How Branding Supports Search Engine Marketing Success & ROI

For many search engine marketers, branding seems like something other types of marketers do.

Search folks typically think their job is to get rankings or buy keywords and the traffic (and sales) will follow.

But as I found out the hard way, branding is absolutely linked to search marketing performance.

Many moons ago, I ran paid search for Gateway Computers.

We did a good job.

In fact, we did such a good job that the ROI from paid search far surpassed any other channel.

One day, I received a call from the Chief Marketing Officer over all of Gateway.

Now realize, this was back in the early 2000s.

Search as a channel was looked at as an afterthought.

Search was something you tried because everyone else was doing it.

It was not a strategy, but a tactic that most marketers checked off on a long to-do list.

Once the search box was checked, most big brands didn’t take a second look at search unless something went wrong.

But our efforts had caught the attention of Gateway’s senior management.

The call from the CMO was brief.

He congratulated me on the numbers, amazed that this relatively new channel was more efficient at driving sales than his newspaper, print, radio, and television.

In fact, when he did the math, he estimated that search could drive almost quadruple the sales for half the cost of his other channels.

He was all in.

He then told me some news that, at the time, would change everything for me.

He was moving the vast majority of the marketing budget into our search marketing efforts.

In about 15 minutes, my budget increased more than 10x.

As I hung up the phone, I did a happy dance.

Finally, a big brand was taking search seriously.

I was going to show the world that our channel was the best channel.

The case study was going to be epic.

Things went very well for about two months.ADVERTISEMENT

With the increased budget, our ROI percentage actually increased.

We all patted ourselves on the back and made plans for all the money we were going to make after other brands saw what we had done.

But then something strange began to happen.

Overall search volume for some of our most popular products started to decline.

We chalked it up to seasonality, or perhaps the economy was starting to weaken.

But about a month later, the numbers continued to decline.

Our once-triumphant ROI numbers were starting to look average.

We tweaked landing pages and creative, trying to recapture the magic.

But it didn’t matter what we did, the search volume kept falling.

We spent our days trying to figure out what was going on, all the while trying to keep panic at bay.

By month six, sales were down overall at the company.

In fact, it was the worst quarter for the company in three years.

What happened?

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