A few years ago, managing your search campaign was straightforward. Using a standard bid management solution and buying a few thousand keywords delivered a very effective ROI to meet clients’ objectives.

As the industry grew and CPC prices increased (success grew demand) SEMs had to find new and innovative ways to keep their campaign results buoyant, often by adding a few hundred thousand additional keywords to offset rising costs (often cited as ‘the long tail’).

As the search landscape becomes more opaque and bid management tools in their purest sense have died (since bid to position no longer exists), search campaign management is now experiencing a period of limbo.

Inflation has forced the need for more sophisticated measurement techniques. Gone are the days when a non-branded keyword would generate a respectable online ROI of 20 to 1.

Now SEMs are asking whether or not the searcher will return at a later date through a different keyword to convert, or how many offline sales the keyword can generate, or even how much time is spent on the site, and regardless of whether the keyword-related product is bought, whether or not other products have been searched for.

SEMs are also asking whether search impressions have any brand value. This dynamic shift means we’re likely to spend less time thinking about the keywords and more time thinking about the customer.

As measurement becomes more complex and search requires the analysis of multiple success metrics, the requirement to put customer understanding at the heart of campaign management becomes imperative.

Let’s look at a multi-channel home furnishing brand, which sells products through its stores, catalogue, phone and the web, and use the keywords ‘beds’ and ‘bathrooms’ as examples.

Our studies have shown that searchers coming through on ‘beds’ are more likely to convert online since beds are single products, have a lower value and a shorter consideration cycle.

‘Bathrooms’ converts less well online so searchers on this keyword are more likely to be browsers rather than shoppers.

A standard bid management tool would therefore optimise ‘beds’ against ‘bathrooms’ for generating more online revenue.

Let’s say we were able to apply a proxy (soft) measurement against ‘bathrooms’ and using data like volume of store location searches, call-back requests, brochure requests and time spent on site, to determine the number of store appointments and offline sales the keyword generates.

Would we then be able to measure value against ‘beds’ and ‘bathrooms’ quantifiably?

Further analysis tells us that while ‘bathrooms’ generates more store visits, ‘beds’ attracts searchers who are interested in a much wider range of products than the keyword they enter, and therefore could potentially attract more valuable lifetime customers, although this becomes very difficult to measure.

This intimates the risk in directly associating customer intention with a keyword.

Perhaps many ‘beds’ searchers are lazily using this keyword as a gateway to home furnishing, while ‘bathroom’ searchers are more sure of what they want.

These added complexities of measurement require the use of a good ad-serving, bid management and analytics tool. The fact that there is not one technology platform that can do all three is hampering innovation in search marketing.

Google and Microsoft appear to be the leaders in this field at present – it will be interesting to see which one integrates their ad-serving, bid management and analytics platforms first.

The blurring of lines between branding and direct response, and online vs offline targets is causing headaches for businesses which silo their marketing budgets.

Businesses will need to work more closely with their agencies to understand what success looks like, and the requirement from clients to have everything trackable will have to ease.

The use of hard and soft metrics as success measurements will become more common. The agency model will potentially change and customer analytics will require more focus.

Nathan Levi is the head of search at

Avenue A | Razorfish UK