It seems like everywhere you turn, B2B companies are talking “data-driven”.

It’s the new buzzword. Like, “influencer marketing”, “data-driven digital marketing” is about making better decisions on to how to position content, who to market to, and what to offer at which moment in the buyer’s journey.

Search marketing is a key nexus in that buyer’s journey. Because a query path that seems to begin as a keyword and, hopefully, end in a customer experience that elicits a sale doesn’t actually begin at the keyword. It begins at a customer’s intent — and that intent often includes turning to a smartphone.

The value of search has never been more important — or more nebulous. So, before businesses can even get to viewing, analyzing and utilizing that data, they’ll need to have a thorough understanding of the direction that search marketing is taking.

Take a look below at 7 best practices to capture these marketing shifts.

1) Non-Branded Search

Search itself — the way users perform it and what they expect — is changing. All you have to do is take a look in the qualitative shift of keywords (more on that in a moment!) to know this is true.

But this shift also avails businesses a new opportunity. Namely, the opportunity to behave in a way the competition is not.

According to a study conducted by a team of Bing Ads researchers on Brand Impact, 72% of brand ad clicks included a non-brand keyword preceding the brand click. There’s an opportunity here, clearly. Retailers who run non-branded keywords at multiple stages of decision journeys (not only at the beginning) can capture a greater majority of relevant searchers.

Research also showed that consumers who are exposed to a brand ad on a competitor query are 30% more likely to then perform a branded search. This move itself elicited a 15% higher conversion rate than consumers not exposed to that brand ad.

2) Beyond Just “Google My Business”

To remain relevant (which, really just means, to remain visibleand engaged with customers), you’ll need to be everywhere.

Luckily, you don’t need to turn yourself into Agent Smith and go on making continuous replicas for all the social media platforms out there. No one likes a spambot, okay?

Businesses do, however,need to go far beyond the “Google My Business” paradigm and seek to establish an active presence on emerging (and established) networks like Yelp, Facebook, YP.com. Businesses should target other industry-specific websites like Glassdoor and TripAdvisor as well.

Think of these like local business listings done digitally. The added perk that both businesses and users/customers can benefit from is the fact that there’s an opportunity to give feedback and receive responses in real-time.

Cue: Conversations that can transform the customer experience and relation to the brand.

3) Rise of The Voice (Search)

In a New York Times article titled, Hey Alexa, what can you hear? And what will you do with it?, reporter Sapna Maheshwari tracks how digital assistants like Alexa are listening in on customer conversations. They continue to listen even as consumers are speaking to command it.

Giants like Google, Amazon and even Apple are getting in on the voice recognition game because that’s the way interfacing is going. From linking and clicking, to watching and comment, to speaking and listening, you can bet that Google’s use of the data to will include voice search.
In other words, voice-based search is still new and it’s the prime time for businesses to analyze content gaps and create that new content.

4) Improved Insight Sources

At its very core, success in search hinges on who is the most organized and the most proactive — with their strategies, data and implementations. In fact, these three aspects inform each other in an ever-iterative loop of refinement.

Luckily, search marketing is getting a hand up. This holds especially true for those small businesses already using insight tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, Campaign Planner, Analytics and Search Console (GSC).

This allows you to actually test the quality of these keywords against actual visits to a website.

5) Align Content Strategy with Language Query-Based Search

Speaking of the efficacy of tracking keywords, things have changed. Voice-based searches and queries are not the only new trend in town. Search itself is taking a whole new direction — a shift that can be largely attributed to a change in behavior and expectations of consumers.

Research conducted by Think with Google found that “In moments of need, people turn to their phones and search.”

Really think about how powerful (and automatic) that behavior is — and has become. In fact, 96% of people use a smartphone to get things done and search is the most used resource. 87% of people turn to it first.

This shift in everyday behavior is influenced by and heavily influences the way we do all things  — not least of which is searching.

Recently, alternative keyword tools like Answer the Public have started to become popular. This shift reflects how the competition for general keywords has naturally become saturated. But it also changed because long-tail keywords are turning into more natural, question-based searches.

6) Move Over Google…There’s a New Search Engine in Town

It’s an open secret — Google and Amazon are in a multi-front, digital war of sorts. It’s like Survivor but for search.

The rivalry, which is giving consumers far more options than ever for purchase, ultimately comes down to which is the more powerful search engine. Ask bloggers, for example, or copywriters where they go for new content and customer ideas and they’ll routinely tout Amazon reviews as a search source.

In terms of search volume and as a search solution, Amazon very closely follows YouTube. Ironically, Amazon and Google are fighting a turf-war. While the reasoning is more over media, YouTube’s position as the second-largest search engine, after Google, is no mere coincidence.

So what’s the bottom line here? In terms of search marketing, this rivalry between what seems to be a massive retailer and a massive search engine will come down to search ad innovations.

Google’s solution to product search purchases is now something called Google Express. And Amazon has already spent well over a decade building out its portfolio or products and a review system that is searchable. Accordingly, there’s no doubt that keeping an eye over who releases what for search will help marketers stay competitive.

7) Searching On Social

Speaking of rivalries, huge monopolies are out and strategic duopolies are in. This includes combinations like Google and Facebook or Bing and LinkedIn.

Search dominates so much of conversion activity. This means businesses should start to pay attention to how social platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are becoming inadvertent but highly useful search engines in and of their own.

Searching on social opens search marketers up not only to trending keywords via hashtags but key influencers as well. Their names, categories and topics can be targeted further for either keywords or partnerships.

With these changes either in the pipeline or already making their ripples felt across the digital world, the time is ripe for search marketers to reconsider their strategies and to go forth. Maybe this is not in entirely “new” territory, but it certainly is more strategic territory for sure.

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