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Monday, April 15, 2024

Turf Wars: How Aggregator Search Results Can Affect Your Brand

Are you a marketer looking for additional online sales outlets? If so, you’re probably considering partnering with aggregation sites as they have proven to be a highly effective solution for many marketers. However, keep in mind that partnering with such sites is not risk free. Doing so can both cause overall branding issues, as well as implications for your brand in regard to your search marketing efforts. So what’s a marketer to do?

Opting not to partner with an aggregator means you’ll forfeit valuable space that your brand could occupy on the search results page—which is no small consideration today. And as the saying goes, if searchers don’t find you, they’ll find your competitor. While this is true for the most part, I’d like to add that they’ll either find you, your competitor, or many times, they’ll find an aggregator.

Search engines employ a practice called “clustering” which limits the number of organic results one domain can occupy to two listings. This means your opportunity to rank one domain in organic results is capped at 20% per page. Combine those two organic results with one paid search ad in the sponsored results, and at best, you will be able to cover about 15% of a total page of search results (2/10 organic + 1/10 paid = 3/20 total).

So if you don’t partner with aggregator sites, how do you increase this number on your own? Your options include optimizing a secondary website, or you could break your site into sub-domains which may be treated as a separate website—depending on the search engine. You could also throw in a paid ad for the secondary site. This would double your page coverage to about 30%, but chances are slim that you’d be able to successfully optimize two sites for a competitive term, and any additional paid ad you have means you’ll ultimately be bidding against yourself.

This is where aggregators can lend a hand. Clearly the upside of partnering with them is obvious as they multiply your sales outlets, but they can also significantly boost your page real estate in the search results. For example, let’s say you’re in the travel business, and have partnered with aggregators to sell your excess hotel inventory or last-minute flight reservations. If your own site shows up in the search results on ‘flights to Miami,’ and an aggregator you partner with also sells seats on your flights and shows up as well, that essentially increases the real estate your brand occupies on that results page. Each of your partner aggregators that show up once in the organic results, or once in the paid results, increases your exposure by another 5%. Further still, some will show up for both paid and organic. Partnering with five aggregators means your brand could garner coverage on over half of the page.

In addition, you can increase the chances of an aggregator showing up on your targeted terms by syndicating your content to them. Helping an aggregator build up supporting content serves multiple purposes—it will distinguish your brand on their site from your competitors, it will help them rank better, and it can also generate incremental revenue as sites are often willing to pay for this content.

However, be mindful that there are risks associated with partnering with aggregators, not the least of which is the chance that your brand message could be misconstrued. This is just one of the dangers of letting others advertise for you. For the most part, these risks are exacerbated by giving away too much to these sites. For example, are you concerned about words like ‘cheap’ or ‘discount’ being associated with your brand? Aggregators will often use these types of adjectives to attract buyers. Given that, you would be wise to police the content of your aggregators’ sponsored ads and organic search listings. If it’s not in line with your desired message, you need to take steps to address it. Put limitations on what other sites can say about your products/services in their page copy, meta titles and descriptions, and paid search ads. Also, be sure to pay attention to in the content of the ratings and review sections of these sites as those pages have the ability to rank on your branded terms. Ultimately, it’s important to take every opportunity to address any inconsistencies and control the message regarding your offerings on these sites.

In addition to employing messaging restrictions with aggregators, you also might want to consider specific offer restrictions. For example, are there certain high-margin products you would rather sell through your website or direct? Are there time-sensitive aspects to consider, such as last-minute deals or promotions? An airline may not want to sell the total allotment of seats too soon because they can squeeze more revenue from last-minute (especially business) travelers. If that’s the case, an airline might want to restrict the aggregator from bidding on certain terms outside of a 7-day window, or from displaying particular promotions in order to maximize revenue per ticket.

Also, keep in mind that while partnering with aggregator sites can do much to increase your page real estate in the search results, it does not necessarily guarantee that you will ultimately get the business. For example, a search result featuring your brand could generate a referral to an aggregator, where subsequently a consumer may end up finding a lower price on a competitor’s product/service. Let me illustrate.

If I have to fly from Boston to Atlanta, chances are I’ll end up flying Delta because they offer the most non-stop flights, and I have frequent flyer status with them. When I perform a search for ‘Boston to Atlanta flights,’ I click on the result that takes me to Delta’s Website where I see that the ticket is $200. However, I won’t just purchase it on the spot. I’ll either go back to the search results or I’ll check another site—an aggregator like Expedia—to see if there is a lower price offered. If a ticket for the exact same flights costs $180, is that enough of a difference to make me purchase it from Expedia instead? In other words, what is my threshold for loyalty? If I purchase directly from Delta, I’ll get additional SkyMiles, which to me is worth paying the extra $20. However, if I leave Delta.com, and go to Expedia and see that AirTran is offering comparable flights for only $120, Delta might lose my business if the price difference is that significant.

While such a situation can be a dilemma, there are ways around it. One possible solution? If Delta were to show me the price that aggregator sites are currently offering for those flights, I’d have no reason to leave Delta.com to look for a lower price. Doing so would not only save me the time of having to check multiple sites, but it also would remove the opportunity for me to be swayed by a competitor’s offer. The idea is to reinforce loyalty—earn extra mileage by booking direct, and save me time by showing that you’re giving me the best deal for these flights, and I’d be more prone to stay on Delta.com and purchase directly.

However, if you cannot provide aggregator prices on your website, there are other options. Perhaps you could implement price matching guarantees and promote this through your search efforts. Should somebody find a lower rate elsewhere, you not only match that rate but offer an incentive to buy direct. Many hotels now offer a best rate guarantee where they’ll match the lowest rate and throw in some additional incentives for booking directly on their website (an additional 10% off, late check-out, upgraded rooms). While many hotel websites have pages that speak to this, the only paid ads that show for ‘best rate guarantee’ are banking and mortgage sites. The opportunity is there.

Overall, partnership and competition with aggregator sites within the search engines is now a fact of life. When your website can realistically only occupy 15% of the search results page on your own, you have to find out who can help communicate your brand message effectively, and who can hurt you. Savvy marketers will work with aggregators when the opportunity arises as a way to not only increase sales outlets, but also help increase page real estate in the search engines. However, partnering with aggregation sites requires that you work closely with them, define limitations of what can be said and targeted, and regularly monitor what they’re saying about your brand.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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