It’s easy to see why search advertising is so popular online. Many brands focus on search because it has proven ROI — according to the IAB, 62% of all online revenue came from paid search in the first six months of this year. Meanwhile 8% of all internet users account for 85% of clicks on display advertising. Numbers like that often keep advertisers pouring money into search and holding onto dollars that might have gone toward brand advertising online.

But while search advertising may have the most proven business model in online advertising, businesses that ignore other areas and methods of increasing sales online do so at their own peril.

That was a recurring theme at Econsultancy’s Masterclass in London yesterday, where Ian Dowds, vice president of Specific Media, put it like this:

“At the top of the funnel, there are a host of big brand advertisers standing like nervous tourists, dipping their toe in the online sea, debating the temperature and then turning and running away every time the water laps above their ankles.”

Dowd noted that only 16% of all online users ever click on ads:

“If you think only the last click matters, you’d have to admit 84% of all online display advertising is wasted. To me, that is totally misguided.”

Consultant Russell Gould noted that after seeing display ads, consumers were 54% more likely to search on a brand and went on to prove how thoroughly cross-platform ads can help sales. His examples included a recent Christmas campaign for Coke. Coke saw a 10% sales lift after posting brand videos on YouTube, and a 9% lift when ads ran on television at a separate time. When the ads ran simultaneously, Coke saw a 97% sales lift.

“That’s essentially getting people to buy two cans instead of one,” he said.

But blindly purchasing ads in multiple areas isn’t going to be any more effective than throwing paint against a wall.

Craig Sullivan, customer experience manager at Belron International, stressed the importance of multivariate testing.

“It’s not about what people say, it’s about watching what they do.”

Guessing what people like and dislike about your business is bad business when so many measurement tools abound. Sullivan had several suggestions to improve conversions from following bounce rates to conducting bail-out surveys and reviewing individual customer journeys. (I’ll post a link to all the presentations once they are available online for anyone who’s interested in more detailed info).

As Sullivan puts it:

“Just get rid of the idea that you think you know what is going to work with customers. Stop guessing and start measuring.”

While search advertising may have the best last-click conversion rates, advertisers are increasingly looking to display and brand advertising to guide consumers toward searching for their products.

As Dowd puts it (with a nod to Daniel Day Lewis’ famous line in “There Will Be Blood”):

“Don’t forget to look higher up the funnel. Don’t let anybody steal your milkshake.”