As an organisation goes through various stages of online maturity, responsibility for the e-commerce function can fluctuate between marketing, sales and IT. However it is clear that certain elements of the online marketing mix are greater than any individual department and impact upon the organisation as a whole.

Search engine marketing continues to be a heavily invested channel for online marketers with 77% of paid and 86% of natural search budgets expected to either increase or stay the same in 2010, accordng to Econsultancy’s UK Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Report 2009.

Consumer engagement in search marketing has grown. So much so that 50% of customers making an online purchase will have conducted a search prior to purchase. But the power of search is far greater than acquisition for a business.

Click path analysis is vital at understanding the value of online marketing media and optimising accordingly but it also uncovers some interesting trends. In a previous role, this analysis uncovered some interesting trends.

  • Approximately 15% of total customer interactions with online marketing activity occurred post purchase. Customers displayed a tendency to go back and view their product post purchase. This is particularly evident with intangible products such as holidays.
  • A significant proportion of online searches included customer service queries. For example, searches for contact information or customer service queries.
  • A large number of customers also searched for information about retail stores and call centres. For example, searches for opening hours or the location of their nearest store.
  • Other queries related to brand initiatives, press statements or facts about the organisation. For example, searches for the music in the latest TV advert or social responsibility initiatives.

The majority of search budgets are allocated with a singular objective in mind, to maximise acquisition of new customers for the lowest possible cost. Whilst I was able to recognise the importance of these findings, they were not conducive in enabling me to meet my immediate objectives. Any CPA/ROI optimisation that occurred would eliminate these keywords from our portfolio.

This is clearly an incorrect approach. Just because a user searches for terms not associated directly with acquisition, paid search results should not be withheld from them. Their interest in the organisation has a value that cannot be expressed through traditional acquisition metrics.

The cost of search needs to be burdened by the business as a whole, not an individual department with specific objectives. Agencies should be briefed with wider objectives than CPA/ROI if an organisation is to capitalise on the mass adoption of online search.

Businesses must understand just how important search has become. Using search purely for acquisition purposes generates risks of poor customer service, negatively affects retention and loyalty and threatens to undermine any integrated marketing activity.