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The Inside Scoop: What We’re Thinking About as MediaPost’s Search/Performance Marketing Agency of the Year

Merkle was recently named Search/Performance Marketing Agency of the Year, our fourth win in six years from the team at MediaPost. We’re honored to receive this award, knowing that the competition for this nod is always stiff, and are excited to accept this award on behalf of our clients, team members, and partners who work tirelessly to turn big ideas into strategies that deliver positive results.

Throughout the year, we aimed to build on innovation that was already underway to fight the ultimate headwind of 2022 (and, most likely, 2023): inflation. With consumer needs more varied than ever, we held tight to our core belief that building the best customer experience, with robust data, sophisticated technology, and smart people, is what moves business forward.

As you’re planning for next year, here are a few of the search trends top of mind for us that we hope can help guide your thought process.

Search marketers should know their users inside and out.

  • Search is about content plus context and intent. On its own, a search query is fairly helpful for guessing what content the user might find useful. But context and intent are what really move the needle. For example, what does someone searching for “pizza” want? Pizza brand reviews (location = grocery store)? A recipe (behavior = frequent Pinterest user)? Pizza delivery (location = home, time of day = 6pm)? There is so much data search marketers can use to better understand what the user actually needs and supply the content that will deliver. We’ve built tools and processes to improve understanding in this area – and our teams and clients are thrilled by the results.
  • Search has a new imperative to collect first-party data. With third-party cookies on the way out, search is uniquely positioned to bolster brands’ customer data. Users purposefully engage with search, so every interaction is highly intentional and offers insight into timing signals and interest. Clicks are considered a first-party cookie, meaning the advertiser has a consented ability to tag the consumer’s browser and use that information to improve their customer experience and future interactions with the brand. In this unique position, search marketers have a responsibility to the organization to capture high-intent first-party data and use it across the marketing ecosystem.

Automation must be embraced, but humans still matter.

  • Elevate the algorithm with unique business insights. Humans are still critical for maximizing the power of automation. There are unique aspects of a business that a search engine algorithm could never learn on its own. Search marketers must focus on unearthing, curating, and cleaning that data to inject it into the algorithms powering their campaigns. 
  • Machine learning drives deeper insights into search behavior. Anyone who’s been in search for a while might recall the satisfaction of finding one meaningful trend after combing through rows and rows in a search term report. Machine learning finds those threads that look insignificant to the human eye but are actually quite impactful when aggregated over a large data set. This is critical in crafting the right experience – understanding not just what users don’t want when they search a certain term, but also what they do. 

Measurement should be multi-faceted. 

  • The right KPI is actually a blend of customer touchpoints. Historically, revenue or conversions were the end-all-be-all for optimization. But every action a prospect or customer takes before the ultimate conversion has value and indicates where a person is in their journey. Whether it’s signing up for a loyalty program or completing a credit application, that action and its value should be part of the optimization metric that decides which search users warrant aggressive investment and which ones don’t. 
  • Predictive modeling delivers scale and fills in gaps. Like the efficiencies brought by other types of automation, data modeling brings science and scale to what would otherwise be an arduous process. In cases where search data is thinner or the click-to-action curve is longer, predictive modeling can estimate lifetime value and likelihood of conversion while a prospect is still early in the funnel, giving you more time to efficiently engage them through search as they progress down the conversion path. 

These pillars will continue to be critical in the new year as platform data becomes less transparent, automation opportunities grow, and consumer needs and behaviors shift. We’re excited to continue building on these ideas and translating them into tangible actions. So, one more time – THANK YOU to everyone whose work contributed toward us receiving this honor. And if you’re interested in learning how you can put some of these concepts into practice at your organization, drop us a note – we’re always happy to chat!