Share of search: The SEO metric you can’t ignore

SEO is about to be taken seriously.

And share of search is how we’ll make it happen.

Let’s find out why.

Share of search: What it is and why it matters

Share of search is an SEO metric developed by expert marketers Les Binet and James Hankins a few years ago.

The concept of share of search is fairly simple – decide who you’re competing against, add the searches for all the brands and work out the percentage.

Now, as SEOs, we’re taught largely to ignore brand search because it’s “free traffic.” 

But that’s not quite true. Brand search is hugely important for several reasons, and actively trying to increase it has many benefits.

Share of search = share of market, and data suggests that brands with a higher and increasing share of search will enjoy sales growth in the future.

There is an obvious reason for this. Because brands people want to buy will likely be brands they search for.

And if that’s the case, why are we not digging deeper?

A tale of two websites

Earlier in my career, I worked on two projects for the same company.

Essentially, they were two businesses in the same sector but different brands.

The first brand decided to go all in on their advertising and publicity.

We’re talking billboards, sponsorship, display ads, and news features.

The second brand did the opposite and went all in on SEO and PPC.

Here’s the thing: while, without a doubt, the budget for the first brand was vastly higher, they almost immediately started to generate brand traffic, backlinks and sales.

The SEO and the PPC did very little.

There is a natural reason for this – reach.

The fundamental rule of growth for any business is to reach as many people as possible and tell them you exist.

If people don’t know you exist, they can’t buy from you.

OK, so this is where search comes in.

Thanks to keywords, brands didn’t need to spend money reaching everyone. Instead, they used PPC, SEO or both to meet potential buyers online.

This is where the last 10 years have thrown “brand” marketing under the bus.

But it has its issues.

How people buy online 

Search is the new shelf. 

Well, that’s what marketing professor Byron Sharp says. And he’s right.

Imagine a supermarket that sells everything you could ever want.

You walk in and tell the staff, “We need the car insurance aisle.”

“Certainly, sir, that is on aisle 15”.

You walking along aisle 15 is the manifestation of a Google search, and the SERPs are the products on the shelves.

The thing with search – and why PPC is so expensive – is that people aren’t always ready to buy. 

For a long time, people enter research mode and make numerous repeated searches over an extended period of time.

Google research has defined these two states as being:

Exploration mindset.

Evaluation mindset.

Brand marketers will refer to them as category researchers and people ready to buy.

Essentially, they are the same thing.

Search is now overloaded, and purchase cycles can take a long time, depending on the category.

Some B2B categories require research periods of 12 months or longer, others far less time.

And certain factors slow purchase speed down, including:

Lack of urgency

Risk aversion

Decision fatigue

Lack of time or knowledge

Choice overload 

And more.

In simple terms, we leave the supermarket, repeatedly return, and look at many options during each visit. This is often why PPC and even SEO returns are hard to realize and explain.

Purchase cycles are possibly increasing in length, not decreasing.

Eventually, we’ll have a few brands we want to consider and then pick one. But we only pick when we’re ready to buy.

For many businesses, search is the only way they are discovered online.

They do little brand marketing, and organic and paid searches linked to buyer intent keywords are how they are found.

And this is where share of search comes in.

Be easy to mind and easy to find

If someone types a buyer intent keyword into Google, you’re up against strong competition.

Every organic result and ad is fighting for the click. It’s hard.

But it’s a lot easier if you’re a brand that the searcher is already aware of, and ideally, they searched for you directly.

And that’s where brand marketing is important.

By reaching the prospect while they are not in the market to buy, including during their exploration phase, you increase the likelihood that they’ll remember you when they decide it’s time to purchase.

But SEO is a demand capture channel. It can’t affect this. 

Turns out it can.

Publicity: SEO’s secret weapon

BrightonSEO hosted a Q&A with Google’s John Mueller in October.

One of the questions pitched at him was, “Is digital PR link spam?”

Mueller answered:

“I think a lot of digital PR is really fantastic. By creating something fantastic that’s aligned with the rest of your website that is interesting for a broader audience. I think that is fantastic.”

In his book, “Product Led SEO,” Eli Schwartz points out:

“Some of the best link builders I know build their links by using PR methods. Your goal should always be getting attention. Remember, for backlink-building success, think PR first, links second.”

I’m lucky enough to work for a digital PR agency that has started an SEO side. 

So, I have a team of link builders and PRs at my disposal and a shed load of data to look at.

I can look at every campaign we launch and see if/ how digital PR lifts a brand’s search.

And it does.

Publicity fuels brand search and links.

Not every link or mention landed will do this; the key is contextual relevance.

Landing a media link and gaining publicity are two entirely different things.

The idea of digital PR is that the topic placement is brand-relevant when you acquire a link. 

In other words, you want some readers to see your brand name and be interested enough to search for you.

Now, let’s be clear. Many in SEO will criticize this approach. 

I’ve had SEOs admit to buying links. Some actually prefer to buy links than do digital PR.

But we are marketers, first and foremost. 

No one hires an SEO because they want to buy links and niche edits.

They hire SEOs because they want sales, and it’s our job to maximize our budgets to grow a greater share of search.

But what happens if we don’t grow share of search?

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A brand’s mental availability is everything

Mental availability is the likelihood of your brand being considered in a buying situation.

And this is key for growth. 

Because brand power allows companies to:

Charge more for their goods or services than the competition. 

Sell more goods and services at the same price.

Over the years, I’ve seen businesses that exist in search but have to compete in a race to the bottom because they have little brand power.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “But we’re SEOs. We care about traffic and rankings?”

Come on, folks, it’s 2023.

If we want to gain more significant budgets, we need to have a faster and greater impact.

The double share of search

It’s not the job of the SEO department to ensure the success of a business’s marketing.

But in a world where SEO wants to gain larger budgets, we need to be able to showcase the value we deliver.

And by measuring our share of brand search and buyer intent search, we can prove our value.

So, what is the share of buyer intent search?

This is what SEOs typically focus on.

It’s the traffic that brands typically pay for to reach buyers.

And just like share of “brand search,” the business with the greater share will likely attract greater revenue and traffic in the future.

So, as SEOs, we can actively measure a brand’s share of search interest and the share of buyer intent search volume.

Tools like My Telescope and Google Trends can be used to track brand searches, while  Semrush and Ahrefs can be used to track the share of buyer intent search.

And this changes the conversation around the benefits of SEO.

Moving SEO from demand capture to brand growth

Brands grow when they increase their sales, and SEO helps this to happen.

But to maximize this, we need brand awareness and ranking for buyer intent keywords to increase.

Use digital PR to build links and brand awareness.

Leverage SEO, and the code of search engines, to grow the share of buyer intent search.

This double approach makes SEO more valuable and delivers faster results.

Movement is in the air for SEO.

And in a semantic search era, it’s time for a new approach.

It’s time for SEO to claim it’s place as a powerful marketing channel that deserves the respect of marketers and the right budgets.

That time is now.

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