I ask a lot of questions throughout my day that relate to a wide range of topics. These topics include restaurant recommendations, product reviews, health related research, and even financial advice. The questions I ask, and the information I use to answer them, are a reflection of who I am. I go to search engines to get that information, and so do countless others.

Search is a fundamental pillar of digital interaction. It taps into a low-level of human behavior that comes before conversation. The intellectual capital gained from the careful study of search can drive entire market strategies. In fact, massive giants like Amazon attribute early success to an effective organic search strategy centered around leveraging their enormous product taxonomy. Well-informed search strategies can be used to reduce barrier to entry in new markets, secure market leadership in existing, and maximize return on your media investment.

Keywords are half the story

Search engines are smart enough to know that when I ask a question about “black sand,” I should get back “beach” related information. That’s because, machine learning aside, enough people asked the same thing and found “beach” related media to be relevant. At their core, search engines draw connections between questions (in the form of keywords) and content (in the form of articles, videos, and other media). This is becoming more and more relevant as people become more and more comfortable asking their questions to search engines in natural language.

We put emphasis on keywords for a good reason. How people choose to phrase their questions, and how many questions they care about for a given topic, are valuable insights. After all, asking a question is the first point of interaction between a person and a search engine. But, that’s only half the story.

The search engine takes those keywords as an input and gives the user back a set of results for their consideration. Users interact with search engines a second time when they decide, with a click, which specific result was most useful. This second step closes a feedback loop that allows search engines to optimize their output for relevance. Search engines are essentially super-gigantic, human sorted, information libraries that contain deeply nested insights about our audience.

Keep your eye on the ball

If we put our focus on search results, we can start to see how they mirror our audience and their underlying intent. We can ask questions like what people, brands, competitors, and topics (including sensitive issues) are present and what share they have of your audience’s attention.

Not only can you measure your share of search visibility, you can assign it a dollar value. How much would you have to pay to buy back your organic presence on search? In other words, what is the media cost equivalency of your organic search footprint? This is an important value to keep an eye on as it is a measurable reflection of your brand equity and reputation. Executive leadership, investors, and clients gain strategic advantage by monitoring and optimizing against this core KPI.

What is your strategy?

In “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works,” Roger Martin frames strategy as a set of choices that determine “where to play and how to win” for a brand. The intelligence you base these choices on should strive for completeness of perspective, relevance with your consumer, and ultimately provide a reliable bedrock on which to center your strategic activities. If you plan on playing in digital media markets, your market intelligence should include all relevant digital media, with search at its core.

Are you actively incorporating search into your market research? Do you know your brand’s share of search media value in your category? Do you have a plan to nurture and protect it? These questions, and your answers to them, significantly impact your competitive advantage in digital markets and determine whether or not you will win.

Keep as close of an eye on your search value as you do your bottom line. Why? Because, search is money.

~ Alan

In our next piece, we’ll discuss the value of plotting and analyzing the search media landscape for competitors, people, and topics. We’ll also talk about how these insights reduce market-entry barriers.

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