Paid Search and Above the Line Integration

Paid search and Above the Line (ATL) advertising integration is a hot topic in the digital world.  Discussions around marketing channel “integration,” such as  search and social media, SEO and PPC, and search and ATL, are starting to make real sense for advertisers who now realize that everything should ultimately work holistically together and no longer in a silo for a maximum success.

The good news is that each marketing channel is increasingly being seen as a part of the whole strategy to drive positive results. Agencies need to do more than optimise their own campaigns and report on results. In a world where enterprise companies and big brands have several agencies, those agencies have to understand what each other is doing and work closer than ever together, communicate and share.

Relative to other forms of integration, there is little information and/or case studies available that focus on search/ATL integration.  I believe the reason is because this type of integration is more complex to implement as search and ATL are very different from each other and it’s not obvious how to go about integrating them.

ATL refers to mass media advertising to huge audiences through offline media like TV, cinema, radio, print and out-of-home or through such digital media as online display, etc.  ATL is commonly used to generate upper funnel brand awareness and exposure to a mass audience.

Paid search marketing is the process of gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. It is sometimes referred to as CPC (cost-per-click) or PPC (pay-per-click) marketing because most search ads are sold on a CPC / PPC basis. This approach is commonly used to acquire qualified traffic, which will convert so we target deeper in the funnel.

Thus, paid search and ATL are used to reach different goals and success and are typically measured using different KPIs. As a result, there can be a disconnect with regard to objectives. While ATL brings traffic, search should bring quality traffic that converts.

Other channels may be easier to integrate. For example, a logical way to integrate SEO and PPC is to start building a “blended keywords report” for both with volume, rankings and CPCs, along with any other useful metrics. Once built, keywords can be identified with high CPCs that rank on the first page of the search engine results pages (SERPs).  Budget can be saved on those expensive PPC keywords by not buying them anymore (since they come up on the first page of organic results).

Another integration approach with SEO and PPC is to bid on keywords until they reach the first pages organically. The strategy is to temporarily use paid search to have some real estate on the first search engine page until the organic/SEO results kick in.

For social media and search  we can, for example, integrate some social extensions within ad copy to boost the quality score, or use YouTube True View ads as a mean to generate less expensive traffic and attract more heavily engaged users.

As just explained, there are logical ways to integrate some channels together, but, when it comes to paid search and ATL the integration, the approach is less obvious.  So let’s think about how we can proceed to have some kind of integration between these two channels since they definitely complement each other.

Integration means combining parts so that they can work together more effectively than either could alone. In the context of search/ATL, let’s look at combining the two channels to fulfil a common goal (e.g., exposure, sales, actions, etc.), and leverage both for maximum success. (This is applicable as well for search/social or any other form of integration.)

It is important to note that paid search will not only support ATL, but ATL will also help boost Web traffic during the initial outburst so we find ourselves in a win-win situation.

Having worked with several global clients here at Covario, these are the steps I believe we need to take to successfully integrate paid search and ATL:

Step 1: Media plan briefing

Integration starts with communicating and sharing the media plan from the client(s) with the agency team(s). Whether the two programs are run by one agency or two, most of the time we have different teams of expertise. It’s critical for the teams to attend a briefing meeting and go through the plan together. All parties involved must fully understand the key initiatives, messaging, marketing priorities, target audiences, and more.  If nothing is communicated or shared, we can’t go forward with an integrated plan.

Step 2: Identification of initiatives

The paid search team will then identify initiatives that make sense to support via search marketing, including online display, TV ads, and cinema, etc.   The team will particularly target outburst timing. As ATL is running, we expect more search volume so paid search will attract all that incremental traffic.

This task is the most challenging, since it either may simply not be possible or it just doesn’t make sense to support ATL. The choice of what to support must then be relevant and strategic. We won’t recommend supporting a newspaper inserts for example as the content  may not be relevant with our targeted keywords list.

However, other initiatives can usually be identified that would benefit from ATL, such as local events, public demos, road shows, any sponsored events.  For those, we can trigger specific messaging by cities or areas with catching phrases like “as seen on TV,” “coming to your area,” and “special offer for a limited time.” “Click to call” in text ads is another way for retailers to see that a lead comes from their paid search campaign. Specific URLs in the ads or coupon codes will help directly correlate the lead online to offline.

Step 3: Planning

Once we know what will be supported, we can now plan the implementation and launch. We can now identify several steps in that direction, including run rate adjustment, timing, rewrites of ad copy, and the client review and approval process.  Everything should be documented for post mortem analysis.

Step 4: Execution/implementation

This is really launching the campaigns that will support the ATL burst according to our plan.

Step 5: Report on results

Visuals are cool because you can see a direct correlation between search volume growth and ATL outburst timing. A graph (like the one below) usually speaks by itself. However, we should always compare our KPIs before and after to evaluate the success like visits to the site and conversions.

This graph below shows page views and cost per action (CPA) trends before, during and after an ATL outburst. The light blue background outburst represents the duration of the ATL outburst. First, we notice that page views are trending up while CPA is trending down during the ATL burst. What is quite interesting is that, after the outburst, the trends remain.



Once results are in and all analysis is done, the process should be repeated with the new media plan. We should learn from previous initiatives, repeat those that were successful, and learn lessons from those that were not.

Actionable Insight:

Despite the challenge, don’t be afraid to experiment with integrating paid search and ATL. Consider alternative offline and online media channels, as well as various promotions and events that lend themselves to opportunities to leverage search and ATL to achieve greater top and bottom of the funnel results than you could using just one of the two strategies.

Good luck with your integration!