The State Of Cross-Channel Paid Search, Part 1: SEM & Social


In just about every survey ever conducted on the value of a cross-channel marketing approach, most marketers acknowledge that using coordinated marketing channels has the potential to be more valuable than operating siloed channels individually.

Of course, that’s an easy thing for marketers to theoretically agree with…

Meanwhile, in almost every survey conducted on the current state of cross-channel marketing, a minority of marketers feel that their organizations are armed and ready to coordinate multiple channels.

Paid search has historically been a very siloed channel with its own metrics, processes and tools. It’s almost become its own universe, where even the best-paid search marketers have little understanding of how other marketing channels work.

But when you think about the fact that so many other channels eventually drive consumers to search engines, wouldn’t it be better if search marketers took a stronger position on how and where paid search can play in the cross-channel world?

The truth, search pros, is that your leadership is needed.

What’s Your Cross-Channel Point Of View For SEM?

If you are a paid search marketer who is reading this, what level of understanding do you have of how paid search can drive value to the rest of the channels in the marketing plan?

Put yourself in this hypothetical solution: Your boss (or your client, if you’re at an agency) has called all of the channel managers together for a week-long internal summit to figure out how to better coordinate a holistic marketing plan.

You’re up first. What do you say?

  • What’s your point of view on how SEM impacts and influences other channels?
  • How do other channels impact and influence SEM?
  • If you could make changes to move SEM towards omnichannel nirvana, what would be your plan for the next 12 months?
  • What would be the action steps required by your team to accomplish this?
  • What would be your “asks” to the other channel managers?

Without question, marketing is headed towards a coordinated, cross-channel approach. There are simply too many dollars on the line, and today’s consumer path-to-purchase is just too complicated to expect siloed marketing channels to have the impact they once did.

What will your place be in the cross-channel world? Over the next several posts, I will outline paid search’s current relationship with the other major marketing channels in order to kick-start your own thinking process and be prepared for the next (inevitable) evolution of this industry.

In the first post of this series, we will explore the relationship between paid search and social advertising.


Paid Search & Social Advertising: A Natural Fit For Search Marketers

As consumer social media adoption began to rise in the mid- to late 2000s, the first marketing angle with social was leveraging the organic opportunities with Facebook, Twitter and other early social media sites.

PR firms (and then social agencies) were the first to claim this territory, as organic social falls more into the marcom category than the advertising category. It was around this time that “social gurus” and “social ninjas” began to spring up to set their leadership in this space. The popular social tools at that time were strictly focused on organic posting and management.

As Facebook and other social publishers began to release ad platforms, brands began allocating some rather significant budgets toward social advertising, and it became increasingly clear that the PR and social agencies’ organic search expertise wasn’t translating as well in the paid media space.

Thus, the eventual stewardship of social advertising was passed to search agencies, whose expertise in bid management, text ad generation and ad analytics proved them to be better equipped to succeed in the auction-based channel.

Of course, not all social advertising is run by former or current search practitioners, but a large portion of enterprise-level spending (i.e., $200K+/mo) in the social sphere is funneled through marketers primarily trained in paid search.

With search folks taking over social advertising, the channel has flourished, with double-digit growth in the US expected to continue through 2017.

I’m not going to make the case that social advertising’s meteoric rise is attributed to search marketers taking over the channel. However, every new marketing channel takes time to build best practices, determine the right KPIs and metrics and figure out how to optimize to increase performance.

Search marketers and agencies brought proven tactics and solid thinking from almost a decade of paid search experience to social advertising. This immediately brought a comfort level with social advertising that brands could bank on.

Although it would be hard to go back and quantify the effect that this “instant expertise” had on brand adoption of social advertising, it would be hard to ignore how important a role search marketers played in the channel’s rapid growth.

Cross-Channel Tools Still Nascent With Paid Search & Social Advertising

The evolution of digital marketing channels closely follows the evolution of the tools available. For example, no matter how badly a marketer might want to run Reach and Frequency targeting on Facebook, if Facebook had never opened up that option in Power Editor, then it would be impossible to utilize that tactic.

The cross-channel tools in the digital marketing industry are really few and far between, as most platforms are truly single-point solutions (even if they have some cross-channel features). There has been some significant innovation in cross-channel measurement over the years, but media buying platforms have been slow to react.

It’s not their fault. Marketers themselves haven’t demanded cross-channel tools, so technology providers continue to invest primarily in silos.

Some of the larger paid search tech vendors have built some integration between their search and social tools, but it would be a stretch to say that a true cross-channel platform exists for these channels — which is a surprise based on the fact that so many search marketers are now today’s social ad practitioners.

Understand How To Leverage Social’s Push & Search’s Pull


The biggest difference between search and social is also what makes them complement each other so well.

Paid search is a pull medium, meaning that it requires a consumer to query a search engine to deliver an ad. This is a fantastic marketing channel because it reaches consumers while they’re in research mode and puts relevant ads in front of them based on their intent.

Social advertising is a push medium, meaning that advertisers simply push ads to consumers. Although a pull medium like paid search has proven to be an incredibly powerful way to capture consumer intent, it is limited by the need for consumers to search. Without a query, paid search does not have a way to reach non-searching consumers.

Thus, social advertising is a great way to generate the interest and demand that search can fulfill. And the relationship between these two channels is even more complex than that. Social can generate awareness, which drives consumers to search. Once they convert, they may then broadcast your products or services to their friends and families on social channels, which then sparks more searches.

Truly understanding how your customer base is impacted by both channels working well together will build cross-channel synergy that has more power than each channel working independently.

Moving Forward…

What are some other ways you can benefit from coordinating paid search with social advertising?

What are some ways paid search can help social advertising?

Cross-channel marketing is not easy when each channel has evolved separately in its own bubble. Measurement solutions like attribution can bring an organization together to help put the puzzle together.

But it is going to require more than simply looking back on campaign performance. Advertisers need leaders to reach across the aisle to their counterparts and think outside the box about how to best work with each other.

Leaders like you!

In the next part of this series, I will examine the relationship between the advertising industry’s most dominant channel, TV, and paid search.

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