Few digital formats are less understood than search. The technical requirements to put a search ad campaign in place are enough to send most people running for the exits. And then there’s the whole question of how to prove whether or not search spending is making a difference. A new paper published by Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Daisy Dai, a professor at Lehigh University, answers all of the questions about search that you’ve been afraid to ask.
The search study focused on one specific segment – the restaurant industry. The professors set up free ads for over 7,000 restaurants that had never advertised on Yelp. Then, they studied consumer interaction on Yelp with these specific restaurants over a fixed period of time – 3 months. At the end of the study, the professors noted the changes in consumer behavior and found a significant increase in page views as follows:
- Desktop browsers +22%
- Mobile devices +30%
- Overall page views +25%
The study also revealed that consumers made 18% more requests for directions to restaurants with ads appearing on Yelp and made 13% more calls. The restaurant websites also benefited from a 9% increase in visits.
The bottom line from the study appears to be that businesses can benefit from paying for search advertising. These findings directly contrast with a major experiment run by eBay a couple of years ago. In that case, eBay announced that it detected no difference in traffic when it stopped advertising on a “major search engine.”
Luca points out that it’s important to understand the nuances of search. In his study, restaurants which had not been advertising on a specific site, in this case – Yelp, suddenly appeared before consumers’ eyes. Luca notes, “The value Yelp ads seem to provide is in surfacing brands to customers.” He also suggests that, “search ads work best when they alert consumers to something they’re not already aware of.”
If your clients want to see more results from their search ads, work with them to get creative. Help them expand their categories or change the key words they are buying in order to extend their reach and interest more consumers.