A competitive landscape

For many insurers, search represents an exciting way of acquiring customers directly, allowing them to diversify their new business sources and avoid wider risks associated with reliance on price aggregators.

Price comparison sites are now typically responsible for generating in excess of 80% of all new leads for insurers who use them to recruit.

However, the volume of home insurance search queries is growing and competition for traffic and clicks is fierce.

There has been a 12% increase in Google search queries within the homeowners’ insurance category in 2013-14. There was a 10% increase in the number of ad impressions and an 8% increase in home insurance ads clicked in the same period, leading to a cost per click (CPC) increase of 7%, much to the annoyance of insurance advertisers.

A ‘small’ keyword set

The home insurance sector is extremely competitive, mainly because the range of search terms that attract a significant volume of searches is very small.

In fact, one term dominates the PPC landscape.

  • ‘Home insurance’ attracts 74,000 unique searches per month on average, and has a suggested bid value of £19.43.
  • The next highest term by search volume is ‘home insurance quote’, which attracts an average of 12,100 monthly searches and has a suggested bid value of £13.54.
  • Third comes ‘home insurance quotes’, with an average of 6,600 monthly searches and a suggested bid value of £14.53.

Insurance keyword live

The volume very quickly drops below 1,000 searches per month, and the volume on the top term is around 30 times higher than the tenth most searched-for term.

The cost per click is also startlingly high for those brands that want to consistently achieve a top position.

Extra competition or a helping hand from Google?

There could be even more for home insurance advertisers to contend with in the future.

The home insurance category is a prime candidate for Google’s own price comparison engine in the future. As you can see from the image below from the car insurance category, the tools allow a visitor to Google to source quotes without leaving the page.

Google's Comparison Tool

Google’s comparison tool takes up a large amount of the search space, removing the normal third-position PPC advert and moving the organic listing down.

Although car insurance purchase is an arguably simpler comparison process, Google could still introduces the comparison feature for the home insurance category.

The tool can often generate a large share of clicks. Indeed, the hotel comparison tool is estimated to be worth 50% of paid clicks. 

So how can search marketers maintain visibility and acquire new customers without simply increasing their paid search bids?

Here are ten thinking points…

  1. Diversify traffic sources. Reliance on one channel, like paid search, can be a risky strategy when CPCs are rising. Within the home insurance category, it looks like Aviva and the Co-operative are investing in PPC to balance their relatively low visibility in organic search results.There can be a halo effect of appearing in both paid and organic search results. One study by Google back in 2012 suggested that when an advertiser achieves top paid and organic results for any given keyword, 50% of the clicks on the organic result are incremental and traffic isn’t cannibalised.
  2. Optimise across the customer journey. It’s important to make sure that a PPC or biddable media campaign speaks to the rest of the customer journey. Landing pages, flow through the rest of the website, user experience and conversion rate optimisation are key considerations.Put bluntly, if you’re paying for a visitor, make sure they get a quote. Letting visitors bounce is unaffordable.
  3. Think content. Within this category there are established brands including the Post Office, Barclays and the AA, who have trusted websites with high domain authority.A content strategy that provided a more diverse on-site and off-site voice would improve their chances of ranking in organic results. One of the most fascinating developments in the sector occurred when price aggregator sites created a media channel of their own outside of the normal distribution channel in the early noughties.
  4. Remarket. If a visitor doesn’t take a quote immediately, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost them.Remarketing represents an opportunity to get back in front of a prospect with a reminder message or a shortened lead form to be expanded on by a call centre.
  5. Analyse lifetime value. The home insurance category is famous for its emphasis on renewals.Analysing customer lifetime value helps to establish what a quote is really worth to an advertiser and how much to bid to secure a quotation request.
  6. Data to target. All insurers, whether direct or otherwise, now operate in a tremendously competitive marketplace where promiscuity is the norm rather than the exception.The emphasis has shifted to better management of the customer relationship, ensuring that value is extracted by well-informed marketing interventions based on an understanding of consumers, underpinned by data.
  7. Data to plan, create and engage. This data can also be used to inform better demographic targeting, content marketing plans and a range of other digital customer acquisition activity.Paul Williams, e-trading manager at Jelf, told me recently that content marketing provides a wealth of opportunity for marketers. He said:

    True content marketing should never be about promoting yourself. For financial services brands, it can be a way of demonstrating expertise, providing a source of help and educating the consumer about their choices. If you’re doing that rather than promoting a product or service explicitly, you shouldn’t fall foul of compliance.

  8. Use ad extensions. Ad extensions typically improve click-through rates and build on advert relevance, prominence and the user experience.More than this, a recent update to Google’s Ad Rank calculation means that the expected impact of Extensions now plays a role in the CPC and position the adverts have.

    Ad extensions

  9. Mobile. Search volume on mobile and tablet devices is growing (stat). Using Call Extensions can lead to a 6% increase in click-through rates on mobiles.Buying products like home insurance can be complex and it’s often attractive for prospects to talk to a real person rather than relying on advice from a website.
  10. Use social proof. Trust is at the heart of any insurance contract. Review extensions are relatively new and can add credibility from trusted sources to an advert.Aviva is using reviews from Defaqto, building trust through social proof and enlarging the size of its advert.

Review extensions

The takeaway

It’s only by taking advantage of all of these opportunities that search marketers in highly-competitive markets can maintain their visibility and acquire new customers without simply upping paid search bids.