Does Google’s “Search Ads Lift Brand Awareness” Study Mean What It Says?

Google is touting a new study this week that concludes “Search Ads Lift Brand Awareness.” What the study should be titled, though, is “The Top Search Ad Lifts Brand Awareness”.

Google's search ads lift brand metrics studyThis was a meta-study in which several studies were conducted by Google and Ipsos MediaCT across a set of verticals including CPG and automotive. A total of 800 US consumers were asked to search for a category specific keyword. The results showed that the test brands across the verticals saw a lift in awareness:

When respondents were asked what brand first came to mind when thinking about a specific category keyword, an average of 14.8% in the Test group named the test brand, while just 8.2% of the Control group named the same brand. That’s a 6.6 percentage point increase or an average 80% lift in top-of-mind awareness.

Only The Top Ad Spot Was Tested

Here’s the thing about the study, it only tested the brand impact for the brand when its ad appeared in the top spot. It didn’t test the branding impact of other ad positions.

The Test SERP featured the test brand in the top search ad position, with all other ads on the page moved down by one position. The Control did not feature an ad from the test brand at all. The organic results of the SERP were not manipulated in any way.

So, while the overview boasts that “the results were clearly positive: search ads increased top-of-mind awareness and unaided brand awareness.” The results didn’t actually show that search ads lift brand awareness. They showed the top search ad increases brand metrics.

Is anyone surprised that brand recall for an ad consistently shown in the top spot on the SERP in the test group was higher than in the control group that saw no ad for the brand at all? Probably not. Is an 80 percent lift in top-of-mind awareness good news for brands? It would seem so, and most search marketers wouldn’t argue about the branding benefits of paid search advertising.

The Top Ad Position Is Not A Proxy For All Ad Spots

However, to extrapolate this finding and paint it with a broad brush to say “Search Ads Drive Brand Awareness” seems a stretch and potentially misleading. Is there research that shows right rail ads lift brand awareness? How much do positions 2 and 3 lift brand metrics? This study didn’t measure that.

Toward the end of the original post on the Think With Google blog, brand advertisers are encouraged to think about search for more than just driving conversions, buy category keywords and “Use the top ad slot and image search formats to help your brand stand out from other results.”

I’m not arguing with the results or even the recommendations necessarily. I find fault with the fact that the title and write-ups aren’t more explicit about what the results actually show. A strategy to be in the top ad position on a number of broad category terms is different, both tactically and budget-wise, than a campaign driven by the concept that “search ads lift brand awareness” might be. This study shows the results are likely to be different, too.