Featured | January 12, 2021

Share of Search: Thoughts and Suggestions from a Performance Marketer

There are several ways marketers can try to analyse a brand’s market share and visibility. Something new I’ve been really intrigued by is the recent Share of Search work by Les Binet and James Hankins.

If you haven’t heard about it then you can find out more here, but in a nutshell, Binet and Hankins are using Google Trends to analyse the value of a brand against rivals.

Share of Search vs Share of Voice

Share of Search is essentially a digital take on the Share of Voice metric. With Share of Voice, a brand’s advertising and visibility is measured against competitors to estimate market share.

With Share of Search, search volume is used to the same effect. By analysing the growth or decline of brand searches over time, you can predict where a brand is heading in terms of market share. As you’d probably expect, when a brand’s Share of Search goes up (i.e. more people search for a brand, usually due to increased advertising), increased market share soon follows.

Benefits of Digital Insights

It’s pleasing to see the growing popularity of digital insights like Share of Search. In many of our collaborative campaigns with media agencies, we have felt more data and digital insight was needed, and the Liberty teams have often had to really push for it. Anything like Share of Search, which brings the two sides of the marketing industry together, and considers mutual data such as search activity, is only a good thing.

Share of Search  has taken off big time and deservedly so. It became the talk of the advertising world in the second half of 2020, and because of that, plenty of agencies and marketing departments have already started integrating it into their work.

In the last few months I’ve joined in on a number of webinars, watched tutorials and read guides on how Share of Search is used and I’ve had some awkward feelings about what I saw, heard and read. It’s clear that a number of people using it aren’t au fait with how Google data is presented or best used, and aren’t gaining insights as accurate or valuable as they could be.

I have been working in the world of SEO and PPC for nearly two decades, and have always loved effective non-digital advertising campaigns. So, keep reading to hear my thoughts on how to make sure the data you use to make brand decisions is accurate, and how to know whether you’ve considered the quirks that come with keyword research.

Improving Your Data: Google Trends vs Google Keyword Planner 

All of the Share of Search examples I’ve seen from agencies and consultants have used Google Trends as the sole data source. Most digital agencies will also use this data and build it into their activity, but we’ll actually prioritise the Google Keywords Planner instead.

Google Trends is great because it’s free, easy to use and has lots of historic data, but the Google Keyword Planner within Google Ads gives you more detail on what’s happening with searches and a wider variety of data.

It’s important to note that even though the two tools both pull from the same database, what you are shown is presented differently. Google Trends shows data for ALL searches made but the data is normalised so that it’s easy to compare to other search trends. As Google states, Trends shows interest over time, defined as:

So, Trends is great for knowing if things are increasing or declining in popularity, whereas the Keyword Planner shows you the actual search volume data. However, it’s ONLY for searches when an advert has been shown. As Share of Search is a brand value measurement, it’s worth noting that it’s definitely not ideal to use Keyword Planner exclusively when looking at brand keywords. If no advertisers have been bidding on that brand, there will be no data, so it will show as artificially low.

Neither tool is perfect and ultimately, they are designed for different uses. However, if you are looking to bring Share of Search into your marketing decision-making, then it’s worth gathering data from both tools so you have a fuller picture. This way, you can determine not just the trajectory of your brand but also the number of searches being made versus rivals.

As with most things, the larger the dataset, the better. When the SEO and PPC teams within Liberty do keyword research they use:

  • Google Trends
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Other tools from Google, such as Search Console Queries
  • Multiple third-party tools, such as Moz, SEMrush and Keywords Everywhere.

It’s worth combining all of these and exploring any discrepancies and averaging out the data wherever possible.

Choosing your brand keywords

When you are looking to see the path of a brand and its popularity, there’s a few things to consider.

The first is the various uses of a word. I saw one video where an agency was comparing the rise and fall of car brands and they used “Jaguar” as the keyword. While it’s true most people searching for “Jaguar” will be after the cars, others will be seeking info on the animals. This isn’t a problem “Hyundai” will have, so it will skew the data in their favour.

This is common across most sectors so needs considering. As an example, when we consulted with the clothing retailer Peacocks on their Google Search Ads years ago, we recommended turning off brand bidding. This was mainly because no rivals were appearing for their brand so it was just cannibalising organic traffic. However, another factor was that they were spending budget on people looking for birds. The same applies for “Dreams” – are you shopping for a bed, or are you trying to figure out what your last nightmare meant?

Consider which other searches are being made that can clash with your brand and those of the rivals you are comparing yourself to, and then build this into your data sets and consider it when drawing conclusions. The other side of this is when there are different ways of searching for your brand name. Using coffee chains as an example, here’s how big of an issue this can be:

Which of these should you be analysing? Or to do the brand justice, should it be the sum of them all? This isn’t an issue for Starbucks so, similar to Hyundai above, their data will be cleaner and therefore doesn’t present a like-for-like for the team at Caffe Nero to compare with.

Choosing Your Categories

One of the biggest problems I’ve found with using Google Trends to make brand decisions is how things are categorised, and the huge discrepancies this gives you in the data.

Here’s a snapshot of the last 12 months for the 3 largest coffee chains in the UK, when you search for their brand names as “search terms”:

But here’s the data when you choose “company” data instead of search terms:

That’s a big difference.

If you export this data it shows as:

As a search term, “Starbucks” does over 3 times better than “Costa Coffee”, but as a company they are nearly neck and neck.

Someone reviewing this and making the decisions for Costa Coffee and their advertising budget would make significantly different decisions based on these two figures. The one set of data shows Costa on par with Starbucks, while the other says they are just a third of the way there. We need to be careful with this data and, once again, the prudent approach would be to use all variants so you have as much data as possible to pull from.

This difference is explained here, where “Search terms show matches for all terms in your query, in the language given” but “Topics are a group of terms that share the same concept in any language.” As any PPC professional will tell you, the way Google views synonyms and clusters keywords together is often unhelpful and I’d be worried about what it is actually including in your results. I’d mainly be basing my decisions on the Search Term and not any Company or Topic where related keywords are aggregated into one figure, but using that as secondary data to explore if an inconsistency pops up and needs further analysis.

Getting the Most from the Google Keyword Planner

Years ago when it was the Google Keyword Tool, anyone could access it for free. Google’s Keyword Planner is still a free to use tool but you need to have a Google Ads account to access it now and, to get the most out of it, you need to be spending some decent money on PPC with Google. Here’s the difference in the data you see between and account with a low spend (a few thousand a month):

And here’s the data from an account with a much higher spend (£250K+ last year):

The data higher-spending PPC advertisers can access is significantly more valuable as it gives you the searches per month over the past 12 months, instead of a huge range. This presents a problem for any brand considering Share of Search if they aren’t a high-spending PPC advertiser or can’t access the account of one.

Choosing Your Brand Rivals

When we work with new brands, we ask them about their rivals and they often list the big names in their sector, but rarely will they bring up those who are winning digitally. In my experience, most sectors will have different winners offline to those online.

When doing Share of Search for mammoth brands like car companies, airlines or mobile phones, it’s easy to pick the main competitors. However, for many categories the rivals are less visible, especially when you mix bricks and mortar retailers with ecommerce businesses.

For example, one of our clients is a bed retailer. They’ve never spent on any offline advertising like TV or radio, they have no physical stores, yet they are one of the biggest bed retailers in the UK thanks to their digital activity. They’d never feature in a traditional brand study but when it comes to considering search activity and market share, their rivals really need to consider them.

With this is mind, when choosing competitors and tracking how much their brands are growing or shrinking in value, I would look at both your tried and tested real-world rivals, and brands that are doing well online. Look at who else is appearing for the keywords you want to show up for, look at who is bidding on your brand, and include them in your analysis. Perhaps in order to not compare apples with oranges, you could then do a Share of Search report for the brand as a whole, and another version just for digital rivals to see how it also compares online.

Happy Data Gathering

I hope this blog gives you a better understanding of Share of Search, and how you can choose and refine the data available to you. Share of Search is not just a great way to see how healthy your brand is, it is also bringing various people from across the marketing and advertising worlds together and discussing digital insights and the value of this kind of data, which is always a good thing.

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