04 May 2009

URLs vs. Search Terms in Advertising: An Evolving Trend for the UK

A growing trend in advertising seems to be upon us. Like me, you'll probably have noticed we've recently been asked to "search for" at the end of TV advertising, rather than the traditional "visit our website" approach.

Some examples of this practise in UK advertising include the NHS's advert for children's nutrition and their search slogan 'Change 4 life'. Another one is the British Army's "Start Thinking Soldier campaign", where they go a step further and show this search term being typed into a search box to further drill in the message.

This trend seems to have stemmed from Japan where, according to Nominet, 35% of adverts carry an image of a search box with the required search phrase within it as a direct call to action. This has probably steadily increased since goo carried out it's survey in September 2006 asking "Which is better in TV ads: Keywords or URL?". 83% of the Japanese participants agreed keywords were preferred.

This use of advertising was also picked up on a lot when Cabel Maxfield Sasser of Panic Inc. visited Japan on business; examples of which can be seen on his blog.

What seems to be its obvious success factor is that the majority of people find it easier to remember a search term, rather than a URL; especially when it comes to remembering the domain, "was it .com or .co.uk...?".

Another area of its success, I'd imagine, comes from the way a lot of the world uses the internet. Less-savvy surfers believe search engines are the internet and they're the place to start, rather than typing a URL directly into the browser bar.

This begs the question, “Are there any success stories in the west?”. Well the only one I've found info on at the moment is one from America, through Read Write Web, where Kellogg's Special K began a campaign with the help of Yahoo!. They used their advertising to ask consumers to type "Special K" directly into Yahoo!'s search engine. As a result, this campaign produced "a 10 times better response rate than previous campaigns the company had run on Yahoo!".

So it looks like this trend is something we could be seeing a lot of, the more our marketers get to grips with the ever-fiddly issue of combining online and offline communications. I'll certainly be pitching it to my lot back in the office!



Jamie Riddell said...

I think NMA had an article about the Orange campaign and its relative success or otherwise (I honestly can't remember.)

Your point about people finding it easier to remember a search phrase is a strong one and decreases the need for a catchy domain name. However I feel there are three potential flaws to such a strategy:

1. Asking the consumer to search to find the relevant phrase or brand assumes that positive listings (natural or paid) are in place to pick up the trail. If that part is not fixed then the message is wasted.

2. Any smart rival advertiser or agency would be watching for these campaigns and working to find a reason to appear against these terms to hijack the brand spend.

3. From a measurement perspective (if this was a DM campaign) I would always be looking for a clear return/result from each media spend. Spending money on TV to drive it to the web where a paid search ad could be clicked on would muddy the clarification between channel spend and return. If there is a bigger matrix/method that can accurately track everything together to include uplift etc. then that would be less of an issue.

Great article, thanks for sharing :-)

blast said...

Hmm, Samsung got it wrong recently with type in LED and when you did they weren't there...it seems they have rectifed this now. The obvious thing about this is, you pay that much more to get someone to your site....has anyone done the maths on loss of business due to bad recall of url, versus extra budget spent on PPC?

Lou_geek said...

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for your comment.

You raise some important considerations when approaching a call to action (CTA) in this way. Because this method does have a higher 'risk' factor than a more direct CTA would, companies would be daft to embark on it unless they can be confident that whatever phrase they market will be something they can secure no. 1 positions for both naturally and paid. Although Blast's Samsung reference shows how mistakes can happen with this approach!

As for competitors, you're right. It's definitely something they could leverage for their own gains. I guess the way this can be avoided is having a slightly less obvious long-tail search term used. That way if competitors do optimise for it naturally, it will be a little out of place on their site and an obvious tactic. I'm not sure, but I imagine you maybe able to have some sort of deal in place with certain search engines if optimising for it in paid search, where you have rights over others to always appear in the top position? If not, then you've got to have the cash to splash.

So far as measurement goes, a good analytics package will help you drill down to a keyword level where your traffic is being driven from, for both paid and natural. Therefore if people are using the search term, and you've narrowed where this is used in your advertising you'll be able to piece the success together. However, if it's a large campaign used across a number of marketing platforms then you may have to adopt the 'last click wins' approach. Overall though a good marketer understands that success is driven from your tactics working in unison.

Glad you enjoyed the post though. Your comment made me smile :)


Lou_geek said...

Hi Blast,

Thanks for your comment.

If a company is clever with this approach, they shouldn’t have to pay that much more for PPC. Like their brand, if they’re optimising for a term which is unique, such as ‘Change 4 life’, then it will actually be cheaper in the beginning to be at the top position for this term. It may even work out cheaper than bidding on your own brand term. However, this won’t last long given the competitive market, but for your competitors to successfully bid and secure top places for your search term at a reasonable cost, they’ll have to manipulate a landing page in their site to work for this too. And in a way, if you think about it, if they do this they’re almost contributing to your marketing!

A consumer searching for the term driven by the original company’s advertising is there for a reason – to find out more about that company and their offer. If a competitor wins the business, well that’s life.

I’m not aware of any raw data on the profit and loss of this approach, but if you think about it, if a country like Japan is using it at the scale they currently are then there must be some benefit in it; especially as this approach has been common over there for at least 3 years now. If it was creating a loss I’m sure they’d change their tactics.

Thanks for your thoughts.


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