With customer experience (CX) becoming an integral part of doing business today, CXOs across industries are working feverishly to delight consumers along each step of the buyer journey. At a high level, ensuring a positive CX means eliminating the friction between the customer and the brand.
Today, an overwhelming majority of these journeys begin on search engines. However, recent research shows that a pervasive confusion with how search works are having a negative impact on customer experience.
With brands continuing to deploy hefty budgets towards their online campaigns, and search engines continuing to evolve how they display results, it’s more crucial than ever for marketing teams to understand just how search is impacting CX, as well as what they can do to safeguard the experiences they’re providing.
Consumer confusion is growing as ad spend skyrockets
With paid search surpassing $100 billion for the first time in 2019, and accounting for almost a fifth of total global ad spend, there’s no doubting the important role it plays in today’s digital marketing mix. In fact, by the end of this year, companies are projected to increase their spend on search even further as it grows to represent a third of global spending.
Consumer confusion is growing alongside this spend, resulting in 63% of US consumers reporting that they don’t know how search engine results work. Just 37% understand that they’re in fact categorized by a combination of both relevancy and spend. Compounding this issue is the fact that more than one-in-three-consumers state they don’t believe search engines do a good job of labeling ads.
As modern consumers develop increasingly high expectations of the brands they do business with, it’s easy to see why this is alarming. And as consumers place more weight on CX, brands are at risk of losing loyal buyers if these expectations aren’t met. This, combined with dwindling patience and a growing distrust of sponsored content, signifies an important conundrum for brands. In order to meet their expectations, they must ensure they’re easy to find online or risk losing business to competitors.
In search, there is no second place
When you consider consumers’ lack of understanding of how search results are served up, it is not surprising that around 54% say they trust websites more that appear at the top of the SERP.
These sentiments are certainly reflected in real-life click-through rates. The first organic search result is twice as likely to be clicked than the second result (30% CTR versus 15% CTR), while the likelihood of your website being seen declines dramatically the lower your ranking falls.
Of course, this means brands must fight to secure the coveted top spot, which leads them to spend more on paid search ads or adopt nefarious approaches like infringing on competitors’ trademarks and breaking affiliate agreements.
Consumers feel misled by search engine results
It’s no secret that consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of advertising. Trademark-infringing search strategies and tactics to increase positioning certainly aren’t helping either.
In fact, a staggering 76% of consumers admit to at least sometimes feeling misled by search results when searching for product information online. Meanwhile, one-in-four says they often end up somewhere unexpected that isn’t relevant to their original search query.
This is bad news for brands, as it creates an exasperating customer experience and suggests that they aren’t getting optimal ROI out of the spend they are allocating towards their search campaigns.
Regain control of your ad campaigns
What does this mean for marketers? To put it simply, search has a real potential to negatively impact the customer experience. While it’s impossible for marketers to control the changes that Google or Bing makes to the SERPs, there are some important steps that they can take to ensure that their search campaigns are working for and not against them.
1. Design campaigns with CX in mind
It’s crucial for digital marketing teams to regularly refer to their customer journey map before committing to any strategic moves, and it’s an especially important step for PPC teams.
2. Make monitoring a priority
Brands must regularly check to see if partners and affiliates are abiding by their partnership agreements and if competitors are following search engine trademark rules. While you may not be able to outspend competitors with deep pockets, you can maximize click-through rates and minimize cost per clicks as you identify and submit infringing ads for a takedown. This also allows you to deepen relationships with partners that are playing by the rules and driving incremental revenue.
3. Stay on top of evolving policies
It’s crucial to stay informed of changing search engine rules and advertising policies. These policies impact how you and your competitors advertise, especially in highly-regulated industries. With the search engines updating their platforms up to several times a week (some changes going largely unnoticed and others garnering media attention) – digital marketers need to keep up with these changes and their potential impacts on customer experience.
Your search results are the front door to your brand. However, with confusion abounding, customers often find themselves walking into an experience that they didn’t expect, which impacts their overall CX and negatively impacts the perception of your brand. By taking back control of the role that search plays in the overall consumer journey, marketers can ensure their customer experiences are optimized and on-brand.
Dave Naffziger is the CEO of leading online brand protection company BrandVerity.