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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. 

Pros

Consumer Trends

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.

Attribution

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.

Cons

Competition

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.

Natural search

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.

Richard Hartigan

Published 10 August, 2010 by Richard Hartigan

Richard Hartigan is a client side online marketing professional and blogger. The views expressed here are personal and do not represent those of any organisation.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Simon Jacobson

Richard - why couldn't I ever simplify it for my clients like that?! Nice post, hope all is well. SJ

almost 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Great post - understanding the competitive risks are key to this type of strategy and you highlight them really well.

Understanding the effect that offline activity has on online behaviour is so important if you want to get a grip of your marketing spend. Being able to bridge the two worlds is powerful.

Thanks Richard.

almost 6 years ago

Mike Essex

Mike Essex, Marketing & Comms Manager at Petrofac

Always think about this when Radio 1 (and other news sources) end a story by saying "to find out more enter X in your search provider". Seems baffling for any media source or advertiser to presume they can be top for a term and will hold it for the entire advertising / coverage period organically. This has also led to a lot of odd adverts that simply feature a phrase at the end and no more information. There was one for knife crime recently which ended with a phrase and a very abstract video. Despite my own belief in search I would still always include a URL on any advert. It seems far safer. Does anyone remember the days when you were asked to enter a phrase in AOL? This appeared on a lot of adverts and was prone to manipulation and rank stealing.

almost 6 years ago

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Justin Seibert

@Richard - Nice post.  It is a really interesting question for all the things you mention.  While it varies on a case by case basis, I've always questioned it from the standpoint of changes to the algorithms and - especially - how competitors can gain a lot of traction by advertising on these phrases. 

It's been around awhile, though - I remember some major advertiser doing it with Yahoo! on 60 Minutes maybe 6 or 7 years ago.  Just can't remember which advertiser.

@Mike - Yes indeed RE: AOL. 

almost 6 years ago

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Howard Gottlieb

Just what I needed. More to consider!

almost 6 years ago

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Amanda

Very good post. Thanks for the tips

almost 6 years ago

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Natalie Scutt, EMarketing Executive at National Friendly

Very interesting and topical post.

We have considered this before as we have been wanting to attribute visits to the site directly to a particular advert etc. Obviously you can watch for spikes in your analytics but if you have numerous offline activities taking place at the same time how do you attribute the spike to just one of these? By using a search term specific to the activity you can keep this detail or am I missing a trick?

almost 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

@Natalie Search phrases ie. changes in type/theme are a great way to monitor online uplift from offline activity but you need to look at all touch points where the customer may engage with you post ad exposure like the phone for example.

There are some great opportunities for combining both the qualitative (spikes on graphs!) with the qualitative (search behaviour) to achieve attribution models.

almost 6 years ago

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Natalie Scutt, EMarketing Executive at National Friendly

@Rob Yes definitely we monitor all uplifts for all touch points. Its sometimes difficult to prove to offline teams that their ads are driving online responses without this detail but its nice to have the challenge.

almost 6 years ago

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ABC Fundraising

I think this is a great idea. Definitely going to do some more research on this.

over 5 years ago

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Dukan Diet

This article was a great breakdown of search calls to action. I found Natalie's question about attribution and tracking as well as the response from Rob helpful- thanks.

over 5 years ago

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