The potential of search advertising – in pictures

When it comes to search engine advertising, one thing I’ve learned is that lay people (including those who you might need to sign off your advertising plans) consistently underestimate what it can do. For many companies, it’s still “just another channel”, and budget is almost arbitrarily allocated to it. The sheer scale of what’s going on is hard to grasp (and I include myself in this), but we really need to try harder. Let’s try to simplify what’s happening, in case you ever want something to casually leave on someone’s desk…

I’m sure you’ll agree that the number of enquiries you get from an advertisement comes down to three things: how many people are looking for your product; how many of those people see the medium you choose to advertise in; and how many of those actually see your advertisement. It’s the attrition rate between the steps which is key, and it’s here that search engine advertising does so well. This is what happens:


Now, let’s compare that with, for example, a magazine advertisement. I’m sure you’ll agree that if there are 100 people out there who might want your product today, more will be likely to search Google for that product than will pick up a specific issue of a specific magazine which happens to have your advert in it. That’s probably common sense.


And I’m sure you’ll also agree that in comparison to a Google search results page, they’re more likely to miss your advert in a magazine. So the attrition rate is considerably steeper:


This doesn’t mean that magazine advertising is a waste of money: those few potential enquirers at the bottom of that illustration could easily justify the cost of the advertisement. But the potential of search advertising is so much greater. It’s just a question of how much of that potential you’re prepared to invest in.

(If you’re ever trying to make this point to somebody, feel free to use those images!)

1 thought on “The potential of search advertising – in pictures”

  1. Nice justification of why search engine advertising is best done using….search engines. But is that – these days – really what print mags should be about? Surely print magazines should be about telling readers about things they didn’t know about, whereas search engines are about finding things they already know they want. And providing extra depth and comment about how such things compare with what is already available. If we buy a newspaper these days – or get one for free – it’s not so we can get the instant news which is already available on our devices. It’s so we can get different angles and comment on the issues of the day.

    So magazines do still have a role, even though one of the principal justifications for their existence a generation ago is no longer there. Magazines that get this will survive – even thrive in a few cases. Similarly, advertisers that get the difference and tailor their advertising appropriately will get the best return from that part of their investment. Such advertising also builds a degree of brand recognition which has a value when the reader subsequently uses a search engine to find potential products.

    But if a magazine is viewed solely as an alternative to search engine advertising, self-evidently, there can only be one winner.

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