Share of search: the new snake oil?

By Adele Jolliffe and Si Atherley, Brand Domain Consultants at Kantar

Sometimes an idea comes along that stops you in your tracks and has you blinking into the light, wondering why we haven’t all been doing it that way all along.

You’d be forgiven for feeling that way about Share of Search as the various revelations have unfolded over the past few weeks. Something so simple as how many times your brand is typed into Google as a proportion of all the brand searches in your category is bringing some weighty claims to the marketing industry: Share of Search is a metric further down the funnel, somewhere between awareness and consideration. Sounds plausible. It has a relationship with share of market and has even proven to be a leading indicator. Seems remarkable. There’s 16 years of it available at your fingertips for free. Sign me up!

Before we all ditch next week’s schedule and dedicate the time to plugging Google Trends numbers into a spreadsheet, it’s worth pausing momentarily to look at the bigger picture and identify the best way Share of Search might be welcomed into the family of marketing effectiveness measurement. Is it the disruptor it promises to be? Or could it be a distraction that risks taking your eye off the ball of what really matters to growing your brand? At Kantar we’ve been looking at exactly this over the past few years, plus how search can be most effective for our clients and it’s given us some useful food for thought:

1. The number’s just the beginning

So, you’ve got your number. The big question is how do you draw insights from it and use those to accelerate growth? One answer is to fuse Share of Search with other brand metrics. If your Share of Search is lower than your Share of Market, your brand is not generating its fair share of interest and potentially losing out on sales. If your Share of Search is growing at a faster rate than your Share of Market, you might have a conversion problem. If your Share of Voice is growing but your Share of Search isn’t, the content you’re investing in could be optimised. When fusing these metrics together unearths questions as well as answers, you’re doing it right. Share of Search is a good exploratory metric, not a silver bullet.

2. Share of Search is indicative of Mental Availability, but that alone won’t maximise growth

Brands with high Share of Search are more Salient (they come to mind in relation to a need or occasion), but our evidence shows that the highest value, fastest growing brands are also Meaningful and Different. If you’re not strategically planning around that holistic understanding of your brand’s strength, the risk is you shoot for Mental Availability alone and get lost down the rabbit hole of short-termism. Instead, invest in Salience with Meaningfully Different substance: it’s proven to create both short-term sales and long-term profitable growth.

3. First explore, then dig with diligence

The one consistent conclusion from the work we’ve been doing with Share of Search is that there is no one consistent conclusion. It’s clear that search interplays differently with sales and media spend between brands and categories, so step one is to channel your open mind and do some exploring. If it’s looking interesting, make sure the subsequent digging is done with diligence and skill. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the insights might be very valuable, but there’s an art and a science to mining the data accurately, something our specialist Digital Marketing Effectiveness unit know very well.

The jury may be out on whether Share of Search is snake oil or not, but there’s no doubt it’s interesting and has potential, that’s why we’re already incorporating it in our brand guidance programmes for clients. If it’s a lead indicator in your category and can forecast with precision, then Bingo. Even without that holy grail, it could still be a worthy addition to the understanding of your brand and be part of your strategic planning.

If nothing else, the current Share of Search showcase is opening up the debate about how useful search data can be in managing your brand for both short and long-term outcomes, for example, treating search data to separate out noise and seasonality creates reliable measures of campaign impact and long-term base trends.

That said, beware before fully diving in because it has different potential for different brands and different categories. The first step is to find out how much potential it has for yours.

If you’re interested to know how search affects your brand and category, contact us.

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