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Millward Brown's POV, August 2007

The Logic of Search: Has it Clicked Yet?

To many online marketers, search seems like the ultimate direct response medium. It allows them to reach people who are actively shopping for a product or service, and marketers rightly believe that if they successfully engage people at this point in the process, they are one step closer to closing the sale. But is there more to search than just converting an active shopper into a purchaser?

Search is the 800-pound gorilla of online marketing. It received 40 percent of the $16.9 billion spent online in the United States in 2006, dwarfing the 22 percent allotted to display advertising. Few media, online or off, can match what search offers: the possibility of engaging a prospective customer and leading that prospect through to the point of purchase.

The fact that the results of search are readily captured, tracked and analyzed adds to the appeal of the channel. An entire search engine marketing industry has developed to help advertisers maximize the return on their investment in search. Analysis of metrics such as click-through, qualified leads, and sales confirms that the ROI of search is strong relative to other media. For example, a recent market-mix modeling project conducted by Millward Brown for an online content publisher found that the return generated by search was 15 percent higher than that for display advertising, and more than twice that of either TV or print.

All of this lends credence to the claim that search engine marketing has the most measurable return on investment since direct mail. Who needs creativity? You just need to buy the right word to get an ad in front of a prospect.

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