Search engine marketing, a marketing strategy that is essentially a pull strategy, comes with its limitations. The limitation of being able to reach out to the consumer only if the consumer is actively looking for the brand/product/service makes Search a less favourable digital option in the presence of other pull strategies like Display, Video, and Social Media.
According to the findings of the first DANe4m Digital Report, the share of advertising spends on Search will decline from 27 per cent in 2016 to 19 per cent by 2020. According to the report, Search will be the only digital advertising avenue to witness a decline in share. The share of Classifieds will remain stable at 7 per cent, while Video, Display, and Social Media will all gain shares in the total digital advertising pie. This continuing trend has given rise to the question: Why has the market for Search Engine Marketing stagnated?
Why is search on a decline?
According to RP Singh, Regional Head of Media, VML – SEA and India, if he had to summarize the current status of Search Engine Marketing in one word, he would say it is stabilising and not stagnating. This is because, “As clients and advertisers are evolving, they are thinking of other avenues of spending money. Even though the absolute spends on SEM may be going up, the percentage is stagnating or stabilising,” he said.
Explaining why other forms of marketing are replacing search, he said, “Earlier, starting a SEM campaign was simple to carry out, now simpler solutions have emerged, like social media. Lot of matured advertisers are now spending money on creating content, creative, visual, video, or textual. Therefore, the SEM pie is shrinking. One of the prerequisites for SEM is to have a website; without that, SEM is being replaced by social media marketing and the like. A lot of advertisers are also spending money on perfecting their CRM to retain existing customers.”
Charulata Ravi Kumar, CEO India – SapientRazorfish, said that while it may be too soon to make predictions for as far as 2020, “Indications of search-slip today may be a result of some of the high-spending categories like FMCG and BFSI leaning to social currency as consumer WOM picks up in importance. However, in the long term, emerging newer categories like healthcare, education, automobile, etc., where discovery is driven by a pre-decided intent have the potential to spike up the spends on search.”
Changing consumer behaviour
One of the main reasons for the reduced growth rate is the change in consumer behaviour. From using apps to spending most of their time on mobile phones, consumers are defining the new rules of the game. Advertisers have to reach out to their consumers in the digital space, which is most popular among consumers.
Vivek Bhargava, CEO, DAN Performance Group, “Over time, search advertising has evolved and split into multiple sectors.” He said that Search now is not only about Google search. “Consumers now search for specific information on apps or websites that cater to that segment. People search for flights on websites like Makemytrip, or for products on Amazon or Flipkart, and for videos on YouTube.” Bhargava said that while the absolute spends will increase, it is the share of Search in the digital advertising pie that will reduce, driven by the bifurcation of search.
He added that Search behaviour is changing also in the way that earlier, if consumers used two key words, now they use seven keywords in a string. That makes it hard for advertisers to accurately target consumers.
Pavan Sachdeva, Associate Vice President, SapientRazorfish, echoed the sentiments of Bhargava. He said that in some categories, the shift from search engines to social platforms like Facebook and mobile apps is gaining ground. “This holds true more for the searches around the interest category. Take AirBnb for instance, its integration of holiday suggestions within the app can make holiday-searching more interesting than through search,” he said.
Speaking at the panel discussion that was part of the launch of the DANe4m Digital Report, Shamsuddin Jasani, MD, Isobar India, said that, “According to latest statistics, 85 per cent of access on mobile phone is through apps and not web browsers. People using apps go to those apps with the intent of doing something specific.” So, the desktop behaviour has not translated exactly into mobile phones, he said. That behaviour has impacted the percentage share of Search in digital advertising, Jasani explained. “Search in the traditional sense is declining, but search within apps is taking off,” he said.
With Search moving from web browsers to apps, the volume of search has not decreased; it is in fact increasing, following the trend of the adoption of internet. Rajiv Dingra, CEO, WAT Consult, said that advertisers are in fact finding it hard to find effective and appropriate ways to leverage Search advertising. Because of that, budgets set aside for Search are going unutilized. “The belief is that Search advertising will mature. I don’t think Search with de-grow, but it will not grow as fast as other types of advertising like video and display,” Dingra said. He added that in the current environment where visual ads have more appeal, Search ads that are text-based are losing out.
Search is evergreen
Even though the share of ad spends on Search may decline, the relevance of Search is unlikely to see a decline in the long term. Search is relevant in sectors like automotive, retail, and BFSI as after consumers discover the product/service/brand, they tend to research about it on the internet. Similarly, in the case of sectors like consumer durables and e-commerce, Search plays a huge role as purchases in this category are driven by intent and backed by research.
Sachdeva explained that Search is an integral part of the discovery phase of a consumer’s journey. “This can’t lose relevance. Search engines like Google have always made themselves relevant to the consumers by continuously evolving them with innovations, and will continue to do so,” he said.
Dingra also said that while budgets for Search may not increase, Search budget will be a big budget month-on-month. He added that if there is a campaign that can drive Search volumes up, advertisers will spend on Search.
Shekhar Banerjee, COO of Madison Media, summarized that, “Search had one of best years in 2016 with a growth of 43 per cent in Adex over last year. This is the highest in last three years and I do not see any stagnation in it.”
According to him, with evolving consumer journey, today, we are observing search volumes only surging. Consumers are researching a lot more before buying, even for everyday CPG categories. “This means Adex will also follow,” he said.
Sachdeva added, “Digital ad spend in India has been increasing YOY and will continue to do so. The behavioral change of consumer searching directly on social or service apps is just a shift of ad spends from search to social and mobile.”