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Search Listening

The Powerful Data Point You Are Not Using, But Should

Profile picture of daniel morenoDaniel Moreno
Originally published on VMLY&R.com
on July 13th, 2021

Everyone has heard of social listening. If it's not part of your digital and social strategy today, then you’re likely not able to be a relevant brand in the social space. But most brands who are activating social listening fail to look beyond social chatter to see what their consumers are interested in seeing, learning, consuming.

Daniel Moreno, Connections Manager at VMLY&R London, explores the use of keyword search data as a research tool and how it can provide your brand with valuable insights into consumer preferences and online search behaviour that other data points cannot reach.

1. What is Search Data?

Over the last two decades, we've witnessed how search engines have become an integral part of our daily lives. We turn to YouTube for video content and entertainment, Amazon for product research and shopping, Pinterest for inspiration, and Google for all of those things and more.

As humans of the digital age, we type queries on these platforms in the hope of getting answers to our questions. And while we're at this, search engines like Google process and store all those queries to teach their AI-powered algorithms how to get better at finding the answers we need.

For years, this search data has been widely available to marketers via Google-owned and third-party tools. But once you start speaking to other marketers across different fields, what’s most surprising is  that how we use this type of data has not changed over the years.

For example, keyword data has traditionally been used to inform content marketing teams on which content to create, while guiding PPC teams on the keywords and competitive metrics needed to run paid search campaigns. However, the value of search data goes far beyond that.

We're talking about data that, when properly analysed, can not only show how humans look for information and the things they find interesting, but is rich enough to show how people find related content online. As such, search data should not only be used to inform website content or paid search campaigns, but it should also fuel and enrich research frameworks and help with broader business decisions.

In a world where people turn to search engines to find information, search data provides unmatched value that we, as marketers, can leverage to make more data-driven decisions and help brands gain an edge over their competitors.

The process of analysing search queries and generating insights from them (outside of traditional SEM practices) can be called in many ways: search science, search listening, or even search intent mapping. But regardless of how one labels it, the outcome tends to be the same: search-informed insights that help understand consumer behaviour, product development, and many more business areas.

And no, this is not about just using Google Trends to compare search interest for random topics.

Google Trends topic suggestion box
Topic suggestions on Google Trends.


2. So, why is search data so valuable?

A great way to start understanding the value of using search insights is by comparing this process to other research practices, such as Social listening.

Social listening, for example, is a process that enables you to track, monitor, and analyse social conversations and commentary around specific topics. It's a widely established method to understand consumer sentiment about almost any subject, brand, or issue in one particular industry or niche. However, this is limited to what people are willing to say online.

The filter that gets applied to opinions and comments shared on social media are not present when it comes to Search data as these keywords represent actual queries that consumers are typing in on search engines. Thus, Search presents itself as one of the truest data points we can get as marketers in this day and age.

The filters that get applied to opinions and comments shared on social media are not present when it comes to Search data as the keywords are actual queries that consumers type in on Google. In fact, Heather Physioc, Managing Director of Discoverability at VMLY&R, said in her recent masterclass exploring How to Use SEO to Grow Your Marketing Agency, that search presents itself as "one of the truest data points that we can get as marketers in this day and age."

Just as content marketers use keyword data to spot content opportunities and help their websites rank higher on result pages, marketers can also use search data to spot market gaps that competitors are currently not exploring.

3. How can search data help you?

Here are five powerful ways in which search data can help you or your marketing teams make data-driven decisions:

1. Understand consumer preferences and measure demand

Search can provide a unique view of consumer preferences and market demand around services or products related to your brand. This can be done by analysing multiple sets of keywords related to your business and comparing search volumes between those buckets of keywords. This comes in very handy when guiding clients on which features are the most sought after in a specific product. Search data can also help spot market gaps and opportunities that competitors might not be capitalising on yet.

2. Unveil growing trends and changes in search behaviour

Search engines are a reflection of what's happening in other places on the internet. While online trends might not start in Search, engines like Google are usually where consumers turn to get more of that thing that everyone in their social groups is talking about. Every day, we see this with thousands of topics that erupt somewhere else, and people rush to search engines to learn more.

3. Identify common issues or challenges that consumers are having with your products/services

Just as frustrated customers might turn to Twitter, tag your brand, and tell you how much they hated/loved interacting with you, they will likely perform a search to check if other people are having the same sort of problems. This data gets collected by Google and even with a simple keyword research exercise, marketers can use that data to understand your audience's challenges and measure the demand each one gets.

Pro Tip.

At VMLY&R, we have found this practice to be particularly useful when paired with Social listening.

Using both methods collectively allows us to paint a clearer picture of online conversations and measure mentions and searches around a specific conversation.

Thus, the insights gathered from Search can be employed by brand managers for defence (defending the brand) rather than offence (promoting the brand).

4. Understand seasonal demand

Historical keyword data can be extremely useful when trying to understand the months or days of the week when people search for specific things online.

From determining when consumers start planning and researching for the holiday season to the days of the week when consumers search for activities to do with their friends, search data can be an easy way to measure when consumer interest peaks and identify common patterns that repeat over time. That way, marketers and other business units can proactively prepare for seasonal fluctuations in search demand and gain a competitive advantage over others.

5. Identify the types of content and media assets relevant to searchers in a specific industry

In some cases, looking at search results can provide even more insights than analysing the queries themselves. Search results pages usually reflect the type of media that searchers engage with the most (video, audio, long-form articles, recipes) and the places they frequently visit to get information (websites, forums)

This type of analysis can be done by simply typing in queries relevant to your audience on Google and looking at the results displayed for this term. At scale, there are a wide range of third-party tools that aggregate results for multiple queries and indicate the type of content that searchers click on the most. This analysis is valuable for brands trying to understand what content resonates with their audience.

4. The limitations of search data

Similar to other research processes, the analysis of search data also has its limitations, so keep these two key things in mind:

1. Keywords need to be finite

There are only so many keywords that one can analyse without relying on advanced data processing tools or text mining solutions. Because of this, it's recommended to start with small or medium-sized lists of keywords and use simple Excel formulas to work your way through the data.

2. Search data is anonymous

Therefore, it's almost impossible to connect queries to specific audience demographics directly. If you hope to analyse searches that a defined audience or people within a particular age range search on the web, search data alone might not be the right path to do this. Instead, focus on doing keyword filtering, narrow down your lists to the point where you're able to start making assumptions, and always try to cross-check the data with your owned website analysts.

Search data is an underestimated and powerful data point to fuel business intelligence and can help inform most marketing decisions. And while it cannot operate in a vacuum as it needs inputs from other marketing channels and research techniques, such as traditional research, social listening, and survey research, it is a tool that every marketer needs in their arsenal to gain the very best advantage over their competition.

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The Author

I'm a digital marketer with 4 years of experience in the SEO and advertising industry. I write about SEO, content marketing, social media, and other areas of digital marketing.

Here I aim to help small creators to get the most out of their online content. I share tips and tricks to ensure the content they create is relevant to their audience and perform wells on search engines. Learn more about me.

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