The fragmentation of search

Not long ago, marketers could run effective search marketing strategies with a single partner—Google—or maybe two (Google and Bing). Now, one-stop SEM is a thing of the past. 

A host of new market entrants are nipping at Google’s heels, upending the customer journey most brands have come to consider a forgone path. When it comes to online shopping, for example, eMarketer found that people start their search on TikTok or Instagram 36% and 6% more often, respectively. Traditional search engines are seeing 9% less usage. 

How tech giants are revamping

This isn’t a coincidence. Players ranging from Amazon and Pinterest to TikTok and Instagram have noticed the behavioral shift and are doing what they can to capitalize on it. 

In this calendar year alone, TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram have all announced significant new investments in search ad products. Even Yahoo announced a revival of its search solution. 

Add to the mix the explosive adoption of ChatGPT, Bing Chat, and Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), and the very nature of how we search is likely to change in fundamental ways.

Selective searchers take the wheel

While people aren’t leaving Google in droves (at least, not yet), they are being more selective about what they search for and where. Specifically, more long-tail, question-driven searches like “how to hang a picture frame” can be better fielded on video-focused platforms like TikTok or YouTube, where you can see the answer in the search results. For broader searches like, “carpet cleaner” or “quality picture frames,” that indicate a more research-based intent, Google (or, increasingly, Amazon) continue to set the standard for search results.

Like all shifts in consumer behavior, this fragmentation of search will require a corresponding shift by marketers.

Agencies and brands are no strangers to vetting new potential solutions, and planning and optimizing media mixes based on target audience penetration, forecast reach, and performance. The same approach must be applied to the newly fragmented search landscape. 

How to adapt your search strategies

Here are three steps marketers can take to realign their search marketing strategies to take advantage of the shift: 

  1. Conduct fresh keyword research
    Identify keyword opportunities and nuances across the various platforms. Map your existing keyword lists; longtail keywords may make sense on one, but not the other. Expand your lists to include new, opportunistic keywords that may have greater relevance on new platforms. Base your budget on search volumes and create a strategy that covers the entire customer journey.
  1. Revisit your website & SEO strategy
    SEM and SEO coordination is key to a strong search strategy. While optimizing for platforms like TikTok, Pinterest, Amazon, and Instagram, the foundations of SEO still apply to integrations with social media and retailers, as well as SEM. Optimize content to answer user queries and provide the best user experience to yield better organic rankings and quality scores for SEM.
  1. Test and learn
    As with any new tactic or channel, testing and learning will be key to longer term success. Early adoption likely means higher efficiency but also comes with a product learning curve. Measure against comparable solutions for benchmarking, learn fast, then scale accordingly.

Ushering in a new era

The speed at which these platforms are releasing new product updates is unprecedented. It’s a challenge, but it’s also incredibly exciting—paving the way for a new era and novel approaches to reach and engage high-intent searches.

Search marketing is no longer simply a Google play with a sprinkle of Bing.

We now need to not just consider additional avenues of search growth, but rather, embrace these new solutions to ensure we reach consumers in their journey—no matter where they are.