Last year, marketers were blessed with a juicy new metric: Share of Search.
Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, saw a need to create “a Share of Voice for the digital era.” When he unveiled Share of Search at the EffWorks Global 2020 Conference, it sparked a ton of interest in digital marketing circles.
It has a lot of uses — one of which is predicting market share. If Share of Search increases, market share tends to follow.
If the viral success of Share of Search has told us anything, it’s that marketers are hungry for new metrics that keep up with the digital marketing landscape. Share of Search helps us to zoom out and see how often our brands are searched online. But what if we want to zoom in and see exactly where our brands exist in search?
For that, we’ll need something different. But first, let’s look at the reasons why we need it.
Measuring Product Awareness vs. Product Distribution
While Share of Search tells us a lot about online consumer behavior, it only considers products / brands people ALREADY know about. But this leaves us with some pretty big questions. For example, how do we get people to know about our products / brands in the first place?
We’re talking about the difference between measuring product awareness vs. product distribution.
Twenty years ago if you needed something, you might drive to a physical store, walk down the aisle that had the products you were looking for, and look around. Maybe you were influenced by an advertisement you saw, or the recommendation of a colleague, perhaps even the sales agent.
However the most important indicator of sales velocity always comes from availability. Products that are located at the right place — at eye-level — in the aisle where you are looking for them.
Those were simpler times. These days, people get their product recommendations from the Internet at large. That means blog articles, review sites, and a whole slew of other places that customers reference during their buying journey.
This is the new customer journey. And brands need to focus on digital product distribution if they want to influence and win new customers who might not be aware of (or were not previously searching for) a brand.
Product Discovery in Search: How I Bought an iPad
In 2020, I bought an iPad Pro & Magic Keyboard combo — not based on a recommendation from any one person, but from many people.
And I didn’t know a single one of them.
My awareness of this product started with a blog article that I didn’t even ask for — it popped up in the newsfeed on my mobile phone.
It told me that Apple was creating a slick new keyboard for the iPad Pro. My curiosity was piqued and my journey towards purchasing an iPad Pro began.
From there I went to Google, found more articles, ended up on Reddit, and referenced a bunch of reviews from all over. My mind was inspired, my decision made — not from Apple’s website, but from content found on a series of third-party sites.
I did not set foot in an Apple store, and I did not communicate with any Apple employees.
One could argue that I was already brand-loyal to Apple. That certainly helped, but this was a new product extension to which I had zero exposure.
I had to first become aware that Apple was making a new keyboard just for the iPad Pro. Then I had to learn about the huge improvements to iPadOS. Finally, I had to learn about how app makers were hoping to capitalize on these innovations.
Every step of my customer journey — awareness, consideration, and purchase decision — was facilitated by 3rd-party sources.
If my attention wasn’t captured by that article in my newsfeed, my buying journey could have been very different.
I’m sure Apple pushed out a ton of ads, but in this case, I didn’t see those. I find it hard to believe Apple simply got lucky capturing a new customer like me. It’s far more likely that Apple is adapting its digital product distribution strategy to the changing consumer landscape.
For marketers, this is powerful stuff. No matter how well optimized your brand’s website may be, the modern customer journey is a winding road that often misses a brand owned website entirely.
So, should Apple give up trying to reach customers searching for “tablet laptop accessories?” Of course not.
Brands simply need to understand and actively manage what customers see on the digital product shelf, or page-1 of search.
Don’t Limit Brand Search Strategy to Only Your Website
As we’ve already pointed out, your brand doesn’t only exist on your website. It’s very likely reaching customers across all types of third-party sources:
- Review sites (like BestProducts.com)
- Media Coverage + News mentions (like Vox)
- E-commerce sites (like Amazon)
- Answers sites (like Quora)
- Affiliate sites (like TripAdvisor)
- Special SERP features (like Local Packs & Answer Boxes)
If you’re not convinced these sites matter, consider this: 82% of customers visit consumer review sites because they already have a purchase decision in mind. And 79% of people say that user-generated content highly impacts their purchasing decisions.
Local SEO platform BrightLocal did a survey that found 91% of consumers between the age of 18 to 34 trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. And while first-party reviews can help with your on-site conversions, most customers are looking to independent third-party reviews to confirm whether a product is worth buying or not.
For all the money brands spend on SEO (an estimated $79.27 billion in 2020), you have to wonder how much is being spent optimizing content off their websites.
If the goal is to have outstanding digital product distribution, brands need to invest in managing their presence everywhere their customers are searching for answers.
The Shopping Aisle Dilemma
When you think of how people used to make a purchase, the analogy of the shopping aisle comes to mind. Customers would recognize a need, visit a local store, walk down the appropriate aisle, and likely purchased whatever was best merchandised.
These days, the aisle is the SERP.
Consider these stats:
- 68% of all online experiences begin with a search engine.
- That search engine is most likely Google.
- The top 5 organic results receive around 70% of all the “clicks” within the SERP.
Simply put, Google is the largest and most important customer acquisition platform in the world. And brands have very limited real estate to reach the customer.
This is how we should be approaching modern product / brand distribution. Having your website rank is amazing, but it’s still just 1/10th of the range of options presented on the SERP and perhaps even less when considering your page position.
The onus is on brands to be as ubiquitous as possible in the new shopping aisle: your brand needs to be EVERYWHERE customers are clicking.
Search Behavior is More Predictable Than You Think
If your goal is to compete for customers who just started their buying journey (e.g. not yet decided on what they’re going to buy), there are ways to level the playing field. It’s all about patterns.
Luckily, click behavior in search is incredibly predictable. We KNOW where people click on average, when considering a mix of special SERP features, organic rank, etc.
At Visably, we reviewed millions of SERPs using click-stream data and have been able to map out the click-through-rate (CTR) of over 98% of Google SERP iterations. We use this data to understand what percent of a SERP’s audience any given brand is reaching.
For example, the first organic result, regardless of the keyword, receives an average of 30% of all the clicks when only organic results (no special SERP features) are present. When you review organic CTR data across millions of keywords month-over-month, as Advanced Web Ranking does, the data demonstrates in no uncertain terms that search behavior (where we click) has universal patterns.
This all boils down to the fact that brands have limited real estate to reach a customer. And that real estate is hyper competitive with sites that likely have a much higher Domain Authority than yours.
Take a search like organic lipstick for example. There’s not a single brand-owned website in the top ten! But there are plenty of products to browse in this digital shopping aisle. But even though their website’s aren’t present, cosmetic brands should actively manage what customers see here.
To do this, they’ll have manage how their brand is presented on 3rd-party sites that do rank.
The same goes for products with much longer customer journeys than cosmetic products. To illustrate this, Google produced a case study that found something very interesting — one woman had as many as 900 intent-driven microments in the 3-month period leading up to the purchase of her new car.
It is safe to assume that bigger purchases have more extensive customer journeys. But there are several companies with much smaller price tags who understand the importance of being everywhere their customers are online.
One brand that has been nailing this for a while: Hubspot.
Even though Hubspot ranks for many of their target keywords, they also know they need to have a larger digital presence than just their own website. So in addition to their own SEO efforts, Hubspot also focuses on having their product listed in high-trust affiliate sites, blogs, and review sites that reinforce their brand and improve the likelihood of an inbound demo request or sale.
Hubspot is so keen on the idea that they coined a new phrase to describe it: Surround Sound Strategy.
The idea is much like what we’ve been talking about here: if the goal is to be everywhere a customer is looking for answers, you can’t rely on your own website alone.
Share of Search vs. Search of Voice vs. Rank Tracking
So how do you know if your brand is reaching customers in the SERP? Traditional marketing metrics aren’t much help.
Share of Search
Share of Search falls short of what we need because it only considers branded searches (e.g. product awareness). It doesn’t measure brand strength WITHIN the SERP, which requires analysis of individual search results. And what do you do when there is no trend data to draw from, as is the case with new product and brand launches?
Share of Voice
What about our old friend Share of Voice (SoV)? Share of Voice helps us understand how frequently a brand is mentioned in comparison to all relevant competitors. In recent years, it’s been used to track online media mentions, PPC, and website traffic for example.
And while determining your SoV can be useful, there’s one major problem when we use it for search: SoV doesn’t account for the fact that clicks aren’t equally distributed in the search results page.
In other words, SoV has no correlation to how many people you’re reaching in the SERP.
For example, an SoV of 50% with organic SERP content sounds outstanding. But consider that the difference in CTR among the bottom 50% of search results verses the top 50%; there’s no way of telling how well you’re really doing.
What about standard Rank Tracking metrics? Sure, they can tell us where our website exists in search. But rank tracking doesn’t tell us where your brand exists or how well you are influencing the customer journey.
And that turns out to be a huge problem because Brand Owned content is at a fundamental disadvantage when trying to reach larger audiences and more popular keywords.
Why? Because Brand Owned sites, on average, have a significantly lower Domain Authority than Ecommerce and Earned Media websites — and hence will always lose out on top search positions when an Earned Media or Ecommerce website is targeting the same keyword. To illustrate this, we compared the Domain Authority of 1000 Earned Media sites, 1000 Ecommerce sites, and 1000 Brand Owned sites:
What SEO Does Well (Website Tracking), and Where it Fails (Brand Tracking)
To hammer home the importance of third-party sites when developing search strategy, let’s look at another example of keyword / brand exposure conflict with the search phrase “Ski Pants.”
With a monthly search volume of 40,500, there’s a ton of qualified customers up for grabs. Not only that, but this keyword has a cost-per-click (CPC) of $1.35, indicating that people searching this term have a reasonably high purchase intent.
So if your brand sells ski pants, this is a fantastic place to reach customers. But here’s the thing: virtually all the results are 3rd-party sites.
Google’s not giving brands any prime real estate here.
Now take a brand like Patagonia, a leading manufacturer of ski pants. Patagonia.com doesn’t rank on the first page for this keyword.
However, if you look a little deeper at the organic PAGE CONTENT that does rank within the SERP, you can see that Patagonia is well represented. A customer looking for ski pants is going to find Patagonia most places they click within the SERP, or — in other words — Patagonia is reaching their target customer by having excellent product distribution within the SERP among ecommerce partners and well-placed PR.
Introducing “Share of Click” (SoC)
That was a lot of build-up, but we wanted to make it clear: brands need an integrated approach toward search strategy. It’s not enough to optimize your brand website for search. You have to optimize your BRAND for search.
Allow us to introduce a new measurement methodology: Share of Click (SoC).
The core reason we developed Share of Click is to answer a simple question: Where does your brand exist in the SERP? And perhaps more importantly, how many people saw it?
Share of Click is an ideal key performance indicator of brand distribution within the SERP and directly relates to how much of the SERP’s total audience a brand is reaching.
In other words, Share of Click is a single metric that measures your brand’s total coverage in the SERP.
DEFINITION: Share of Click
A measure of a keyword’s audience exposed to a particular product or brand. Share of Click = (number of clicks received by organic results that include “x” brand or product) / ( total clicks received by all organic results in a SERP).
(n.b. At Visably, we do not include paid media or shopping results in an SoC calculation.)
Share of Click recognizes that each organic result has a unique CTR and pairs that knowledge with brand analysis of the result’s page content. SoC is a form of brand-listening applied to the SERP that also blends search volume metrics, organic CTR, and CPC information.
At Visably, our vision is to fundamentally change how marketers approach search engine strategy. We review everything a customer sees and we use that data to help brands align search marketing efforts, recognize and fix blind spots, and become brand-dominant across all channels that display in search results.
Stay with us as we dive deeper into Share of Click and how to increase your brand distribution in search.
Chris is the Founder and CEO of Visably and the creator of Share of Click. Chris lives in Jackson Hole, WY and also operates a brand communications agency. LinkedIn
Ryan is a marketer & content creator whose work has spanned several industries, including tech, software, and ecommerce. When he’s not writing, you’ll find his listening to podcasts and making weird electronic music. Ryan lives in British Columbia.