The Lead: Holistic Search

Ovative experts walk the walk every day. Now you can hear them talk the talk in our latest video series. Welcome to The Lead: Conversations That Matter, your source for ideas and insights into the ever-changing landscape of media, measurement, and creativity. You’ll hear leaders from across Ovative discuss what’s new, challenge conventional thinking, and inspire action. In this first episode, our experts discuss how your brand can benefit from a holistic search strategy.


Why is Holistic Search Important?

At Ovative, if it makes sense, we take action. We know that paid search and organic search programs work better together to drive incremental value for a business. That is why we brought together our SEO team and SEM team into one Holistic Search team last year. 

Most brands make search decisions in silos. They often ignore the option to ask where SEO can pick up traffic if money was taken out of paid search. However, the brands that think about bringing SEM and SEO together in new, intelligent ways can differentiate themselves from the competition. They make their money work harder; reinvesting spend in other areas where competitors might not. 

From organizational friction to measurement challenges, implementing a successful holistic search strategy is not easy. Our approach maximizes the growth potential of search through customer-first, integrated strategies. In this episode of The Lead, our holistic search team takes a deep dive into the benefits of holistic search, the challenges clients experience, the future of search, and everything in between. 

Holistic Search Challenges

We believe that SEO and SEM teams work better together. Once clients implement a holistic search strategy, we see shifts in their search performance mix when compared to managing SEM and SEO channels independently. However, it can be difficult to understand how holistic search can drive incremental enterprise value. Because clients typically have not encountered holistic search before, we find that they tend to run into the following issues: 

Existing Reporting Doesn’t Measure Holistic Search Impact

Rather than taking a holistic approach to search reporting, brands tend to focus primarily on last-click ROAS. Additionally, SEM stakeholders do not want to cut their budgets and leave results up to chance. However, when they see results from optimizing to our unified metric, Enterprise Marketing Return (EMR), they see the value of a holistic search program. 

Our measurement helps clients understand how holistic search is helping them drive revenue that they otherwise would have paid for. We partner with our clients to work towards this holistic view based on EMR, which looks beyond traditional metrics like ROAS. When paired with our Unified Marketing Measurement, MAP, we can readily identify insights that unlock opportunities where paid search teams can reinvest spend in areas that will increase holistic search’s incremental value. 

Marketing Teams Are Not Organized to View Search Holistically

Paid search and organic search stakeholders tend to be on different teams. This disconnect leads to a lack of dialogue around holistic search and demands behavioral change that allows teams to work together. We work with our clients to bridge the gap between teams and showcase the long-term savings a holistic search strategy can result in.

Understand Holistic Search Impact with Incrementality Testing

In many branded searches, SEO is often in the top position on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) as search engines understand the user’s intent to visit the brand’s website. SEM often targets these terms due strong returns driven by low CPCs and high intent. However, when measured holistically, we often see that paying for brand terms wastes valuable ad dollars as SEO can drive that traffic for free. We see this shift when monitoring SEO click-through-rates when SEM makes significant changes to their campaigns. But, for optimal clarity, we need more rigorous testing. 

Enter brand incrementality tests, which enable search teams to understand the incrementality factor to apply to brand SEM campaigns. We then can make adjustments to our holistic search strategy to maximize impact. Often, these tests show that SEO can drive the majority of branded traffic so brand SEM spend can be reallocated to more incremental areas.

Holistic Search Trends to Stay On Top Of

The goal of search has always been to provide users with the most relevant information and find users wherever they’re ready to shop. Although search has been somewhat stagnant for a while, we’ve seen large consumer behavior shifts in recent years: 

Consumers Shift Searches to New Platforms

Rather than starting their search journey on search engines like Google, consumers are searching more frequently on retail media networks like Amazon. We have also seen shifts to consumers searching on social media platforms such as TikTok. To meet these consumer behavior shifts, it is important for search teams to be aligned on how they will show up holistically across platforms. At Ovative, we take what we have learned with traditional search strategies to help our clients scale into these new platforms. 

The Rise of AI-Powered Search

As consumers adapt to using AI tools like ChatGPT, we anticipate they will learn to be very prescriptive and conversational with their searches. Because of this, consumers will use more long-tail queries in search engines. For example, instead of searching for a simple keyword like “men’s shoes,” users will provide additional context to search engines such as the color or style they are looking for. AI-powered search engines will then match those queries against an index of known pages on your site.  

To perform well for these queries, having a holistic strategy will be crucial as search teams will need to align on a plan to address these shifts. First, teams will need to incorporate new language and search behavior into keyword strategies. To maximize relevancy, these shifts will also need to be reflected in ad copy, page content, and metadata. Second, AI-powered search engines will need to discover and index rich pages targeting these terms. It will be crucial for teams to partner closely on website initiatives like taxonomy, faceted navigation, and content strategies. 

Google’s algorithm has always been good at presenting consumers with helpful, reliable, and relevant content that answers their queries. However, with other search engines like Bing beginning to integrate ChatGPT AI into search results, Google will need to evolve. By supplementing existing data with data from AI tools, search engines can use a larger knowledge panel to provide users with the most relevant results. As for Google, the search engine needs to balance serving ads while continuing to provide that customer-first experience using AI-driven data. 

How to Get Started with Holistic Search

Here are a few tips and tricks for setting up a holistic search strategy: 

Conduct A Keyword Coverage Analysis

The first step to building a holistic search strategy is to establish a unified view of important search terms and segment them into mutually exclusive segments. These segments should cover the majority of performance potential in search, including brand, non-brand, and local keywords. There’s no exact way to segment keywords, but most of our clients net out with 7-10 actionable segments. 

Once keywords are segmented, we then layer on search performance data to understand how our clients’ brand is holistically showing up across segments. We identify keyword gaps, or areas with little to no presence across SEM or SEO, as well as keyword overlaps where both are present. This analysis identifies which segments we should scale visibility into through increased media spend or SEO prioritization. More importantly, it identifies areas where both channels are visible, and spending can be shifted to free up incremental dollars to reinvest into keyword gaps. 

Take Advantage of A Shared Knowledge Base 

Search teams become more powerful when they take advantage of their common knowledge base. From keyword segmentation to search intent, SEO and SEM teams speak the same language. Using their respective tools and holistic reporting, search teams can provide each other with valuable insights that will help drive incremental traffic. 

Drive More Immediate Results with Holistic Search

SEO is a long-term game. It can be frustrating for our clients to wait for the results of our optimizations. However, paid search can be used to drive immediate results. Our holistic search team uses this strategy when we identify something worth investing in from an SEO perspective. For example, we work with clients to launch new pages to fill category gaps. Then, we promote these pages with paid search to drive initial traffic while we wait for Google to index the page. 

Lean On Ovative Experts for Holistic Search Education

With deeper expertise, Ovative can help you understand the incremental value that holistic search can bring to your marketing program. We understand that holistic search is a new way of managing programs, and that change means we need to ensure we educate clients on the new strategies, tactics, and data we’re surfacing. From walking clients through brand incrementality test results to creating holistic search reporting dashboards, we are there to support our clients every step of the way. 

Embrace A Holistic Search Growth Mindset

Although holistic search can cause short-term internal challenges, it more importantly creates opportunities for innovation and enhanced performance in the long-term. Take advantage of these opportunities by implementing behavioral change, embracing a growth mindset, and leaning on your partners here at Ovative. 

We believe that the right holistic search partner unlocks growth. We help brands solve their hardest search problems to maximize their enterprise impact. Speak with our holistic search experts to ensure your search strategy is reaching its full potential!