In our experience with search engine advertising, one of its unique aspects is that, in addition to directly generating online sales or leads, its robust settings provide an excellent tool for business research and planning. In the creation and management of search engine ads, the campaigns, ad groups, and more granular settings gather a great deal of useful data. This is particularly true for Google AdWords. When specifically set up for testing, the potential is a marketer’s dream. For example, we control the following primary variables:

  • Who sees the ad (by IP address and the search terms they use)
  • What URL, ad message, or offer they initially respond to in the text ad (with the option to drive equal amounts of traffic for A/B testing)
  • What landing page content or secondary offer they view and respond to by converting

For this article, perhaps the best way to describe the potential of these is through scenarios:

Gauging interest in a new product, line extension, or service

If your B2B or B2C company is considering a new product or service, but is unsure of the demand in a specific geographical territory, search engine ads can function as a real-time focus group. You can post an article, white paper, online questionnaire, survey, or any useful resource on your website that works as an interim/substitute conversion. The response is a useful indicator of how the proposed product or service will do. For example, if there is low search volume online, the new effort will likely require a lot of education to generate online demand. As stated earlier, the click through response can be tested on different offers and messages in text ads. Finally, the onsite offer or content can be tested, provided there is enough time and search data available. This data can be compared to deeper conversion data from a known category to help project how the new product or service would impact your business.

Service businesses – considering changing or expanding territories or locations

We have a corporate client whose regional locations provide services to homeowners. When gas prices rose rapidly, they wanted to consider the benefits and impact on their business of temporarily reducing the geographical territory in which they advertise for new customers. The goal was to reduce the miles driven, which would save fuel costs and increase the amount of time technicians were performing billable services. By testing with different custom geotargeting, and projecting the new search and click through data with their previous conversion rates, we were able to accurately estimate how many fewer searches (thus appointments, jobs, and revenue) they would receive if they reduced their service area being advertised. The same testing process would also work if an expansion in territory is being considered.

Testing messaging, offers or a new domain name

If a company is considering rebranding, creating a new tag line, or microsite, text ads can be used to test the initial response to the proposed change. Changing and testing one variable with equal amounts of traffic is a simple way to quantify which version potential customers like. Since impression and click data are initial indicators of interest, to project profitability and overall success, there should be additional tests to see which variables on the landing page get higher conversion rates also.

Retail business – inventory planning, pricing, and more

For businesses that are subject to fads or trends, such as the retail bicycle industry, search data can be used to predict future business activity and needs. For example, we can monitor search/impression data by category, such as generic searches for road bikes and compare it with similar searches for mountain bikes. If a sustained shift in the ratio of searches in the two categories occurs, that could predict the number of upcoming sales of units for first time buyers by category. This data could be used to help with ordering, managing inventory, pricing, merchandising, and more.

The scenarios above are simplified for the amount of space available in this post. In the same way the process works for a retailer, it could be equally beneficial to a car manufacturer as a leading indicator for planning their production.

Why search engine advertising data works as a research tool

Because the data being gathered is actual consumer or end user search behavior, it is free of many of the biases inherent in focus groups or questionnaires. Why? In situations where participants know they are being observed or questioned, many times their answers are skewed.

Because we control so many elements, Google AdWords allows testing that would be more difficult or impossible with natural, more random traffic to a website. Many settings, such as the use of negative keyword filters and conversion tracking tools help us dial in the traffic to make Google AdWords a very effective research tool.