Why Brand Advertising Drives More Conversions than You Think


Search marketing is so awesome because it's efficient – the ROI is measurable and tangible.

Those big brand advertisers – the ones spending millions to advertise on TV, radio, and billboards – what do they know? What a waste of money, right?

Well, if those formats are so useless, why are the big companies pouring so much money into these ads every year? What do they know that we don't?

brand advertising

Well, maybe they know that if consumers have never heard of you, they won't search for you when they need the product or service you sell. And if they do a search, most probably won't click on your paid search ad or organic listing. And if they don't click on your brand, they can't buy from you.

Why? What's stopping them?

Again: They've never heard of you. You aren't a magical unicorn everyone knows and loves. You're just a boring donkey – another link in a sea of blue links.

The ultimate conversion hack is making sure people have heard of your brand before.

Here's why.

Search harvests existing demand

We know there are three types of searches:

  • Informational: These searchers want to find an answer to a question or learn something. We lure in informational searchers via SEO, creating inspirational, memorable, optimized content that your target market will find informative or educational (not promotional).
  • Navigational: These searchers want to locate a specific website – like people looking for “facebook.” They already know you – they've visited your site before, liked what they saw, and want to return.
  • Transactional: The searcher is signaling intent to buy something. This is where search marketers live – the SEOs who create content for visitors who have demonstrated buying intent and the PPC marketers who write compelling ad copy with irresistible offers for hot prospects.

Search marketing is all about harvesting existing market demand. Don't get me wrong: as search marketers, we do a brilliant job of harvesting that demand. But search doesn't grow new demand.

What will ultimately make these searchers click on your organic result or your paid search ad? More importantly, how many of them will actually convert into leads and sales when they arrive on the landing page?

Small changes = small conversion rate increases

unicorn math

Pop quiz: there's one way to dramatically increase your website conversion rate right now. Is it:

  • Changing a keyword from plural to singular on your landing page
  • Adding a high-quality image of smiling people
  • Reducing the number of fields on your form
  • None of the above

If you said none of the above, you are correct! These changes won't dramatically increase your conversions. Small on-page changes result in small conversion rate increases.

Changes to on-page elements – things like button placement or color, image sizes, and fonts – might spike sales by 5 percent. And that's exciting.

But you can't crown A/B test winners and losers for life. Offer fatigue is a big issue. No A/B test alone can turn a donkey into a unicorn.

ab testing myths

Winners are just winners "for now." Those gains tend to disappear over time, once the novelty wears off.

There's so much more you can do beyond these small on-page changes. Why settle for 5 percent when you could do things that move the needle 5x?

What turns search clicks into conversions?

On-page elements, as well as things like targeting, psychology, and ad extensions, all play a role in the conversion process. I'm not saying these and other traditional CRO tactics aren't important – they are.

But you can't predict which of your tweaks will result in changes. That's why you A/B test.

The single biggest predictor of whether people will purchase is whether they've heard of you before. That process should start long before people are ready to buy and they click on your organic listing or paid search ad.

i don't know her

Think of a conversion as a lifecycle, not a singular event. Target qualified prospects before they even know they want to buy from you!

Go brand yourself!

importance of branding

If you want to bias people in your favor, you need to build a brand.

When people are scanning through the search results, they click on brands they know. In fact, 70 percent of consumers will click on a retailer they know, according to Search Engine Land and SurveyMonkey research.

If you've built a brand people know and love, people are more likely to click on your organic listing or your PPC ad. Non-branded keywords can act like brand terms when enough brand affinity exists.

brand recognition effects

Your CTR has a clear impact on your conversion rates. In fact, click-through rate is the most important conversion metric. A higher CTR means a higher conversion rate:

ctr vs. conversion rate

This is just one example from one large WordStream client, but we see a similar type of curve across industries.


We've found that if you can get someone excited enough to click on your offer, that excitement usually carries through all the way to a sign-up, checkout, or purchase.

How to see the impact of brand advertising

The value of branding has been ridiculously hard to measure historically.

If you use RLSA, however, you can split test people based on brand affinity. A repeat visitor works as a proxy for brand affinity – and they convert 2-3x higher than first-time visitors. Crazy!

conversion rates for repeat visitors

This suggests when it comes to prioritizing activities we should be doing things a little differently!

Attention search marketers: if you want to see truly monstrous differences in conversion rates, you're better off segmenting conversions by new vs. repeat visitors.

What does it all mean?

PPC people – be open to other forms of online brand advertising (such as display and social advertising) as well as broadcast media (radio and TV). Branding helps convert those clicks you're paying for into customers.

With a smart social ad strategy, you can promote your content to the perfect audience for just pennies. Send people to your most engaging content rather than sign-up forms. Sure, they won't convert right away, but you can later remarket to them using social media ads. When you hit them with an offer next time, they'll be 2x to 3x more likely to convert.

SEO people – the brands that appear in organic search results more closely correlate with their overall popularity. So cast a wider net with off-topic content that will grow your popularity and start biasing future commercial searches and conversions in your favor.

Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

Watch the video below on our Free AdWords Grader:

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Sienna Eskildsen
Mar 09, 2017

It is important to keep the landing page much more effective and use-friendly so that people engage with contents and the website itself. Too much media is also harmful at times.

Mar 12, 2017

I must say you have hi quality content here.
Your page should go viral. You need initial traffic only.
How to get it? Search for: Etorofer's strategies

Sarah Danks
Mar 09, 2017

Larry, LOVE this! Was just on a Twitter chat yesterday discussing pros/cons of "traditional" marketing vs. "content marketing."

Great stuff -- thanks!

Nate Loder
Mar 19, 2017

Great article, Larry!

Any thoughts on what the future of digital advertising might look like as technology advances along with infrastructure for a more connected world?

Gregory Burke
Mar 23, 2017

Segmenting conversions by new vs. repeat visitors. Grr, why haven't I ever thought of that? What a great way to measure the effects of branding. I've always liked to sprinkle in some brand awareness campaigns with my search campaigns, but I've never really been able to honestly answer the question "Is it working?"

Nate Smith
Nov 18, 2017

Great article. Couple of caveats - "brand" advertising creates new demand: a perfect fit for a company that's capturing all the latent demand in its vertical, and all the adjacent verticals. And maybe *not* such a great fit for others. Assuming we're defining "brand" narrowly, as "that which has no directly attributable ROI". One thing I've seen some *uber* smart direct response colleagues doing is using "analog" media channels in direct-response funnels, where there's less competition.
Another minor "yes and" is that direct-response channels can absolutely create new demand. While direct sales might only capture "problem aware"/solution aware/solution searching folks, branded facebook ads to content, to remarketing, to a list, to an eventual sale, can absolutely "educate" a market, and savvy marketers can track attribution.
One reason many of us in the direct-response community might bristle at "brand advertising" is it's long been exempt from the type of ROI-scrutiny that other channels have, and hence it's been a breeding ground for...sorry to say...BS.
Which is not to say *all* brand advertising is that way, just that the tide is...higher.

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