New research reveals that search advertising’s effectiveness depends on PR

In June 2023, Google published a case study, Driving into the future of advertising: How Kia UK lifted conversion value on Search. It revealed the critical importance of search in generating sales for electric vehicles.

In the Google case study, Kia’s UK Head of Brand Communication, Jane Fenn, says: “The automotive market has undergone numerous changes over the years, but none have been as swift or exciting as the shift to electrification…  The path to purchasing a new car has become increasingly complex and messy, with a significant amount of research and decision-making happening online.

“We’ve also been focused on ensuring our marketing efforts support this new strategy and positioning. And with Search being a key channel in today’s car buying journey — as well as one where the competition between retailers, resellers, and comparison websites is fierce — we decided to move our paid advertising into a new direction.”

This new direction for Kia’s paid advertising is value based bidding (VBB), which optimises Google advertising spend automatically based on the value of conversions rather than just the volume.  Fenn continues: Search is not only a primary destination where consumers seek information, but also a bridge between above-the-line and lower funnel marketing. This makes it a crucial channel for us.”  (Emphasis added by the authors).

As Fenn clearly realises, search is key to maximising electric car sales, for Kia and other automotive brands. The big question is how to get consumers to carry out searches in the first place?

Metricomm is now able to provide conclusive evidence that online media coverage plays a very significant role in generating consumer search, enabling brands such as Kia to maximise their advertising and, ultimately, sales revenue. These results have strong implications for advertising, marketing and PR, not only for the automotive industry but across all sectors.

The Impact of Online Media Coverage on Google Search

Metricomm’s analysis reveals that between January and May 2023, around 83% of UK consumer searches for electric car brands can be explained by online media coverage.  This demonstrates the power of online media coverage in moving consumers along the path to purchase, which to date has been severely underestimated by brands. As the Metricomm data shows, investment in media relations makes a tangible contribution to producing the desired search results – an impact which should not be underestimated or overlooked.

So how did Metricomm calculate this impact?

Metricomm combines rigorous statistical analysis and AI to identify the relationships between audiences generated by online media coverage and consumer data.  For the consumer data for this study Metricomm used searches from UK Google Trends, which is a highly reliable proxy for consumer interest and a key business outcome for all brands.

First, Metricomm needed to identify the coverage most likely to have been read by consumers with a potential interest in purchasing an electric car between 1 January and the end of May, when the study was carried out.

Figure 1 shows the output from Metricomm’s platform that reveals a very strong relationship between the audience generated by online media coverage for electric cars and UK Google searches for best electric car over this period.  Best electric car was chosen for this first part of the study because it is a popular generic search term for consumers interested in electric cars and was also a term used for Kia’s work on advertising, described above.

Fig 1. The relationship between audience generated by UK online media coverage for ‘electric cars’ and UK Google searches for ‘best electric car’ between 1 January and 28 May, 2023 (data for left hand axis is dark blue and for the right hand axis is light blue)

This represents far more than a coincidental pattern. Metricomm’s methodology means that the strength of the relationship in figure 1 can be evidenced statistically. This analysis reveals that around 43% of the UK Google searches for ‘best electric car’ across the January – May period can be explained by UK online media coverage for ‘electric cars’, at a statistical significance level of 99.9%.  If we look more specifically at the period between 1 January and 9 April, which encompasses the dates for new registration plates, 79% of UK Google searches can be explained by online media coverage at a statistical significance level of 99.9999%.  Put another way, the probability that this relationship just happened by chance is less than one in a million.

Of course, we always need to be careful when interpreting these results because correlation does not necessarily mean causation.  It is highly likely that UK Google searches for best electric cars increased over this period at least partly because of new plate registrations and we therefore needed to take account of this in the study.  To achieve this, we took advantage of another output from the Metricomm platform, which identifies patterns in changes between data sets. For example, if there was an increase or decrease in audience generated by online media coverage did a similar and related increase or decrease also take place in UK Google searches for best electric car?

Asking that question produced very interesting results. Here, in fact, we saw an even stronger relationship, with a correlation coefficient of 0.91 at a statistical significance level of 99.9999%.  In simple terms, this means we could be totally confident that the coverage we were analysing was representative of what consumers with a potential interest in buying an electric car were likely to be reading from January to May 2023.

The Impact of Online Media Coverage on Consumer Interest for EV Brands

Having established the media coverage to be used for the analysis, the next step was to determine any relationship between electric car brands covered in the content and consumer interest over the period. As explained above, we can measure this using search data from Google Trends.

Given these are completely independent data sets, with no direct links between them, the only way that any relationships could exist would be down to the impact and influence of the media coverage on the consumer audience carrying out the Google searches for the different brands.

For obvious reasons, the impact of media coverage depends largely on what it is about. The relevance of named brands in the content therefore must be determined accurately and reliably.  Metricomm’s platform achieves this by splitting every piece of media coverage into its constituent parts.  Each of these sections is analysed and the resulting data aggregated to provide a highly accurate picture of what the coverage is about, along with the strength (relevance) of any named brands within it.

Fig 2. The relationship between share of relevance/audience for EV brands in UK online media coverage about electric cars and UK Google searches for the brands between January and May, 2023

Figure 2 shows results for the analysis, comparing the share of UK Google searches for named electric car brands (here on the Y axis) with the share of relevance/audience for the brand from the online media coverage about electric cars (on the X axis).  It is immediately clear from the linear relationship (in other words, the straight line formed by the data), that a strong relationship exists between consumer interest for electric car brands and the share of relevance/audience for the brands in the media coverage.

Measuring the strength of the relationship reveals that around 83% of consumer interest in the electric car brands can be explained by the online media coverage at a significance level of 99.9999%, recurring. Once again, the probability that this relationship can be explained by chance is less than one in a million.

But if online media coverage is extremely effective at generating search, an obvious question is why?  The reason is remarkably simple.  For over 90% of us, search is the first place we go when we need information and reading media coverage online means that search is always just a phone tap or mouse click away.  Add to that the fact that online media coverage is accessible 24 x7 and available for long periods of time and the reasons why it is so effective at generating search become very clear.

Implications

This work by Metricomm provides definitive evidence that consumer searches for high consideration products and services, in this case electric cars, are being generated by online media coverage.  The implications of this for advertising, PR and marketing are massive, revealing that the success and ROI of search advertising depend as much on the effectiveness of media coverage at generating searches as they do on the advertising itself; and while this research is for EVs, from other work Metricomm has conducted we know this is just as important for other sectors.

Here is direct and conclusive evidence that investing in paid search, which at over £13 billion was almost three times the spend on TV advertising in 2022 (source: Advertising Association), makes little sense without investing proportional amounts in PR.