NOTE: Today’s post is a guest entry from Ryan DeShazer of HSR Business to Business, a leading B2B firm with offices in Cincinnati, Denver and Chicago. DeShazer is one of the leading B2B search marketers in the U.S. Ryan is set to launch Digimarketer.net to blog his considerable expertise soon. In the meantime, we’re happy to have it for you.

Google Reaction B2B Executive Summit

Tomorrow I have the privilege of speaking on a panel at Google’s annual B2B Executive Summit, Reaction, entitled “Brand Lift of Search Marketing.” Ahead of that live discussion, here are my thoughts on the subject. These are best-practice recommendations to keep in mind when attempting brand-oriented campaigns or quantifying the brand impact of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) programs.

Is the Acronym for Brand Lift “B.S.”?

Before exploring how to best execute a search marketing program aimed at boosting brand awareness, take a step back and consider two simpler questions that should be addressed first:

1) Is brand lift possible from search marketing, a tactic long-considered a direct response mechanism?

2) Assuming it is possible, should you be satisfied with a brand lift outcome rather than a positive direct response outcome from your target audience?

There is no doubt that brand lift exists in a SEM context, and that its positive implications are very real. Just as a digital banner or a broadcast media advert can, SEM programs can create top-of-mind awareness. After all, we trust Google don’t we? Why wouldn’t we think highly of the companies found at the tops of the organic and paid search listings? And if companies command prime real estate for both organic and paid results, brand affinity, recall and purchase intent have been shown to increase dramatically.

So if SEM brand lift is both possible and powerful, should you celebrate a brand lift result alone?

The answer is no.

“Brand lift” can mean many things to many people. In a SEM context, it could be argued that impressions and clicks alone are indicative of brand lift. After all, the advertiser’s brand was viewed and interacted with more so than it had been previously. Isn’t that the definition of “lift”?

The key is to achieve “effective lift” across the search results pages; brand exposure that will lead to meaningful outcomes.

Effective Lift in Action

In the B2B marketing space we see this often, due primarily to lengthy sales cycles. We don’t have the luxury of the impulse purchase enjoyed by many in the B2C marketing world, and have to nurture our sales leads through to some conversion activity over time. As a result, early brand touches are crucial to driving a response during future interactions.

The key for a successful program is the ability to connect the dots: tracking all audience member touch points on their paths to conversion, giving appropriate credit to effective lift touch points. Identifying which impressions and clicks initiated a successful courtship is to acknowledge effective brand lift; celebrating impressions and clicks alone will quickly become a bad and expensive habit.

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About Ryan DeShazer

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Nice post, Ryan. I'd been wondering what you've been up to (beyond the whole “not sleeping because of a new baby” thing that both you and Jason have going on this year.)

    Thanks for coming by and previewing your insights on B2B branding and SEM. Paid search is still viewed a little askance by traditional advertising folks, but more and more they're catching on that it's definitely not going anywhere and that there really is value, if it's well done.

  • http://www.webcommons.biz Steve Magruder

    It should be pointed out that people think _more_ highly of top organic results than top paid search listings. I think I'm playing Captain Obvious here.

    Good organic result positions, well at least on Google, are earned through having “sweet spot” (somewhere between generic/mundane and terribly obtuse) content, along with a good reputation, as determined by other sites linking to yours.

    And this speaks to good marketing in general, which indeed equals “sweet spot” + reputation.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I would disagree to an extent, Steve. Most people who understand or are intuitive about the web trust organic more, but (and I'm hoping someone can back me up with stats, here) most people are ignorant to the fact that the top entry is often paid. I could be wrong, but the vast majority of the world is outside the bubble and doesn't comprehend the web the way we do. This is exactly why that real estate costs what it does. My mother-in-law clicks the top one, regardless.

      But you are right, highest organic result is much more credible and should be the goal of each search marketing program.

  • http://www.webcommons.biz Steve Magruder

    If Google is putting paid results into their supposed organic results, that's news on me. But I guess I also wouldn't be surprised. I run sites that have #1 search hits based on particular sets of keywords, so that would be why I haven't noticed that any top results hadn't earned their position. Google hasn't received one nickel from me to achieve these positions.

    I also think people are smarter than are given credit for. The organic results on Google are far more prominent than paid ones, and the paid ones have a clear heading “Sponsored Links”. I would think that natural human behavior would lean one to choose what is more in front and isn't obviously paid for.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Not at all, Steve. I'm talking about the highlighted sponsored links placed atop the organic results. The average person doesn't delineate between the two.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    As of 2005, according to Consumer Reports, 60% of web users were unaware of the distinction between paid and organic results. http://www.webpronews.com/insiderreports/2005/0

    That number has probably dropped somewhat in the last three years, but it still indicates a substantial number of searchers who don't distinguish between the two.

  • http://www.digimarketer.net Ryan DeShazer

    Hey Kat, thanks for the note. I likewise hope all's well for you. I've talked you up quite a bit to Jason. Not that you need any help from me. ;)

    Steve, I certainly appreciate your thoughts. I think what Jason is referring to are the top 1-3 paid listings which sometimes appear above the organic results. Google is constantly split-testing its own results pages in an attempt to maximize its page-by-page monetization.

    Read the Enquiro piece I reference. It demonstrates that top paid placement, in addition to your top organic placement, will lift your conversion rates greater than the sum of the parts. Could be an interesting tactic for you to test out.

    Ryan

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    Nice post, Ryan. I'd been wondering what you've been up to (beyond the whole “not sleeping because of a new baby” thing that both you and Jason have going on this year.)

    Thanks for coming by and previewing your insights on B2B branding and SEM. Paid search is still viewed a little askance by traditional advertising folks, but more and more they're catching on that it's definitely not going anywhere and that there really is value, if it's well done.

  • http://www.webcommons.biz Steve Magruder

    It should be pointed out that people think _more_ highly of top organic results than top paid search listings. I think I'm playing Captain Obvious here.

    Good organic result positions, well at least on Google, are earned through having “sweet spot” (somewhere between generic/mundane and terribly obtuse) content, along with a good reputation, as determined by other sites linking to yours.

    And this speaks to good marketing in general, which indeed equals “sweet spot” + reputation.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    I would disagree to an extent, Steve. Most people who understand or are intuitive about the web trust organic more, but (and I'm hoping someone can back me up with stats, here) most people are ignorant to the fact that the top entry is often paid. I could be wrong, but the vast majority of the world is outside the bubble and doesn't comprehend the web the way we do. This is exactly why that real estate costs what it does. My mother-in-law clicks the top one, regardless.

    But you are right, highest organic result is much more credible and should be the goal of each search marketing program.

  • http://www.webcommons.biz Steve Magruder

    If Google is putting paid results into their supposed organic results, that's news on me. But I guess I also wouldn't be surprised. I run sites that have #1 search hits based on particular sets of keywords, so that would be why I haven't noticed that any top results hadn't earned their position. Google hasn't received one nickel from me to achieve these positions.

    I also think people are smarter than are given credit for. The organic results on Google are far more prominent than paid ones, and the paid ones have a clear heading “Sponsored Links”. I would think that natural human behavior would lean one to choose what is more in front and isn't obviously paid for.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Not at all, Steve. I'm talking about the highlighted sponsored links placed atop the organic results. The average person doesn't delineate between the two.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com KatFrench

    As of 2005, according to Consumer Reports, 60% of web users were unaware of the distinction between paid and organic results. http://www.webpronews.com/insiderreports/2005/0

    That number has probably dropped somewhat in the last three years, but it still indicates a substantial number of searchers who don't distinguish between the two.

  • http://www.digimarketer.net Ryan DeShazer

    Hey Kat, thanks for the note. I likewise hope all's well for you. I've talked you up quite a bit to Jason. Not that you need any help from me. ;)

    Steve, I certainly appreciate your thoughts. I think what Jason is referring to are the top 1-3 paid listings which sometimes appear above the organic results. Google is constantly split-testing its own results pages in an attempt to maximize its page-by-page monetization.

    Read the Enquiro piece I reference. It demonstrates that top paid placement, in addition to your top organic placement, will lift your conversion rates greater than the sum of the parts. Could be an interesting tactic for you to test out.

    Ryan