Five steps to getting serious about Share of Search

Now that the hype has settled: how can brands effectively approach Share of Search? Follow our five-step guide.
25 November 2020
Adele Jolliffe

Head of Brand Domain Consultant Team, Insights Division, UK

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It’s the craze that’s sweeping the nation. Share of Search (the number of times your brand is searched in Google as a proportion of searches for all brands in your category) continues to pique the interest of brand managers everywhere. Much has been written about ‘the most important brand metric you’ve never heard of’, and its potential value as a leading indicator of growth. James Hankins talks about the strategic value of the hypotheses it helps to stimulate. Les Binet goes so far as to suggest that ‘if you’re not looking at it, you’re an idiot’.

This summary is hardly surprising. Given the free availability of data and the step-by-step instruction guides online, it could be that you’re just a spreadsheet away from the brand metric jackpot.

If you are looking at it, however, tread carefully: Share of Search, as the main advocates have been pointing out, comes with some caveats. Its potential varies by brand and/or category, and it can suffer from what we’ll call ‘the other affects problem’ (where a brand’s Share of Search is boosted by bad PR, sending the relationships out of whack), or what we’ll call ‘the double-meaning problem’ (when brand names have more than one meaning that create data quality issues when using Google Trends).

As a result, if you could rub on a Share of Search magic lamp you might wish for the following three things: ‘research-grade’ (i.e. robust and refined) search data, guidance to separate the wheat from the chaff of the outputs and – let’s face it – getting to the interesting bits with minimum time and hassle.

The following five-step guide includes what we’ve learned from years working with search data to inform brand and marketing decisions, and it’s guaranteed to make those three wishes come true.

Step one: Establish feasibility

Firstly, one of the major questions still being explored is how relevant Share of Search might be to different categories, particularly short-term purchase categories. Certainly, some categories create more brand searches than others and – whilst it might sound obvious – if your category is not hitting a threshold level, you won’t observe the expected Share of Search/Share of Market correlation. Similarly, some categories make it easier to compare brands than others.

These basics are important, because not having enough – or good enough – data will undermine a lot of the useful findings. To maximise your chances, our data team can do the hard work, checking feasibility and ensuring your search data is ‘research grade’.

Step two: Do some entry-level exploration

Next, you don’t need to go all in straight away with ten years of ‘over time’ correlations. Instead, you can quickly get to insights with three straightforward types of analysis:

a. First, you can explore the correlation between Share of Search and Share of Market at a point in time, revealing whether your brand is generating more or less brand search than you’d expect given its size, including a ‘Search Index’ that summarises each brand’s performance.

b. Second, you can explore how those two metrics change over two points in time, signalling whether growth in brand search is translating into sales, or indeed whether sales are growing faster than brand interest (through activation mechanics at the expense of more profitable pre-disposition).

c. Third, you can map the change in Share of Search in relation to changes in Share of Voice. This can unearth vital insights around whether your increased brand investment is translating into brand interest, or help prove that struggling to maintain share of voice is risking future growth.

Our Search Pressure app is designed to do just this. Not only is it simple to deploy, it creates all three analyses above, goes beyond the basics to calculate a search index score for all brands and a summary of how changes in spend in your category affect share of search – all at the click of a mouse.

Step three: Dig for the diagnosis

These first steps into Share of Search will inevitably raise questions; this is part of what makes it so interesting. Your brand generates more brand interest than you’d expect given its size – why? You’ve increased your Share of Voice this year, but Share of Search has declined – what should you do about it? Hypotheses are helpful here, but diagnosis is essential. With our team of digital consultants, we can help you fully explore what’s driving those outliers and pinpoint the right actions to take next.

Step four: Play with the data to explore its potential

Beyond this, the killer question is: what is the bigger potential of Share of Search for your brand? The analysis shared by Les Binet and James Hankins so far has showcased some powerful examples of Share of Search being a leading indicator of share growth, and even the most accurate forecaster of future market share. Our own work in this area has shown this to depend on category dynamics. Our Analytics specialists can help you explore Share of Search data in a more granular way over time to answer this important question.

Step five: Step it up a gear

If you’ve made it all the way to here in your Share of Search journey, and you have a brand whose Share of Search is a lead indicator of market share changes, you’ve got the opportunity to take it one step further. You can integrate search volumes into your brand guidance programme where, with the right treatment, they can produce a fast-moving metric that complements other indicators for real time brand planning.

We’re also working with clients to integrate Search into market mix models, identifying its impact on both short and long-term sales outcomes. Beyond that, using Search as an input into Total Marketing Return On Investment models can further illustrate how search plays a part with media and brand to influence short and long term sales, helping you inform marketing investment decisions with precision and confidence.

Share of Search has certainly created a splash, and there’s a lot to explore when the brand and category are right. However, it’s advisable to progress with a mixture of curiosity, a few caveats and some caution. This five-step guide will help you do just that.

We can work with you to understand how Share of Search can help you make better brand decisions. Get in touch to find out more.

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