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Paid Search & Social Media: Can They Be Friends?

As a large-scale paid search marketer, you may believe social media marketing has little to do with your craft. After all, most marketers hold true to the notion that paid search is extremely measurable, focused on bottom-line ROI and grounded in analytics, whereas social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and viral video, is experimental, difficult to measure, and all about engagement and branding.

But the reality is that search and social are becoming more and more similar, with each marketing tactic influencing the other in important ways. Auction-based advertising models for leading sites such as Facebook and YouTube have resulted in social media marketing that is increasingly focused on measurement, accountability and bottom-line results. More importantly, brand engagement on social channels is having an impact on how consumers interact with and convert from paid search. As the importance of social media rises, smart marketers will look to integrate search and social for maximum effectiveness—driving down overall costs and boosting company-wide marketing ROI.

Integrating marketing programs always sounds like a great idea, but the challenge with integration lies in execution. How can marketers combine two distinctly different tactics—the keyword based, conversion-obsessed world of paid search and the audience based, brand-building world of social—to drive an overall increase in ROI? It’s still early days of social media marketing, and successful integration strategies are only now beginning to emerge. But there are several tactics that do work, and I’ll share them below.

Different mediums, different strengths

Before I delve into concrete tips for integrating social and search marketing, it’s important to keep one thing in mind: search and social media provide different benefits to your business, so you should leverage their strengths instead of trying to force them to deliver results that aren’t suited to the medium. But by recognizing what each channel is good at, you can maximize your overall effectiveness rather than operating your programs in silos.

Marketers use social media to create an active dialogue with consumers around their products and services, with the main goal of building brand value, and a secondary goal of driving sales. On the other hand, marketers use paid search primarily to drive sales, leads and conversions—and don’t expect the short text of their paid search ads to do much for branding. Together, the two disciplines can increase the value that each program delivers; by creating social content that attracts an engaged audience, marketers can then craft targeted paid search campaigns to “capture” this audience and turn them into buyers.

As an example of how this works, consider the findings from an October 2009 study conducted by GroupM Search, M80 and comScore. The research found that consumers exposed to a brand’s social media content are 2.8 times more likely to search on that brand’s terms, and 1.7 times more likely to search with the intention of making a purchase. What’s more, brands reported a 50% lift in click-through rates from consumers exposed to both social media and paid search.

In other words, stronger brand awareness through social media helps drive paid search effectiveness in three ways:

  • Target audiences are more likely to search (more impressions on your ads)
  • Target audiences are more likely to click (more clicks on those impressions)
  • Because of higher click-through rates, ads are placed higher on page (higher quality score)

Getting Integration right

There is no silver bullet for integrating search and social, but there are several concrete strategies every marketer can use to start bringing the two different but complementary marketing disciplines together. Here are a few tips you can use to bring social media into your campaigns in a way that drives a lasting increase in overall marketing ROI.

Make sure social campaigns are search-friendly. Work with the social marketing mavens at your company or agency to ensure the programs they’re running (Facebook, Twitter, viral video etc.) are appropriately tagged and indexed, and that meta-data for pages includes your top keywords. This will allow people searching for your brand content to not only find your paid search ads and natural search results, but to find your social media content as well. If your social media colleagues are at first distrustful of a search marketer telling them what to do, explain to them that the first step to building brand engagement through social activities is to enable consumers to easily find your content.

Try keyword advertising on social media sites. Facebook and YouTube both offer keyword-targeted advertising, but as a search marketer it’s important to understand that these are unlike the keyword ads you are accustomed to buying. Facebook ads allow you to target users based on preferences they list on their profile. For example, a retailer selling DVD’s would create ads that target interests such as “action movies,” “horror,” or “funny movies,” rather than ads for specific movie titles. YouTube’s advertising system allows you to target specific user queries. However, remember the queries that occur on YouTube are different than those on Google, because users on YouTube are searching for content, not products. For example, people may be trying to find “Avatar trailer” or “car scene from Modern Family” rather than searching for a particular DVD, so make sure to target your ads to these more specific types of search queries.

Adjust paid search campaigns based on social media trends. Closely analyze the topics and discussions taking place around your social media campaigns, and then mine these discussions for new keywords you can use in paid search campaigns on Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Whatever people are talking about, bid on keywords that reflect these conversations. As always, you should measure the performance of these new keyword campaigns to prune non-performing ads and increase investment on terms that are more likely to capture downstream conversions. In addition, consider running controlled experiments with social media advertising turned off and on, so you can measure the impact these campaigns have on your paid search programs by observing changes in your paid search click-through and conversion rates.

By quantifying the uplift that social media delivers to your paid search programs—and adjusting your marketing strategy based on social media trends—you will gain insights into your marketing programs that search marketers who limit their view to just one channel do not. A little bit of integration goes a long way towards improving the performance of both your paid search and social programs.

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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