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One of the biggest challenges in paid search marketing is measuring the impact of generic keywords on your sales.

We all believe generic keywords have a brand-building benefit, but how can you accurately measure this?

In a recent article, I talked about how many site owners are still having major issues with sales duplication within their online marketing, and are double and even triple counting their sales across multiple online channels.

The easiest solution for resolving this is simply to de-duplicate, and therefore assign all the benefit back to the last click. The challenge with this is that none of the marketing that influenced the sale receives any of the credit for doing so.

Within paid search marketing, generic keywords, such as 'Holiday' or 'Insurance' or 'Plasma TV', drive large volumes of traffic but have very poor conversion rates and return on investment.

Search marketing agencies often offset the high cost/poor return of generic keywords against the strong performance of brand keywords, meaning the overall average results of the search campaign are acceptable.

Break this down and report on keywords in isolation and the true picture is that generic keywords simply aren’t worth the money.

However, most search marketing agencies believe that generic search keywords raise brand awareness and that customers will eventually convert, probably via a brand keyword.

While I don’t dispute this, most do not have the facts to support this claim. In an industry that prides itself on being measurable and accountable, I don’t feel the approach of ‘inner belief’ is acceptable any longer.

Recently a number of search technology companies have introduced click-path or click-stream reports to give visibility  into customer journeys.

These reports show individual customer journeys from their first search click to their last interaction before sale. This could be spread over 10, 30, even 60 days, and include two, five and even 10 search clicks before sale, depending on the typical sales cycle.

During my time at Warner Breaks, this report was invaluable. This was the first time I could truly measure the value of the generic keywords in terms of their influence on subsequent brand searches.

I could now clearly see, for example, that a customer first searched for 'Short Breaks', then came back a week later via the term 'Hotels in Yorkshire' and a week later via 'Warner Breaks'.

Clearly in a last click model, the sale would have been attributed to 'Warner Breaks' - ignoring the influencers that had helped drive the sale.

Analysing the click-paths, we then built some simple attribution models to share a proportion of the benefit (or CPA) back to each of the search keywords that influenced the sale.

Whereas previously I thought I had reached a saturation point based upon an overall spend vs return model for the campaign, I could now clearly see opportunities to increase my portfolio and spend levels.

This visibility gave me, and senior management, the confidence to switch funds from other marketing channels and invest in search marketing.

In addition, this report gives clear visibility on which keywords are performing and which can be removed.

For example, I found that 'Weekend Break' performed considerably better than 'Short Break' in driving sales via subsequent brand term searches.

We also started to map out customer research and booking patterns, understanding at what time of day customers would most likely to be researching holidays and therefore when to up-weight our spend on generic keywords.

To whet your appetite, I will write soon about how we went about including display, affiliates and email marketing in this same report to give us visibility of customer paths across all online channels. Exciting stuff!

But for now, I will leave you to delve deeper into your search marketing stats and go further than just the last click.

Matthew Finch - view blog

Matthew Finch

Published 14 December, 2007 by Matthew Finch

25 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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George Revutsky

Matthew -

We have found repeat exposure through search over the course of a year does seem to increase brand awareness and higher rates of recall for a company in a particular category. In this case, search was the primary advertising they did all year.

What companies do you refer to as providing click path/stream data? The analytics vendors (Google Aanlytics, WebTrends, Unica, etc) or others?


George Revutsky
ROI.works Search Marketing

almost 9 years ago

Jonathan Beeston

Jonathan Beeston, Director, New Product Innovation, EMEA at Media & Advertising Solutions, Adobe

You've got to look at what users do on your site, not only which keywords they click on prior to a sale. By measuring interaction, e.g. page views, brochure downloads etc, you can then sensibly go back and work out which keywords are driving awareness and consideration.

If you can 'weight' these indicator metrics in your optimisation strategy, you can then invest in a broader keyword set.

almost 9 years ago


Will - ArenaFlowers.com

I'd be interested to know which tools provide this functionality too.

almost 9 years ago


James Sandoval, Technology & Analytics Director at Ogilvy

Nicely written Matthew. You're tackling a game-changing (yes, game-changing)industry opportunity. Excellent.

And you’re absolutely right. It’s 100% NOT about the last click in search marketing.

The [industry standard?] conversion attribution methodology/ies that many web advertising, including several paid search, management toolsets apply for core, day-to-day reporting is well-known to be crude, if not outright flawed.

But, while taking an approach to conversion [re]attribution management similar to yours can indeed help grow a marketer’s search marketing ROI and related customer behaviour/value understanding, attributing business value creation (e.g. customer purchases/re-purchases, service registrations, content consumption, etc) to [web] advertising touchpoints should extend to more than [simply] search.

Now, of course, if the majority of a marketer’s time is spent playing in the search sandbox, then, absolutely, s/he should absolutely focus on getting this right. Creating a flexible view of customer sales (or whatever the key business actions of importance are) mapped to multiple search advertising interactions (clicks) will, if good analysis is done and, operationally, insights can be actioned quickly, produce solid dividends.

However, web advertising clients like those I’ve been servicing for nearly 10 years now, are – more often than not – significant investors in paid search AND several other forms of web advertising; display and video being particularly important communication plays today.

Starting with click-based [i.e. search] web advertising conversion re-attribution is great, but there’s a whole other [extremely valuable] world of advertising consumption, interaction, not to mention consumer behaviour [data] out there to bring far greater accountability to web advertising investment management. And it's getting seriously interesting.

Related articles & a .pdf worth a read:

Microsoft says Google gets undue credit for ads

Who to Pay for a Conversion?

“Conversion Attribution” and the Online Media Mix

!magine07 – If you can think, you can do it (Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions)

LinkedIn Answers: If you knew the exact duplication rate of orders being attributed to Affiliates, Search and Media (double and triple counting primary influencer), how would you change your campaign strategy?
web advertising as well.

almost 9 years ago

Matthew Finch

Matthew Finch, Head of Sales & Commercial at Warner Leisure Hotels

James- thank you for your detailed comments and links to further resources. You are indeed right that measuring the touchpoints should extend further than just search.

I would invite you to read one of my latest posting regarding this subject, looking at customer activity across search, display, affiliates and email marketing. It certainly adds another dimension.


Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

almost 9 years ago



Burn Dvd issues must pass rofl :)

about 4 years ago



Xbox360 to the left, Xbox1 on the right, xbox inside, xbox720 out = Win Win Situation!

about 4 years ago

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