For thousands of companies, search engine marketing (SEM) is a key component of marketing success. However, search engine marketing on its own is limited with regard to reach, impact, and persuasiveness.
For example, studies have shown that 92% of consumers that visit a retailer's website for the first time are not there with intent to purchase. Most visitors are researching the company itself, a particular product or service, or looking for store details. Many prospects need to experience more touchpoints than one or two paid search ads before they are comfortable enough to make a purchase.
A touchpoint is "an influential action initiated by a communication, a human contact, or a physical or sensory interaction." In marketing terms, a touchpoint is any point of contact or influence between a business and a consumer. Touchpoints don't necessarily have to involve a great deal of interaction. They include:
- Website ads (display advertising)
- Paid search ads
- Radio spots
- Social media posts
Search engine marketing, while an effective advertising medium within a broader framework, can, by itself, only provide a single touchpoint for potential customers.
The Journey, The Funnel, and The Omni-channel
Every consumer goes through a decision-making process before finally choosing to purchase from a brand. This process is referred to as the "buyer's journey."
The buyer's journey may be a long and gradual process, or it may only involve a few quick steps. Whatever the case, it is important that companies do their utmost to deliver relevant ads to prospective buyers according to their progress in the buyer's journey. For example, an ad that features a free trial offer for a software program may not appeal to a consumer who's only recently become aware of the product.
Touchpoints are only effective if they influence consumers in a way that's relevant to their buyer's journey. Paid search ads, by themselves, cannot provide enough touchpoints to finish a buyer’s journey. Only a holistic approach that leverages the advantages of SEM while combining with other marketing tactics, will move a potential customer through the buyer journey.
The Sales Funnel
Ultimately, your goal for the buyer's journey is to get your audience to the bottom of the sales funnel. A sales funnel is a marketing methodology that aligns the stages of the buyer's journey to a customer’s progress through the sales funnel. The top of the funnel is the awareness stage, where consumers first learn about services or products. Next, in the evaluation stage, where interested consumers compare competing products and determine which offering holds the highest benefit. Finally, the bottom of the funnel is the decision stage. This stage is when the consumer ultimately makes a decision to purchase.
Sales funnels permeate the marketing world. For instance, a sales funnel in the tax preparation industry would go something like this:
- The tax preparation company publishes general ads to grow awareness of their service
- Next, in the evaluation stage, the business targets consumers with marketing designed to highlight the company's strengths, especially compared to competitors
- Finally, the company helps consumers finalize their purchase decision by offering incentives, such as rebates or discounts
The Advantage of Omni-channel Touchpoints
A prospect’s experience with your brand and products are made up of touchpoints. That means the quality of touchpoints and consistency between touchpoints determines whether that prospect becomes a paying customer.
This is why touchpoints must provide a seamless, integrated experience, no matter the marketing channel in play. Whether companies use over-the-top (OTT) advertising, radio spots, SEO, or social media marketing, there should be consistent messaging, one distinctive brand voice, and one consolidated process in place to smoothly move consumers through the sales funnel and their buyer journey.
The advantage of such an "omni-channel" approach is that consumers can be drawn into the sales funnel at any point along their buyer's journey — not just as a reaction to an online search query.
The reality is that SEM by itself can only reach a small fraction of the potential market. For maximum impact, it must be paired with an omni-channel approach. As an example, radio advertising offers exceptional benefits with regard to reach and frequency and can draw many prospects into your company's upper sales funnel. Studies have shown that radio ads can provide a 29% lift in Google search, resulting in a significant increase in website traffic and the generation of more leads.
In summary, if you combine search engine marketing with other advertising channels as part of an omni-channel strategy, your company will be better positioned for exceptional, sustainable growth.