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When consumers act, they act fast. Retailers can get a leg up in the marketplace by responding to consumers' needs as they surface. While some events, such as holidays and championship games, can be anticipated, others, such as weather-related issues, cannot. Using real-time technologies in search, brands can dynamically adjust their reach, competitiveness and relevancy with their target audiences at the most critical times. We examined the best ways to achieve SEM success as these important events and conversations occur.

A major heat wave is heading toward Vermont, of all places, sending retailers into a frenzy. They scramble to see if their search campaigns are optimized. Are important keywords—""fans” and “batteries,” for example—running with high CPAs? Are bids updated? If they could forecast these types of events and quickly respond to their impact on conversion yields, well, they'd be both psychics and magicians.

From weather concerns to new fashion trends and political affairs, search queries give marketers insight into what matters most to people in a specific moment. And given the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, consumers are searching all day, every day, providing millions of moments of discovery and research.

Consumers' attention spans are fleeting, however, and they can move from one topic to the next in a matter of seconds. Search marketers who can address consumers' needs through quick response are poised for success. Therein lies the power of real-time SEM technologies.

Here, I describe several ways real-time SEM platforms help retailers get a leg up in a marketplace where consumers are inundated with options, purchase paths are nonlinear and nothing ever seems to stay the same.

From social activity to search trend in a matter of hours

A recent study suggests that the time between a first mention on social media to a full-blown search trend is relatively short. Take Twitter, for example. A first tweet may indicate interest in a topic, and spikes in Google Search Trends can reveal when consumer intent shifts to action—estimated at about four hours later.1 To react to these shifts in consumer interest, marketers need to stay one step ahead. Real-time SEM technologies can help them respond appropriately to the conversations, memes and external events that may be propelling interest, whether to launch a new product or promotion or to fuel interest around an existing campaign.

This kind of quick, spikey market interest has often been likened to the stock market. Today, trading can be done digitally, with orders executed in minutes if not seconds. But imagine a scenario from years ago: A stockbroker is doing your bidding. A major crash hits while you're pushing orders to sell, and you find out that your broker has visited the exchange only once and isn't returning your calls. You're panicking because you're losing a fortune due to his inefficiency.

With the technologies available now, the above scenario is a thing of the past. As with the automated transactions of today's Wall Street, marketers can feel secure knowing that they're benefiting from timely and accurate information—thanks to real-time technologies. These tools help brands dynamically adjust reach (keyword coverage), competitiveness (bidding strategies) and relevancy (dynamic creative and localization) based on immediate insights into marketplace demand and advertiser goals. iProspect works with a variety of SEM tools, including DoubleClick Search, discussed here.

Meeting market demand with real-time insights

External factors, such as the Vermont heatwave mentioned above, holiday sales or the latest game scores, can influence search behavior. These events can change the propensity your audiences have to convert on your keywords; in short, they spell a purchasing opportunity. Some can be anticipated while others cannot. Technologies with access to real-time information—conversion data that's updated in minutes and not hours or days—allow for bids to be adjusted on individual keywords multiple times per day to capitalize on changes in market demand. This intra-day bidding can respond in smaller increments when warranted, without advertisers having to take big gambles.

The chart below shows how one of iProspect's clients, a top luxury apparel brand (let's call it Brand X), looked to real-time data and execution to maximize its marketing during a busy shopping season. Brand X holds a highly anticipated three-day sale twice per year. In 2012, it used an SEM platform that did not offer real-time conversion insights or intra-day bidding. A year later, when it switched to DoubleClick Search, a tool that reacted more quickly, the difference was immense.

Three-day Promotion: Better Results With Real Time

Real Time Retail

Source: iProspect proprietary data

For both years, our team applied bidding strategies to branded keyword terms to promote the three-day sale. Looking at the first day of the promotion in 2012 versus 2013, the impact is clear. In 2013, the increased demand from the sale meant we were able to react immediately. With real time, the bidding was also more aggressive on the second day of the promotion. The platform could afford to be more aggressive because it could immediately dial down bids whenever purchase intent dropped without having to wait 24 hours. The overall result: the company more than tripled revenue on the first day of the promotion year over year while decreasing cost per clicks (CPCs) by over 60%.

Engaging with keyword intent data to fuel cross-channel opportunities

Consumers search across different screens and channels to find what they need. To tap into this behavior, some of the most powerful technologies use keyword intent data to engage consumers immediately beyond search engines. For instance, if a person searches for a product and clicks on a resulting ad but does not convert, data can be immediately fed into a display remarketing campaign that reaches the searcher as soon as she leaves the site.

Imagine a world without such a search intent signal. Someone visits your site, perhaps an existing customer, and then leaves. How much would you bid on remarketing to get her to return? How much more would you bid knowing that this customer has intent to purchase one of your products—or that of your competitor? Probably a lot.

Platforms such as DoubleClick Search can execute quickly across digital channels. This allows savvy advertisers to continue engaging qualified people at just the right time—with relevant content.

Maintaining brand consistency

Feed-based marketing offered by some SEM tools uses live product information to automatically create and update text ads, keywords and bids based on real-time changes. This means advertisers can fine-tune their paid search campaigns so that keywords cover products in stock and pause keywords that are used for products or categories that are not readily available.

This helps a brand be consistent in its messaging, creating a positive consumer experience—online and offline. A retailer shouldn't inform customers that a product is in stock only to lead them to an empty shelf, so why do it online? Your advertising is an extension of your brand. If products are being added and removed at the rate of 10,000 a day, and the average seasonal product turnover is 50%, then it would makes sense to adjust your coverage quickly.

What's more, things like optimized assortment planning can help retailers reach consumers at a local level, adjusting available merchandise based on regional preferences and trends right when they're looking to buy.

Working smarter and faster

Real-time technologies save marketers time by letting them focus more on strategy and less on manipulating bulk sheets. Intra-day bidding and dynamic campaign development not only save time but also provide a level of coverage and detailed optimization that isn't possible without real-time performance data. Advanced SEM tools that integrate third-party data, such as web analytics and attribution data, can help lessen the time drains associated with multiple data sources and reporting. Marketers can optimize in real time against secondary conversion metrics, ensuring that the data being used to optimize search programs aligns with what's being used to measure success at the corporate level. On average, we've seen these technologies save two hours per week on reporting and five hours per week on data checks.

Arming marketers with the right tools

Real-time technologies equip online retailers with tools to keep up with the ever-evolving search ecosystem. Flexible goal setting, third-party data integration and real-time optimization offer a systematic solution to many ongoing challenges. These powerful tools can provide online retailers with a definite advantage in today's hypercompetitive marketplace. Consumers are telling marketers what they want at any given moment through their search queries, and retailers are now able to respond immediately. Retailers who leverage real-time technologies are not only learning from and capitalizing on past performance, but they're making the most of each opportunity as it happens.