Above The Line, PPC and SEO – It’s a “Brand” New Game

First up, an apology. This is less of a informative post and more of an open-ended question to all marketers, and not necessarily for just those that focus on online or search marketing. I’m looking at brand, budget, media and ROI. And testing. Lots of testing.

Being an SEO at OMD, a full service media agency born from a purely offline media buying and planning service, for the past 11 months has been an eye-opening experience. Only half the people in the agency work in “digital”, so getting down on a campaign level as far as  “search” or even more granualar “SEO” can be tricky.  I hold my hands up, I understand next to nothing about how offline or “above the line” marketing works. It’s too easy to become siloed and work almost completely separately. You get so used to assuming that my link building has no relation to their outdoor advertising that integration is something that needs hard hard work, daily hard work, in order to make it happen.

Coming from a background of small specialised digital agencies, learning to take a step back and look at the bigger picture has been a slow process. Understanding the world of big brands, budgets and wider visibility is taking longer still. However I think the future of SEO, search marketing or digital marketing in general will require this. Having said that, I’m also learning that sometimes the only way to get to the bigger picture is to start with the small things and learn to look outwards.

As a full service agency, we often control budget across a variety of specialisations which we need to internally break down according to how we believe it is best spent. From digital advertising to affiliates to newspaper advertising to TV – how is it possible to gauge which creates the best ROI across a brand?

As an SEO, this is a twist on the age-old PPC vs SEO argument which has taken some huge leaps. It is much more than simply search marketing that we should be considering. But let’s start there…

Recent examples of some core questions being raised on a client account:

– Should we be bidding on pure brand terms using PPC?

– Should we be bidding on any brand terms (extended, misspellings etc.) using PPC?

– What about when competitors are bidding on our brand?

– Will SEO fully compensate for the extra visibility and manipulable messages PPC offers?

– How do we test this considering all the seasonality variables involved?

– With the amount of money spent on brand terms with PPC, would it be better spent being pushed back into ‘above the line’ techniques?

– How do we measure this?

– Should we rely only on SEO when we are pro-actively pushing more ‘above the line’ marketing offline or should we use PPC to get across more up-to-date messages if a person searches on our brand term?

The list of questions goes on. I would love to say I have all the answers to these. Sadly this is not (yet) the case. How are we going about trying to get these answers? Thank the lord for Google Analytics!

Types of Tests Being Undertaken:

– Switch off pure brand bidding completely, monitor organic traffic.

– Switch off varieties of brand bidding, monitor.

– Use search volumes and GA to estimate total clickshare.

– Use tools such as Hitwise or AdGooroo to estimate traffic to competitors.

Methods of testing:

– Geographically target similar locations with brand on while targeting others with brand off and directly compare on same dates.

– Brand on for one month followed by brand off the next month to enable more accurate keyword search volume/clickshare estimations

– Brand on for one day followed by brand off the next, alternating for six weeks then calculating the overall traffic difference to avoid seasonality issues

– Brand on for one week with heavy offline advertising then repeated 6 months later during periods of similar traffic/seasonality.

KPIs to measure:

– Increase in SEO traffic when PPC brand bidding is switched off

– Incremental increase in visits from PPC when brand is switched on

– ROI of these incremental visits

– Estimated clickshare of total search volume of brand keyword

– Estimated clickshare of competitors on total search volume of your brand keyword

– Direct vs SEO visits when offline marketing is heavily pushed

– All site traffic, direct, SEO and PPC when offline marketing is heavily pushed with brand bidding switched on vs brand off.


As you can guess, results are as yet inconclusive across the board. As you can see from the methods of testing, this is going to take months to get to a place we feel confident in. I’m looking forward to sharing these with you when I can. However I’d be interested to hear others’ opinions on this sort of testing, whether it has any value and if so the kind of tests others have undertaken.

One piece of advice I would share is to make these tests as scientific as possible. Formulate hypotheses, methods, agreed controls and KPIs before starting ANYTHING. And check, double check and triple check your Google Analytics is 100% correctly set up before even thinking about the next step. Trust me, we learned the hard way. Invalid tests after weeks of waiting are not a lot of fun.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thanks to riverpublishinggroup.com and http://blog.ineedhits.com for the photos.

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About Annabel Hodges

Originally from the UK via France and Malaysia, Annabel Hodges is a digital marketer with long experience in the industry now residing in Sydney. She heads up the Digital Marketing at Next Commerce, working across an array of products, channels and brands.