Posted by Theron Lalla, Associate Account Manager
I'm sitting in a Starbucks enjoying my usual (heaven is a Dark Cherry Mocha) and reading a magazine article reviewing a few products and pointing out which brand is the champion. I love comparative reviews – reading them before I buy makes me feel like a shopping genius. A few sentences later, the article begins to talk about how the brand is good at everything else, too. Wait a minute – something seems off. I look down at the bottom of the page, and there, tucked away in a tiny corner, is some microscopic text that says "Advertisement."
Congratulations, you've just made me hate your brand.
Your credibility has evaporated, and because you thought you could trick me into trusting your brand, it's backfired. Buying from you in the future would be an affront to my dignity.
That's how I used to feel about paid search, too. You know what I'm talking about – those little blocks of text with colored backgrounds that advertisers pay for so they can show up alongside your results. Every engine has their own color – I like to imagine the meeting where they decided upon what color ("My favorite color is blue. No! YELLOW!" …extra points if you got that). Yet, even clearly segregated, I was outraged. In the true reflection of my demand-it-now generation, when those ads showed up next to my search results, I was literally offended. How dare you encroach upon my search results!
Then something magical happened. On a particularly daring day, I clicked on one, and to my surprise, no pop-ups ensued. Hmmm… interesting. I clicked another, and the page was exactly what I was looking for. Curiouser and curiouser. In the queries and clicks that followed thereafter, I began to see the value of those paid ads. When I needed information, I avoided those paid results like the plague, yet when I wanted to buy, I wanted your brand easily identified. In a world of tricky spammers and black hat SEO techniques, the colored background of your ad text now represented the official version of your site – and I trusted you more for identifying yourself upfront.
And this is why I'm worried. Advertisers know the value of the natural listings on the engine's result page. They also know the supplemental value of the paid search ads. What some don't seem to realize is the value of keeping them separate. It's a trust factor. I only trust impartial groups for information and reviews, yet when I want to spend my money and move forward with my decision, I want an official representative of the brand. Put shortly, search is about information; branding is about trust.
In the years to come, where the younger generation enters a world where smartphones, search engines, and portable computers have always existed, it might seem like an easy opportunity to worm your way into their lives. Don't. They're smarter than you realize, and they have a wider range of choices than we did. Your long term strategy should be about building relationships with your customers, not about trying to figure out predictable patterns of behavior, especially because the future of information technologies will only increase the variables in user behavior. And while this might seem contradictory to social media strategies, it's not. You still want to humanize your corporation and become less B2C (business-to-consumer) and more P2P (peer-to-peer). But don't just slap a friendly face or an attractive actor/actress on a corporate website. As we used to say in the 90s, keep it real. Oh snap.