Understanding Search Strategy – Part 1

By Gerry Bavaro, Vice President and Managing Director

"Strategy." Saying this term is over-used in the search and overall digital marketing space is an understatement. One person's perception of what strategy is may be drastically different than another's. Many agencies and advertisers in the space may be thinking they've got a killer strategy yet they don't know what they don't know and in reality are missing opportunities because what they really have is a bunch of tactics with no combined value or end goal. Let's break down the components of strategy and take a deeper look at what this word should be about in order to drive maximum business value from search.

Re-Painting The Lines of the Search Playing Field
Before anyone on the agency or client side defines or collaborates on a search strategy; ask the question “What is search?” Search doesn't look like it did a year or two ago, let alone five years ago. Engine programs for paid media go beyond placement on search results pages. Universal and real-time search results challenge the simple linear approach to share of voice, share of click achievement and gains on results pages. Most importantly, those impressions and clicks from paid and natural search programs are actually human beings behaving a certain way based on intent. Search is not at the bottom of the purchase funnel anymore. Forty-nine percent of Internet users search daily, and next to email, it's the behavior of choice. Your strategy needs to be based on how consumers search and behave in the digital space. Consumers move swiftly from awareness to interest and from desire to action, and since search is everywhere, it can either be a series of properly planned touch points that ultimately drive actions (sales, page views, etc.) or fragmented impressions and clicks with no desired end in mind.

Breaking Down Strategy, Simply
I’ve never constructed a building, but I do know that this situation requires proper strategy. Why? Because the goal is big and important, stakes are high, risk must be minimized because the consequences are serious, and there's a lot of moving parts and complexities that culminate in success or failure based on how they’re managed. What if you’re in charge of that building project? Your goal is to have a nice shiny structure completed by a certain date. Your strategy would be the architectural plan and the high level initiatives that consider specific factors that will achieve your end goal. However, big plans are filled with confusing complexities and do not provide simple clarity to the challenge you may be presented with nor the intent on how you’ll get there.

Know the goal, think of the problem you're trying to solve, break down your strategy as the specific intentions that will achieve the goal, then align the proper tactics.

Goals Definition and Problem Identification
There are usually a number of parties involved that will determine the end result of how your strategies conclude. So, what’s a search marketer to do?

Be a great strategist and think like a professional problem solver or consultant. This means breaking down the problem or challenge you are faced with which is often where goals start. Don’t expect or assume that someone else has all the answers or is clear about the problem, that’s what they’re paying professionals for. If there are internal client teams or partners that have suggestions, leverage their research and data to break through the clutter.

Search provides a wealth of data from queries that can quantitatively highlight problems. There’s a reason why search consumes half of the $27 billion spent in digital marketing today; search works because it’s clearly measurable and data-driven. It’s often not about what the goal IS but what it SHOULD BE. Sometimes an initial idea can be drastically transformed by the introduction of relevant and undiscovered data which can ultimately provide a platform for the right strategy, associated tactics, and success.

Now that we’re clear on the lifecycle, components, and some best practices of search strategy, I will follow up next time with more advanced and deeper layers that come into play today when developing search strategy.


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