The Search Engine Results Page is a Digital Billboard

We’ve written before about avoiding the “conversion vortex”—that place where brands hyper focus on traffic and conversions metrics while ignoring the brand exposure and purchase behavior benefits of online impressions.

Earlier this month iProspect and Comscore released a new study that resurfaces the issue.The study looked at impressions of organic search results, paid search results, and online display advertising across 15 brands in five vertical industries:

  • Retail
  • Insurance
  • Banking/Financial Services
  • Software
  • Hotels

As a measure of the impact of brand exposure the study surveyed online users across four key metrics:

  • Brand Favorability
  • Brand Trust
  • Likelihood to Make a Purchase
  • Likelihood to Visit a Website

Search Impressions Significantly Boost Brand Value/Purchase Path

The results found that “…mere exposure to impressions of digital media boosts brand and drives purchase behavior, even when users don’t click on them.”

Some key findings:

  • Organic and paid search listings together gave a 40% boost to brand favorability
  • Organic and paid search impressions yield the greatest lift (73%) to internet users likelihood to purchase.
  • Organic and paid search impressions together produce the most impressive lift of all digital impression combinations (95%) –nearly doubling internet users likelihood to visit a website in the future.

The findings suggest that search impressions have a significant impact on key brand development and purchase cycle metrics such as likelihood to purchase and likelihood to return to the website.

This study demonstrates that there is a lot more value to digital media than just direct conversions. Clearly, brand awareness and favorability are driving revenue across the online marketing channels. Given that, these findings have serious implications for companies that currently measure their search and online display campaigns solely on their ability to produce ROI-based conversions. That perspective is short-sighted. Instead, marketers should start tapping into search and display for branding efforts to improve their performance.

Robert Murray
CEO, iProspect

We know from past studies the sweet spot for gaze fixation on the SERPs to be above the fold (as you can see from the heat map below).Not that we need any other reasons beyond click-through data to strive to rank well, but this study together with gaze fixation data makes ranking well strictly from a brand development perspective an important endeavor all on its own.

It also means ranking in position 11 (first position on page 2) over say, position 16 (below the fold in the search engine results page) can have benefits beyond the decimal point improvements in CTR.

Image source:

Search Engine Results as a Digital Billboard

This study helps begin to quantify what has often been a fuzzy area for search marketers: the brand boost in ranking well in the search engines.How many marketers take into account the value to their brand or the impact on offline purchasing activity of appearing high in the search results during strategy or budgeting activities? While search marketers don’t need any additional motivation to rank well, to complete the thinking about search marketing it helps to think about the search engines as your own personal digital billboard.

Consider the following questions, some of which may be more relevant for bigger brands more focused on brand development or brands with offline sales channels, but there is likely to be some takeaway for brands of all sizes and shapes:

  • How many millions of searches were in your vertical for the keywords you care about?How many eyeballs on your brand does that translate to?
  • How, if at all, would your SEO and PPC strategy change if you were to take that into account?
  • How if at all does marketing budget allocation shift from offline to online when you take into consideration search brand impressions?

Thinking about these questions may not have an immediate change on your strategy or budgeting but it should help stimulate a line of thinking that takes online impressions into account thus giving you a more complete view of your online marketing universe.

Extending the line of thinking of the SERPs as a digital billboard, marketers have one chance to grab the searcher’s attention as they zip by on the digital highway at 65 miles per hour.Taking brand development considerations of the SERPs into account means marketers now have double the motivation for relevant and targeted search snippets. We’ll have more to say on this when we publish a study on search snippet performance by vertical together with best practices in Q1 2011.

Consider Online Impressions in Online Marketing Strategizing and Budgeting:

The takeaway from the study is that looking at search marketing ROI strictly from a visitor/conversion perspective gives the marketer an incomplete view of the environment in which they operate.   It takes into account the action the searchers take in clicking on a search listing but does not consider the information that travels from the screen into the visual cortex of the searcher.  Marketers must begin to take into account the value of search brand impressions in their marketing budget/ROI calculations in order to make decisions based on real world conditions.

-Nathan Safran
Senior Research Analyst

2 Responses to The Search Engine Results Page is a Digital Billboard

  1. Justin Norris says:

    Some interesting insights here. I had been thinking recently about brand awareness in the context of PPC or display ads intended NOT to convert — essentially giving “free” or low cost branding based on impressions. I hadn’t considered the extension to organic search results though.

    I suppose this gives another incentive for big offline brands who aren’t that conversion focused to think more carefully about SEO.

    For most of us we don’t need much encouragement to want to rank well though 🙂

    • Nathan Safran says:

      “I suppose this gives another incentive for big offline brands who aren’t that conversion focused to think more carefully about SEO.

      For most of us we don’t need much encouragement to want to rank well though ”

      Definitely agree on that one :). The goal of the post (one of them) was to promote a new line of thinking for many search marketers that takes into account the hidden value of impressions during strategic/budgeting decision making.

      In any event, thanks for the comment.