Social media might drive brand awareness, but search still drives the sales

By Erin Griffith , written on January 11, 2013

From The News Desk

With the rise of social media, many have predicted the death of pay-for-click advertising. Fighting over last click attribution (meaning, which link caused the user to actually buy something) is unfair because it doesn't give credit to all that brand exposure that happened higher up the marketing funnel. What about building brand awareness?

With social media, advertisers are supposed to care more about impressions and engagement and "brand like" and "brand love." That hasn't exactly translated, though as social networks like Facebook and Twitter realize they need to provide real return on investment to their advertisers. And how are advertisers accustomed to understanding their ROI on digital ad spend? The answer is with clicks and sales -- which is what Facebook and Twitter have to give them.

So far, it hasn't been a smooth ride. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest still drive less sales than analog catalogs, according to a Baynote study.

It's a common refrain: the measurability of the digital advertising is both its blessing and its curse. You can measure everything, which shows us precisely how ineffective most advertising is. Search is the one category of digital advertising that's built for pay-for-click and last attribution -- it actually works because it has the sweet holy grail of intent.

It's you, walking into a hardware store and asking for a drill, not you, walking down a sidewalk trying to avoid the crazy drill salesperson yelling for your attention. Even if you happen to be in the market for a drill, you don't want to deal with it right now, and especially not from... that guy. In our ultra-measurable, ROI-driven world of web advertising, I often suspect search may be as good as it gets.

Today a Kenshoo study confirmed that the 12-year-old category continues to drive returns and be a huge category for advertisers. It's 12 years old, which is ancient web business years, and it's still growing. Paid search spending during the holidays increased by 24 percent over last year, click volume increased by 16 percent, revenue driven by paid search increased 23 percent over last year.

Facebook has an uphill battle in winning any ad dollars from such an effective category. Most of us expect the company to abandon the fight against paid search and just launch its own search engine. It's not just Facebook -- it's the entire category of social. Even Pinterest, which possesses the holy grail of "social intent," we thought, only drove 0.13 percent of a site's traffic on average, according to a social commerce survey by 8thBridge. Conversions are lower, and order sizes, on average, are lower.

Search just works, and it's so simple to prove. Spend Y in ads, get X in sales. Unfortunately, with impressions and engagement and brand like and brand love, social will simply never have that.