SEO

The strategic search revolution is here: How to better engage your audience by Merkle

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SERP complexity and user engagement have never been more volatile. No-click searches are at an all-time high, above-the-fold visibility is fleeting and elusive and SERP composition has never been more complex. But the real question is, will your brand stand tall amongst the challengers or fall victim to complacency? The old adage of “grow or die” has never been truer.

What’s our data showing for the SERP?

Organic search faces an uphill battle against alternative SERP features, with our proprietary data showing above-the-fold visibility for blue links hovering around 18% in Q1 of 2023.

Looking back at 2022, premium above-the-fold positioning favored paid listings and intent-driven SERP features – our data showed that People Also Search SERP prevalence grew 156%, text ads grew 22% and shopping ads increased 14%. While 2023 still favors intent-driven SERP features, paid listings seem to be losing ground.

In the B2B and insurance industries, Q1 of 2023 favored text ads and People Also Ask, showing above the fold roughly 60% and 85% of the time, respectively.

In financial services, the appearance of text ads above-the-fold fell 10% quarter over quarter, making more room for People Also Search features.

In retail and ecommerce, text ads’ appearance in SERPs was nearly cut in half, shopping ads decreased by 6%, and the appearance of traditional organic blue links fell by 8% YoY. These SERP composition changes seem to make room for product listings, as merchant listings grew by 16% and comprised 45% of the total composition. It’s safe to say that 2023 will be the year of the product listing: if we consider all product listing types, about 50% of all retail SERP elements are products.

We are also staring into the great unknown with the integration of AI into the search experience. Google’s Bard and Search Generative Experience (SGE) and Bing’s Open AI partnership are already underway, adding another layer of complexity to an already intricate algorithm.

So, how do you stay ahead and stay visible?

The answer is a strategic search revolution that knocks down the walls between paid and organic and is firmly rooted in data. The quality of your data, the accessibility of your data across your teams, and how well you interpret that data into actionable insights are non-negotiable for a successful search strategy.

The “strategic search revolution” isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Data is the biggest key, but it’s only half the battle. Here is a five-step process to finding success in an ever-evolving SERP landscape:

  1. Research your audience
  2. Segment consumer insights
  3. Understand your competition
  4. Find your brand’s gap
  5. Activate

1. Research your audience

No one knows your audience better than they know themselves. Keywords are your biggest audience research tool, and because of that, this step is often the most undervalued in crafting strategies. Ensuring your keyword research comprehensively covers your target landscape is critical to identifying the “why” behind the search. Forget about search volume caps – the bigger the list, the better the insights.

Remember: each keyword is your users trying to find you. Understanding composition and usage lets you know how to meet them where they are.

2. Segment consumer insights

Now that you know what your audience is searching for, what are they telling you? What are they repeatedly looking for? How many different ways are they asking the question?

The main focus of this step is to pinpoint what the user intends to do when they engage with their search bar.

Search is just a series of unanswered questions. Understanding patterns and commonalities across the plethora of search data gives us key insights into how our users enter the market. But more importantly, the data tells us how we, as a brand, can forge connections in their true moment of need.

3. Understand your competition

Standing out is better than fitting in, but to do that in a relevant way, you need to understand the environment in which your audience exists. That requires competitive data. Two types of competitive data are critical to understanding how to find success:

  • SERP composition refers to the organic and paid formats that make up the SERP itself.
  • Competitor composition refers to the domains competing in the SERP.

SERP composition allows you to understand the environment in which you need to find representation. Is this a paid-dominated space? How many different features and listing types exist? What is visible above the fold?

The competitive composition allows you to understand the formats that enable representation in said environment. Do informational competitors dominate over sellers? What about the page types that capture top spots?

4. Find your brand’s gap

Now it’s time to confront the biggest question of all: what is your brand not doing, or actively doing, that is limiting visibility in this SERP environment? Some things to think about:

  • Are you answering your users’ questions?
    • Are you actually?
  • Are you answering your users’ questions in the nature they were asked?
  • Are you answering your users’ questions in a format that resonates?
  • Are you answering your users’ questions in the channel (paid or organic) that is visible?

Understanding your visibility gaps and your brand voice gaps highlights those key areas where strategic activation is needed to drive audience engagement.

5. Activate

Once you’ve outlined the key takeaways from the previous four steps, the last thing your brand needs to do is apply those learnings to your current search program.

The biggest point to remember is that the SERP is no longer paid or organic. It’s a battleground of mixed intent and channel-agnostic listings. It’s time your visibility strategy is integrated into the SERP itself.

How to do this for your brand

Knowing what to do is one thing, but knowing how to do it for your brand is a different story. Some key things to consider when execution planning:

  • Data management: We are talking about A LOT of data here. Data processing and data management are key to extracting the insights that will lead to a lucrative initiative.
  • SEO/SEM planning: Having SEO + SEM managed under one roof enables easy data sharing and cohesive planning and leads to strategies that work together. Integration is always best when you’re on the same team, are experts in your craft and understand that success in search means total search, not a single position or a specific keyword.
  • Implementation: Data for insights at scale is only as good as your ability to implement them at scale.

Sometimes it just takes the right partnership to get it done. Due to resources and in-house expertise constraints, working with an agency partner can be the key to standing up a search program that can’t lose.

As AI permeates the search space, total search is more critical than ever. Will your brand be ready?

This article was written by Kacie Gaudiose, SEO content strategy lead at Merkle.

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About the author

Merkle

Merkle, a dentsu company, is a leading data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices. For more than 30 years, Fortune 1000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios. The company’s heritage in data, technology, and analytics forms the foundation for its unmatched skills in understanding consumer insights that drive hyper-personalized marketing strategies. For more information, visit www.merkle.com.

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