"Shelf-Space" in Search Marketing

By David Gould, President

I was recently interviewed by my former Resolution Media colleague, Aaron Goldman, for a book he's writing for McGraw-Hill titled, "Everything I Know About Marketing I Learned From Google." The Q&A covered a wide range of topics but one thing that really got me thinking was the idea of "shelf-space" in the SEM world.

How does the concept of shelf-space apply to the world of search you may ask? It’s really not a long reach. Just as quality and volume of shelf space helps sell product in the grocery store, the same concepts apply on a SERP (Search Engine Marketing Page). To own as much of the page as possible can only better your chances of success. Of course, owning as much space as possible comes at a price.

Before the advent of universal search, advertisers were primarily concerned with owning search results in the organic and sponsored text listings. Even then, it took some time for advertisers to see the value of and feel comfortable with investing in both, but for the most part they are finally there.

Now with the rise of universal search, advertisers’ commitment is being tested again. Universal search enables advertisers to engage the consumer not just with text, but also images, video, news articles, maps, shopping feeds, etc. In other words, just about any digital asset can appear on a SERP. That means advertisers must consider all these forms as digital content. It also means advertisers need to invest in those forms of content in order to occupy as much of the “shelf” as possible.

Unfortunately, a wide array of digital content may not exist for many advertisers. The situation for many advertisers is exacerbated by organizational structures that are still hampered by the mindset that digital is a channel versus the idea that digital is a platform on which many channels reside. Marketers that handle different channels should be thinking about how digital impacts their channel and how they can leverage it to be found, as opposed to assuming the “digital person” will take care of it.

At the end of the day, the goal is to have your digital content distributed as widely as possible.
I can’t imagine a scenario where you wouldn’t want to have every listing available through maps, video, news, etc. Taking advantage of these opportunities requires resources and resources cost money. Measuring the return on your investment is difficult especially considering the potentially complex interaction between the multiple digital assets, but it is not impossible.

The value of owning the shelf-space and pushing your competitors out is a time tested concept and one that every advertiser should be exploring and testing. It takes a lot of management to take advantage of these opportunities. Someone needs to create the content and coordinate with internal constituents and external agencies across multiple opportunities (image, video, maps, etc.), but the effort put forth to own the “shelf-space” could pay big dividends.


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