The Most Interesting Search In The World

by Tony Lang, Catalyst

All of us prefer it when things go well, and when they do, we pay attention to why so we can recreate that success later. In the world of paid search marketing, that often boils down to attribution. Here’s an example of how this works.

Let’s say you are at a bar and you see an attractive person—for illustrative purposes only, let’s assume it’s a woman. You go out on a limb and ask the bartender to send over a $10 house brand cocktail (like a generic search term). She accepts the drink, you wave, she nods briefly, and that’s as far as it goes.

You’re feeling brave today, so a while later you decide to try again and send over a second drink. This time you choose your favorite $3 beer (your branded search term). You are rewarded: this time, the woman smiles, walks over your way and says: “I don’t usually drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” (I’ve been watching too many Dos Equis commercials.)

The two of you begin talking, hit it off, and decide to go to dinner together. Success!

Now, let’s take a closer look at why you succeeded…in PPC terms.

The Dos Equis sealed the deal because it was her favorite and exactly what she was looking for. But, she first noticed you when you splurged on the $10 cocktail. Chances are that part of your success needs to be attributed to both beverages–but how much to each?

Depending on whom you ask, you will probably get very different answers. Your buddy sitting next to you might tell you it was 95% Dos Equis, and 5% cocktail. The bartender, however, may tell a very different story. He’s probably going to say the $10 cocktail did most of the legwork, but the Dos Equis is what sealed the deal.

We completely understand the bartender’s logic. It’s in his best interest to keep selling those $10 cocktails. And it’s in Google’s best interest to keep selling generic, non-branded keywords. But it may not be in yours.

In the world of paid search marketing, the woman at the bar would be your target audience, the drinks are your search ads, and the bartender is Google. (Or Yahoo if you’re at a dive).

Google recently released a new Adwords analysis that gives marketers insight into pre-conversion click funnels. The report is fascinating and could be valuable when analyzing paid search campaigns–but it needs to be analyzed with a grain of salt.

It’s important to realize why Google is going to great lengths to give us access to this complex data. Generic, non-branded keywords are often much more expensive and convert at far lower rates. It’s more profitable for Google when you continue to bid on those keywords.

Google is also aggressively entering the banner ad market, which historically has been costly and yields extremely low return. However, if some level of success can be attributed to generic keywords and banner ads, such as driving awareness that leads to branded searches, it becomes easier for marketers to rationalize a continued spend on those ads.

Attribution is a valuable concept when analyzing marketing channels and campaigns. But it’s an imperfect science, and marketers need to be cautious when using this data to adjust budgets. So until digital attribution becomes a more exact science, stay thirsty my friends, but drink responsibly.

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