good amount of negative keywords to avoid irrelevant searches,” she says.

Significance in strategy

“Bidding on your branded terms eliminates that risk and allows you to dominate the search results page and capture all of your potential traffic,” says Michelle Santos, global head of SEM at Wimdu. She adds that paid ads give the opportunity to craft a message that will grab the attention of your visitors and entice them to your site. Equally it can serve to manage online brand ‘reputation’ especially if competitors are bidding on the same brand. Bidding on your own terms allows you to actively ‘counter attack’ any negative ads being run by your competitors, promoting brand security.

Brand paid search is important for various reasons, which can depend on the industry.

“Within travel, where competition is rife, it’s important to own the space dictated by a search related to your brand to ensure the correct message is put across. A lot of brands have specific USP’s that need to be expressed in a particular manner, especially within the luxury sector,” says James Harrower, International Search Marketing Manager at Hilton Worldwide. From a retailing perspective, he believes that brand level paid search is crucial within any travel client. By this he means being able to retail their products within a particular period such as Easter or Christmas as well as individual brand level initiatives such as January or September sales.

According to Harrower statistical models that he been involved with have shown that while brand level SEO picks up a significant portion of branded traffic, brand paid search still seems to deliver more than SEO when it comes to clicks. “This changes depending on the market, with US based users more likely to trust SEO results than paid search, while European users are more trusting of paid search results,” he says.

Both Pezzi and Santos say there are obvious benefits: According to Pezzi, they are:

·          More control: Both in terms of messaging and landing pages; one could for example promote specific offers or take visitors to specially designed landing pages

·          Brand protection: Brand terms are very cheap for the brand owner and as long as the brand owner is bidding on them they are very expensive for the competition. If the brand owner disappears from the auction, these terms become much cheaper for everyone else.

·          SERP visibility: simply taking up any additional space on search results means more visibility, awareness, traffic and ultimately bookings

·          Keyword insights: the ‘not provided’ keyword issue for organic traffic keeps on escalating and it has now got the point that some sites have lost half or more of their organic keyword stats. There is no ‘not provided’ in paid search.

For Santos the benefits include:

·          Fruitful bidding: Specialists point out that bidding on your own brand terms can actually be quite inexpensive. “It should be the cheapest form of paid traffic. This is because Google places an influencing factor on high quality scores (QS) which can impact CPC’s,” says Santos. In other words if the relevancy of a brand ad is optimal ie: the ad includes the branded domain, mentions the brand in the ad copy and lands the user on a relevant page, the likelihood of having QS of 9 & 10 is high which can lower CPC’s. “This coupled with competitors finding it difficult to get their ads ranking to a higher position, should result in strong click through rates (CTR), further contributing to higher QS and lower CPC’s,” says Santos.

·          User Experience: The ability to control the user experience - leading visitors to a clearer route when it comes where they land - can help direct them deeper into the purchasing funnel, thus influencing and increasing conversions.

·          Stronger impact: Using extensions like site-links or product extensions is a huge advantage over simply relying on an organic listing. The use of these extensions can help push more USP’s and call to actions, but also push any competitors or anyone else for that matter further down below the fold. “In summary the advantages are endless: the ability to quickly and easily make changes to your ads can have considerable brand implications; figuring out how customers are looking for your brand; pushing out updated and real time product information all to generate a greater brand awareness in an already oversaturated and overly competitive ‘environment’,” says Santos.

Being visible counts  

The more space your brand and message occupy in a search engine result page, the better. According to Santos eye tracking studies have shown that visibility above the fold of a search engine result page is vital.

“The more a customer sees your company name, the more trust that instils. Visibility of your brand therefore serves as a crucial component in providing the necessary exposure for reach of target audience across the SERP’s,” she says.

An integrated strategy consisting of SEO, PPC, Product Feeds, Ad Extensions and Site Links can enhance the SERP for your brand with real time inventory information and the latest promotional products being pushed proving to the searcher that you are a prominent player in your space.

Avoid pitfalls

Branded SEM bidding should be avoided if you are perhaps a franchise competing against the national franchise or a national distributor. The CPC of the branded keywords may not always be profitable and should require testing which looks at both against conversion rates and ROI.

“If you have aggressive affiliates or price comparison sites equally fighting for the same space, this can lead to CPC inflation and true evaluation of the incremental benefit of ‘fighting’ for the same space needs to be carried out,” says Santos. “Otherwise, I believe that there is enough research evidence to point out that you should be bidding on brand keywords. People keep talking about cannibalisation but I have yet to see a well-designed study that shows a statistically significant cannibalisation effect.”

Although bidding on your brand may be the best default advice, it can be very situational, especially for smaller advertisers. Better advice would be to carry out a simple test, says Santos. For example, buy branded terms for a week, then don't buy branded terms for a week and compare the results. This might not be the perfect test, as there are always other influencing factors, but it should provide better insight for a brand's unique situation than no test at all.

“This brings Santos to this conclusion. That without transparent tracking to separate conversions that derive from branded search versus non-branded keywords, and an attribution model to weigh the true impact brand SEM has on the conversation funnel, one can quickly infer incorrect analysis. “This will misinforming a coherent strategy,” she says.

It seems the ROI needs to show the end result justify the means.

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