The search marketer’s new imperative: Capturing first-party data

Third-party cookies are on their way out. You’ve probably been thinking and talking about this for a few years now. 

And you’ve likely seen many blog posts, articles, webinars, podcasts, etc. talking about how first-party data is the path forward for adapting to the cookieless future

What isn’t being talked about?

The role that search plays in collecting that precious first-party data.

The role of search in capturing first-party data

Oftentimes it’s commerce, loyalty programs, and the like that are deemed responsible for discovering the ins and outs of your customers.

But search plays a critical role, too. It’s uniquely positioned for a few reasons.

Users are purposefully engaging with your site 

So many marketing channels engage with consumers during a non-commerce moment – while they’re sitting on the couch binge-watching The Office, drooling over their best friend’s Insta-perfect pictures from that recent trip to Tuscany, etc. 

Search is a rare exception. The consumers we engage with are actively raising their hands, and we’re helpfully showing up to meet their needs. 

That means that every engagement we have with potential customers is highly intentional. They’ve made the choice to not just look for something we offer, but also to visit our site. What that means is…

Clicks have both high intent and strong timing signals

We can learn a ton of valuable information about a person, even if they don’t immediately make a purchase. 

Clicks are considered a first-party cookie, meaning the advertiser has a consented ability to:

  • Tag the consumer’s browser.
  • Use that information to improve their customer experience and future engagements and interactions with the brand.

We can also very directly and confidently infer interest. 

Someone looking for a tent on our ecommerce website shows a much stronger signal of “interest in buying camping gear” than a person browsing an outdoorsy blog or looking up the top 10 tips for hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

We also know that they’re thinking about buying that camping gear now.

Search is a demand-capture channel that reveals high intent and purposeful engagement with the benefit of a first-party cookie. 

Nothing new, right? 

What’s new is the relative importance of each first-party click that comes through search.

As the opportunities to mine data from third-party cookies become fewer and fewer and walled gardens build their fences taller and taller, that importance will only continue to rise. 

Search has a new responsibility to take its high-intent first-party data and use it across the marketing ecosystem.

Search data on its own can be valuable, but it becomes even more powerful when paired with other first-party data sources. So, what does that look like?

Search + site behavior data = better user experiences

Garnering an ad click is only half of the battle. 

As the consumer digests the website, text, imagery, and value proposition, a lot can happen. 

Sometimes, consumers bounce nearly immediately, while other times, they will view 10+ pages and spend over 15 minutes browsing the site. 

This metadata can and should be used to build customer segments. Purchase propensity scores can be derived based on on-site behavior. 

We recommend using this information to better inform automated customer targeting and suppression lists to be added to digital marketing and remarketing initiatives.

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Search + CRM = better digital engagement

Extending the view on-site behavior, we can further couple search intent to known online and offline customer engagement. 

Is the consumer on our email list or mailing list, or have they previously purchased? 

If yes, how active have they been, and what metadata and activity can we add to our customer segmentation models? 

These signals can allow brands to alter messaging and value propositions in real time on the website and can also lead to improved customer engagement – a feeling that the brand knows who they are and wants to provide a personalized and tailored experience

Beyond the site, brands will also have the ability to reach these first-party customers in other paid and organic digital experiences, such as custom-tailored social ads and emails.

Search + CRM = better non-digital outreach

When we’ve historically talked about cross-channel marketing, especially when it pertains to search, the typical “other channels” are paid social, e-retail, display, etc. 

We need to start including our offline channels in those conversations, too. 

In today’s data-driven world, every brand-to-consumer touch point short of a friend saying “Hey, check out my new backpack!” can be part of a connected journey.

Take direct mail, for example.

Having the ability to tailor a brand’s direct mail campaign by refining the who, the what, and the how is powerful and performant. 

By understanding the customer’s intent and product/service desires, as well as the fact that their need is now, we have a unique ability to build propensity models. 

Firstly, these customer segment models can be built on the likelihood to purchase – leading to top segments as well as customers to suppress. 

Second, the content can be altered to match the exact products/services the customer has expressed interest in. 

Finally, the physical mail can be tailored to match the individual and their needs. Delivering a postcard flyer, an envelope, or a catalog to different customer segments becomes possible.

The role of search in creating great customer experiences

Search has always been an important channel (in my extremely unbiased opinion), and it’s only getting more critical as its role in creating great customer experiences grows. 

Our guiding light as search marketers has always been to meet hand-raisers with what they’re seeking, when they’re seeking it, in a way that’s responsible for our business. 

Now we have another imperative: taking the data those hand-raisers give us to make all of their experiences with our brand better.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Matt Mierzejewski

Matthew Mierzejewski is Senior Vice President of Search at Merkle where he is responsible for US Search (SEM, SEO) delivery, operations, product, and sales. Matt has been a contributor to multiple industry roundtables, webinars and has also served as a Google SEM Beta Lead. Matt evaluates and supports Merkle’s adoption of new industry and search engine product opportunities and creates best-practices based on key performance goals for Merkle clients. Additionally, Matt has regularly participated in interviews by Google, MediaPost, and other media outlets for his opinions on the state of the online marketing industry. Matt has also been invited to speak and participate at industry events such as SMX Advanced, ad:tech and Mediapost Search Insider Summit.

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