The use of search calls to action is becoming increasingly common in offline advertising. Big brands are using mediums such as press and TV in order to push people to search engines by asking them to search for specific keywords rather than visit a website or phone a dedicated number.
Like most marketing techniques there is an argument for and against adopting this approach, and Renault's latest 'Megane Experiment' campaign shows how brands can get it wrong.
Search engines have saturated the internet experience with many people using search for navigation purposes rather than the address bar in a browser. Facebook, the BBC and even Google themselves regularly feature within the top searched keywords, demonstrating users' preference to search in order to visit their favourite sites.
TV advertising is increasingly linked to spikes in visitor volume and search traffic with increasing evidence to suggest that users are consuming media through multiple channels simultaneously. Indeed Nielson report that the number of Americans using the internet and TV at the same time has increased by 35% in Q4 2009 vs Q4 2008.
Using search calls to action capitalises on these trends in order to maximise responses to offline media.
In a time when marketing budgets remain under scrutiny and the detailed level of tracking offered by online marketing has impacted the investment in offline media, there is pressure to prove the value of mediums such as outdoor, press and TV as direct response tools.
Intuitively we know there is a relationship between offline advertising and online sales but it is difficult to attribute these sales back to the activity, especially when online activity is tracked in such detail through analytics.
Using a search call to action increases the ability for advertisers to track the performance of offline activity in relation to online sales as advertisers can record the growth in the searches on the related keywords as well as the clicks from their PPC advert on the keyword.
The use of search calls to action offers competitors a transparent view of an organisation's search marketing strategy. In an area where barriers to entry are limited to budget and quality score, competitors can easily start to appear in high positions on the relevant key phrases.
This competitive pressure increases the CPC the advertiser has to pay to feature the best positions for these terms. By hijacking the search call to action, the competitor is also able to siphon traffic to their own website for a comparatively small cost considering the large investment in offline marketing made by the initial advertiser.
It is widely acknowledged that securing number one position in the organic rankings is becoming increasingly challenging. The algorithms change more frequently and innovations such as real time search and personalisation affect how search results are displayed to an increasing amount of users.
The way that search engine results are displayed has also been dramatically altered by the influx of universal search results. The majority of searches now include videos, blogs, news results and products from Google shopping.
If an organisation intends to use search calls to action in their offline advertising, they need to ensure that they produce and optimise content in all these areas in order to ensure they are maximising response.
Should brands use search calls to action?
The use of search calls to action tends to divide opinion in the online marketing industry. Naturally, agencies and search engines champion their use as part of an integrated marketing campaign.
Driving more people to search is definitely within their interests. In my opinion however, the majority of users will search regardless of whether a search call to action is used. If only 20% of the users that respond to an offline advert do so by typing the URL into the address bar, this represents a considerable saving on PPC investment.
Even searching for a brand or a URL is likely to yield lower CPC's and a better guarantee of featuring on top positions in the organic rankings, inclusive of universal search results.
I would be interested to hear others' opinions on this subject, particularly if anyone has conducted any measured experiments with meaningful results.