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How Strategic Search Investments Can Improve Brand Awareness and Generate Business A strategic approach and investment strategy can drive strong digital performance and revenue growth through the search channel

By Aditya Saxena

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We are living in interesting times. With digital channels fueling the growth stories of big and small businesses in India, having a concrete search strategy in place is not only a unique differentiator, but a license to play, and win, in an already saturated market. As per a report published by McKinsey Global Institute in 2019, 85 per cent of businesses in India consider digital as an investment priority. While enterprises stay ahead of the curve with more spending into paid search and display, small businesses are leaning towards SEO to reach out to prospects.

But in the age of social and programmatic, digital advertising has gone on steroids. The effort required to keep up with best practices and trends has increased manifold, even as marketers struggle to define a channel mix to meet their business goals. This has created an illusion of choice among consumers and marketers alike, leading to an age-old question—Is there a silver bullet to convert prospects into happy customers?

A perspective on the current state of search

Enterprises face unique challenges in optimizing for organic search. Lack of predictable and near-term results, cross-functional barriers, and technology funding and uptake hurdles are major impediments to achieving accelerated long-term growth through SEO. These reasons lead to limited organic search investments, and thereby, poor channel outcomes, reinforcing the organizational belief that paid search is more effective. But this is far from the truth.

The beauty of organic search still lies in its simplicity and precision. A well-planned keyword research of user search queries, on-page enhancements and an up to date backlink profile sure have their place in a great SEO strategy, but with ever-evolving search algorithms, the quest for SERP dominance has become more complex. Brands must tap into targeted tactics to show up in Google's featured snippets and related-questions (PAA) fields to cater to top-funnel intent, riding on robust keyword-optimized content. A great keyword strategy helps businesses protect their own branded searchturf and provides higher leverage when competing for a non-branded search.

It is here that predictive SEO platforms such as ALPS play a critical role in bringing simulation and scoring capabilities that can help companies win against competitors through a structured data-driven approach.

Doubling down on business goals with paid campaigns

As a sound SEO strategy helps meet customer search demands effectively, a paid search strategy amplifies effectiveness and brings prospects closer to a conversion. Search engines offer a variety of ads to choose from. Enterprises with robust websites or product inventories invest in dynamic search ads, letting Google automated algorithms directly pick content from their website in response to a user query. Businesses benefit from search ads by occupying maximum real estate on SERP, ensuring greater brand awareness and recall, coupled with stronger brand association with search themes that a user may query.

While responsive search ads (RSAs) are great for top-funnel engagement, call-only, app promotion ads and shopping ads mainly address mid to bottom-funnel goals. Remarketing search ads (RLSAs) offer an opportunity to tailor your campaigns for an audience who are already exposed to your website content, thus bringing in more qualified leads. Additionally, a smart bidding (CPA) campaign can provide a more focused approach towards generating more business.

Approaching search as a channel holistically

Search has become competitive. On average, 70-80 per cent of the average search traffic for a brand comes through organic, while remaining comes from paid listings. Therefore, stepping up from a siloed approach, where the organic and paid search is detached and not complementary, a more holistic search strategy can help unlock the true potential of this channel. Prioritizing keywords and themes based on intent in the path-to-purchase, volume, difficulty to rank, and the presence of a digital asset to address search-demand can be implemented for both organic as well as paid search together. There are three main benefits to this approach. Firstly, it will ensure optimum engagement, by way of content and channel, across all stages of a customer journey. Secondly, existing content and asset gaps can be identified and plugged in; and thirdly, it will ensure efficiency by optimizing CPAs across different funnel stages. The interplay of these factors and your business goals will govern how your long-term search strategy should unfold.

Playing the long game

There are no shortcuts to success. Dominance in search is as much about patience as it is about building a strong foundation by investing in developing SEO/SEM talent and adopting technological differentiators and institutionalizing a searchability culture across all business functions. This will go a long way in giving enterprises a competitive edge. It is also beneficial to forecast performance so that it acts as a yardstick in the longer run. Future projections of key metrics, such as share of voice (SOV), traffic, and acquisitions across an integrated search programme, provide great measurement goals to marketers at the outset itself.

Search continues to be an integral part of marketing strategy and a great value driver for enterprises and SMBs in India. Businesses must realize the tremendous potential that lies in it and streamline efforts and investment to establish actionable and measurable goals, overcome technological and institutional challenges, and bridge the existing talent gap in order to foster a growth mindset.

Aditya Saxena

Vice-President APAC, iQuanti

Aditya Saxena is Vice President APAC at iQuanti, a position in which he leads business growth and oversees global engagement teams. Aditya has deep expertise in strategy formulation and has worked on the growth market entries and digital expansion plans of several global corporations. He specialises in data analytics and media attribution, audience insights and targeting solutions, and plays an instrumental role in crafting a solution strategy for iQuanti’s clients. Aditya has over 15 years of strategy and consulting experience and has led several global, multi-million dollar strategic programs for Fortune 100 organizations. In the past, he has formulated strategies to grow revenues and increase efficiency. He has also played the role of strategic advisor to influential boards and CXOs. In addition to having expertise in digital channels, he also has expertise in traditional channels.
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