Paid search might be one of the greatest bottom funnel advertising tactics in the history of marketing.

After all, every bit of advertising drives interest and awareness with the potential to lead to a query on a search engine that paid search can then convert. Like a net at the bottom of your entire media portfolio, search engine marketing is ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year to capture demand and route it to your best landing pages.

No one can argue that paid search works great at the bottom of the funnel, but what about at the top and middle? Historically, upper funnel terms have higher CPCs and lower conversion rates, so sometimes a search marketer might feel justified in deprioritizing those terms and focusing on bottom terms where the metrics look better.

But, focusing on the bottom funnel isn’t aligned to the way people search. Consumers use search engines across the funnel during their purchase journey. I know that I do.

According to research from Forrester Consulting, we all do, too.

  • 95 percent of respondents use at least one search channel for discovery (top funnel)
  • 94 percent of respondents use at last one search channel for consideration/purchase (mid-funnel)
  • 93 percent of respondents use at least one search channel for engagement (bottom funnel)

The data is clear and common sense is even clearer. Consumers search throughout the funnel, and yet many (but not all) search marketers tend to look at upper funnel SEM as “inefficient.”  They might have some of the most relevant and obvious top and middle terms in their search accounts, but only to supplement the bottom funnel terms that have limited scale and that can’t spend the entire budget on their own.

But, what if…? What if the myopic focus on chasing the most efficient KPIs is literally holding today’s search programs back from fully flourishing?

Think about your own paid search program. Is it aligned to the way that consumers use search engines in purchase decisions for your category or is it purposefully bottom funnel-focused so that it can deliver the highest ROAS in the monthly marketing report? Maybe we – search marketers – have helped to perpetuate this narrow view of what this channel can deliver by setting expectations at our company and agency that SEM is best as a lower-funnel tactic.

Could our bottom funnels be much, much larger if we filled our funnels with top and middle funnel search? The top and middle KPIs might never stack up to bottom funnel performance, but maybe they can impact more business goals than other upper funnel marketing tactics such as online display or even television.

Every search represents a potential customer

If 90 percent of searchers haven’t made their mind up about a brand before starting their search, it would seem that getting in front of a consumer when they’re just starting their purchase journey should be prioritized. And the time when consumers are searching for middle funnel terms as they round out their research and get closer to buying can be a very valuable inflection point for brands to influence them.

One of my favorite quotes that really hammers home just how valuable every search can be is from Bing’s Christi Olson in the 2017 SearchEngineLand.com article, The value of search across the modern consumer decision journey.

“In many ways, today’s search marketers must unlearn some old practices and adopt a new mindset, delving deeper into individual customer journeys and query paths,” says Olson. “Paid search is no longer a product with broad KPIs, such as conversions and clicks. Clicks are no longer clicks; they represent individual consumers on specific journeys.”

Let that sink in.

A search click is not just a click. It’s a consumer on a purchase journey.

Once you embrace that, the value of the upper funnel search suddenly becomes clearer. The justification for paying a few bucks more per click for upper funnel keywords makes more sense and evaluating every search effort against your most efficient bottom funnel [unicorn] terms makes less sense.


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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