The Importance and Value of Search Engine Marketing

When you work with so many clients in the music and entertainment industries, you begin to notice they focus a lot of their marketing efforts on the email and social media channels.

This makes sense not only from a volume perspective (we find these channels typically combine for about 20% of e-commerce revenue), but also because the methods that work in email and social marketing are immediately familiar to industries that have always thrived on word-of-mouth and fan mailings for success.

One advantage enjoyed by entertainment brands is that they often start with audiences more loyal and engaged than, say, a customer looking to buy carpentry supplies. For example, one can reasonably assume that a Phish fan might already be engaged with the band’s Facebook page, which is not necessarily something we can say about that carpentry customer and their local hardware store’s Facebook page. So in that way, it makes sense for clients in the entertainment industry to be so focused on social media or email as marketing channels – those should your core audiences anyway, right?

But what if I told you that organic search is the single highest revenue-generating channel, excluding direct and referral traffic, on Musictoday’s platform? 

SEO typically generates around 16% of revenue; if you add paid search to that number, it reaches 23% – more than the 20% generated by email and social, combined.

Nevertheless, search engine marketing channels can be overlooked because they are what I like to call “passive” marketing. With “active” marketing channels (like email or social media), the advertiser initiates the impression by choosing an audience to show their ad to. With “passive” marketing, the customer initiates the impression by entering a query in Google, Bing, or another search engine. The advertiser can position themselves to be one of the ads this customer will see, but ultimately it is that customer and not the advertiser who triggers any ad being shown at all. A marketer cannot simply say “I’m going to spend $500 on paid search,” because he/she cannot control the ebbs and flows in search volume and competition. In that sense, you have less control over your marketing, but the upside is that your entire search audience consists of potential customers – users who have already taken that first action toward the buying funnel by executing a search for keywords which, if you’ve chosen your keyword list carefully, should be closely related to your products or services.

So, I am here today to explain why the search marketing channels should not be overlooked, and some of the ways Musictoday can position your clients to take advantage of search traffic before it spikes.

Paid vs. Organic Search

Head over to Google or Bing, and perform a search for a handful of your products or services.  One of the first things you’ll notice is that no two search engine result pages (or SERPs) are the same – sometimes you will only see organic search listings; sometimes you will see paid listings atop the page, with a small “ad” icon next to them; and other times you may see a window featuring product images, with pricing, from a variety of sellers.  Many SERPs combine all three listing types.

Perform enough of these searches, and it will quickly become apparent why you need to be marketing in both the paid and organic search spaces – more often than not, it is a paid listing (whether in the form of a text ad, product carousel, or both) that sits atop the page. You could have all your SEO boxes checked – fully optimized site, amazing content, strong page authority, #1 listing – and still find your site buried under a row of products and/or 3-4 text ads.

This effect was exacerbated by a change Google made in the spring of 2016, announcing they were removing ads from what is known as the “right-hand rail” on SERP’s. Perform one of those searches again, and pay attention to the right side of the page – you may remember this space used to be filled with ads.  Now it’s plain negative space. To compensate for the removal of right-rail ads, Google may now show up to 4 paid listings in the center of the page, above organic listings. This number used to be 3. Of course, this doesn’t mean there will always be 4 paid listings, some searches will still display a single ad, or no ads at all. But this new SERP display format has somewhat diminished the power of holding the #1 organic listing, so having your paid search program in order is as critical as ever.

The good news about this change is that if you own both the paid and organic spaces, you can take up a tremendous amount of real estate on the SERP. The top paid and organic listings will sometimes display what are known as sitelinks – up to 4 additional links underneath the main link, which essentially doubles the size of the listing. The search engine doesn’t always display these for the #1 listing, but it never displays them for the #2 listing.  So if your site is #1 in both the paid and organic spaces, and both of these listings are expanded with sitelinks, then you are essentially taking up 4x the real estate of the #2 listing.

One question that often comes up is whether or not your paid listing “cannibalizes” traffic from your organic listing – in other words, “am I just paying for traffic I would have gotten for free?” The answer is complicated, but yes, this does happen to some extent. Popular advertising platforms like Google Adwords will allow you to compare data on how these listings interact with each other, when shown separately, or displayed together on a page. With some of our clients who own the #1 listing in both spaces, we do see the paid listing siphon some traffic from the organic listing. However, the quantity of traffic gained by the paid listing is greater than the traffic lost by the organic listing, so there is still a net traffic gain when both listings are present. In other words, the combined CTR (or click-thru-rate) of having both listings beats the CTR of being #1 in organic listing only. This is what we should expect to see, because of the increased real estate.

On-Cycle vs. Off-Cycle

One obstacle we face working with clients in the music and entertainment industries are the effects of being on-cycle or off-cycle. Consider a favorite band of yours – when was their last album released? How long before it was released did you hear about the album? Did communication from the band increase around the time of release? How about after? Most bands will tour for a couple of months, maybe even a couple years, and then what? There is usually a period of “radio silence,” where the band takes a break for a few months, maybe a year, then a period of time where the band is holed up in the studio. This is what’s known as the album cycle, and a similar thing happens in the TV industry, as shows go on- and off-air each season.

Tour Dates

So the question is, how do we, as marketers, respond to those peaks and valleys of interest? Is it possible to make money during those down times?  Should you even be marketing off-cycle at all?

The answer is yes, and this is one of the reasons search is such a strong revenue-driver on Musictoday’s platform. Remember my earlier comparison of “active” marketing and “passive” marketing? When a client goes “off-cycle” and the fan base is being contacted less often through social media or email lists, that “passive” marketing where the customer initiates the interaction becomes even more important.

And the great thing about search marketing is you don’t have to worry about ramping down spend – this will happen naturally because you only pay when the customer clicks. If a client is off-cycle, there is less buzz about them, and search volume will be lower. All you have to worry about is having your ads ready to trigger on the occasions where someone does search for the client.

Here at Musictoday, we believe maintaining a year-round “evergreen” campaign to capture this traffic, whether on-cycle or off, is critical. Not only does this help boost sales off-cycle with incremental revenue, but it also puts you in the position to really capitalize when the client is ready to go back on-cycle.

The algorithms that drive Google’s auction process are constantly being updated as new information becomes available. They will never tell their exact recipe, but we know that past performance plays a large role.  And so, if you attempt to launch a new campaign the day your client announces their new release, Google will have no history in your account to inform its decisions. Whereas if you’ve had a general store campaign running year-round, the bidding system will already know which combinations of keyword, ad copy, and placement produce the best results. It will focus your efforts on what works, rather than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Because of this, we can often see new paid search accounts take 2-4 weeks to really ramp up in traffic.  In some cases, this will have missed your window of opportunity when the client or product was receiving a lot of buzz. So being there before it happens is crucial.

Another phenomenon we see with on-cycle programs is that a majority of search traffic still comes in through the more generic, brand-level keywords (i.e. “shop HBO,” “Game Of Thrones merchandise,” or “Dave Matthews Band store”), even if those customers are looking for a specific, new product.  So for example, instead of searching for DMB’s latest Live Trax release, they’ll search for the DMB Official Store, knowing they are likely to find the release prominently featured there. These high volume keywords are exactly the keywords you would already be targeting with an evergreen program. So if you already have a search program running on all cylinders, you don’t have to play catch-up when the traffic peak hits. It’s easier to already be #1 for that keyword than it is to displace someone else.

Brand vs. Non-Brand

Since I just mentioned the importance of these generic, “brand-level” keywords in the section above, let’s look at what this means.  Obviously, if your client is HBO or the Dave Matthews Band, then any keyword with “HBO,” “Dave Matthews Band,” or “DMB” would be considered a “branded” keyword.

Returning to the carpentry example earlier, your branded keywords might be something like “Ace Hardware,” or “Lowe’s building supplies.”  So what would be a non-branded keyword, in those cases?  “Hardware,” “building supplies,” “where to buy lumber,” etc. In the case of the carpentry customer, each of these non-brand queries should still lead the customer to the correct place. Unless that customer is really gung-ho about buying from a specific supplier, these searches still have high potential to lead to a conversion or in-store visit.

We cannot necessarily say the same thing for clients in the entertainment industry. A customer searching for “shop HBO” or “Game Of Thrones merchandise” has already narrowed their interest to a specific brand – either the parent channel , or an individual show. So there is little value in targeting a non-branded keyword like “tv show merchandise,” because it is simply too broad. That user could be looking for products from any of thousands of programs – or maybe they don’t have a specific show in mind, but the sub-set of shows they do watch doesn’t include Game of Thrones.

In the case of Dave Matthews Band, a non-brand keyword might be “band t-shirts.” Again, that’s a keyword that would have very little value to us. What are the chances that user is a fan of our very specific band? These are high volume, high competition keywords, with no reasonable expectation of a return. It can happen, but more often than not we find these to be inefficient keywords for many of our clients. So while non-brand keywords can have tremendous values for some industries, we find they are less valuable when dealing with clients in the entertainment industry. We focus on owning the branded space, because brand recognition is what brought those potential customers to our doorstep in the first place.

When your branded program is running at high efficiency, then maybe you can consider opening up to test some non-branded keywords, where it makes sense.  But the key is to recognize that there are some situations where it won’t make sense. Try other methods when looking to increase your reach – like opening up to Google’s search partners network – before throwing money at non-branded keywords in a highly brand-dependent industry.

Exact vs. Broad

Another way you can increase your reach without going too far into non-branded territory is with the use of broad keywords. Most advertising platforms like Google AdWords, BingAds, and Yahoo Gemini give you four types of keywords to choose from:

Broad match
Google can show your ad for any number of search terms it considers similar to your keyword.

Exact match
Google will show your ad only when the search query is an exact match for your keyword – all words included, in the same order.

Phrase match: Google will show your ad for any number of search terms that include the phrase in your keyword – words must be in the same order, but it doesn’t matter if the phrase is at the beginning, middle, or end of a longer query.

Broad-modified: Works similarly to broad match, but you can specify individual words within the keyword that MUST be included in the search query, marked with a + symbol.  So for example, with the keyword “+Jerry +Garcia merchandise,” Google can show your ad for any number of search terms similar to “Jerry Garcia merchandise,” as long as both “Jerry” and “Garcia” are included somewhere in the query.  “Jerry Garcia t-shirt,” “Jerry Garcia poster,” or “Jerry Garcia sticker” could all be triggered by this keyword (though it is still better to target those queries as exact match, rather than relying on broad or broad-modified keywords to capture them).

When Musictoday launches a new paid search campaign, we use an in-house keyword template to automatically generate hundreds of exact match keywords right off the bat – using all manner of word order, abbreviations, and misspellings. We then supplement this list with broad, broad-modified, and phrase match keywords to capture other queries that are not already on the exact match list. This allows us to target the queries most likely to produce an order with different bidding strategies than how we might approach the “unknown” queries a broad match keyword generates.

To call these “unknown” queries is more accurate today than it would have been years ago.  In 2011, Google began moving toward a secure search model that began hiding which keywords generated SEO traffic in Google Analytics.  By 2013, keyword data had been removed entirely from Analytics, though it was still available via Google Search Console (then known as Google Webmaster Tools), and through your AdWords keyword data.  But even the AdWords search query report hides a large percentage of traffic under the dreaded “other search terms” bucket.  The AdWords help section explains the “other search terms” designation this way:

“Keep in mind that you’ll only see search terms that were used by people at least 8 hours ago and have either received clicks in the past 30 days or were searched for by a significant number of people. Any search terms that did not meet this criteria will be summed up in the ‘Other search terms’ row.”

The result is that you don’t always get to see which search queries triggered a broad match keyword. So, when a client is off-cycle, performance is down, or the store hasn’t been restocked in a while, we can pause (or greatly reduce bids) on the broad and phrase match keywords, while continuing to bid on our exact match keywords, which have already proven capable of generating a return. When a client is wary of advertising while off-cycle, this is one method we can use to mitigate that risk. Negative keywords are another useful tool for narrowing your reach during slow business periods.

The flip side is that when business picks up again, you can increase reach by adding more of those broad match keywords, bidding them higher, or removing negative keywords that you previously added to your campaign.  All of these can be successful if wading into non-brand territory seems like a non-starter.

This may all seem like a lot to process and think about, but Musictoday’s in-house marketing team can handle all of that work for you. Contact our business development team today to find out how our marketing team can work for you!

About the Author: Gary Johnson is Musictoday’s SEO/SEM Specialist. When not crunching numbers he can be found watching Dallas Stars hockey or standing in the front row at heavy metal and grindcore shows.

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