I was asked yesterday what I thought the top marketing trend or trends would be for the rest of 2013. The answer is straightforward but challenging for us marketers: search that's beyond measured search. On any given day of the week, a new study pops out on the marketing news website of your choice talking about what's hot, and if you read the majority of the credible ones, search is still the top game in town for acquiring new audiences, converting leads, and ultimately improving business. But the search game is changing in the sense that measuring it is getting progressively tougher.
Search is being masked. For example, iOS devices don't pass any referral data at all in their browsing history, so traffic from Google searches on an iOS device come in attributed as direct traffic. The same is true for browsers that have started to encrypt their searches, like Google Chrome. Those searches, and what they're about, are being lost. You may think you're getting lots of direct traffic from your brand's prominence, but what you actually may be getting is mobile traffic of all kinds that's simply not being attributed correctly. Here's an easy way to tell: load up your direct traffic in Google Analytics. Then load up your other sources of traffic. Which sources do your direct traffic most look like? There's a chance that you need to do some more digging (and a proper correlation analysis) after that to see how much of your site traffic is mobile.
Second and more important, search behavior is becoming blended into other referral channels. For example, when you search on Facebook, you'll see traffic that comes out of that search be attributed as Facebook social traffic, even if it's being served up internally from Graph Search or Bing. The user behavior was still a search. When you search on Google Maps for a local business, your search will come through attributed to Google referral traffic, not search. When you search for something on services like Yelp, that's referral traffic too. Search on Pinterest? Assuming that someone clicks through to your site, it's Pinterest referral traffic, even though the user behavior was a search.
Finally, we're getting to a point now where we're seeing significant interest and action on the point of search purchase. Yelp bought SeatMe which gives it additional leverage over restaurants to create conversions right in the tool. Google bought Waze which has conversion points in the app for nearby businesses. Expect to see additional point of search purchasing opportunities in the near future.
What does this mean for you? Ultimately, it's more important than ever to ask people how they heard of you in every intake opportunity. That's the only way you're going to get credible data as search gets blended and muddied more and more.
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