Share of Search (SoS) was the hot topic of 2020’s Eff Week and subject of the much-anticipated keynote from Les Binet. Binet is famed for his work with Peter Field on two marketing effectiveness principles: 1) the role of Extra Share of Voice (ESoV) in growing Share of market (SoM) and 2) the optimal 60/40 split between brand and activation.

Share of Search shows promise as a leading indicator, sitting between SoV and SoM. Or as Binet put it: a metric somewhere between brand salience and brand consideration. Intuitively it makes sense – we search for things (and so brands) we’ve heard about, are interested in and looking to find.

Using Google Trends search data, Binet proved a predictive correlation between SoS and SoM in three categories: automotive, energy and telecomms.  Across the categories, changes in advertising spend (SoV) correlated with changes in search (SoS). Effects were not just immediate: advertising had a lasting impact on brand search growth.

There are already many questions surrounding SoS’s usefulness:

“It’s not a universally valuable metric”

Comparing search for Audi with Volkswagen (two distinctive names) is one thing, comparing searches of the term Boots, with has multiple relevancies brings in more noise. Search also fails to account for sentiment – as Binet himself warned. The emissions scandal saw Volkswagen search rocket, which was not indicative of an oncoming increase in share of market. And so, as with any dataset, applying human understanding of the wider context is critical.

“The integrity of Google Trends is unclear”

Google are infamously secretive, and Google Trends data is no exception. Data is shared as an aggregate index, rather than absolute search values. This makes it especially unreliable for small search queries or in categories where one query is much larger than the rest.

Google Trends benefit is that it is publicly available, allowing accessible and comparable data with competitors and is refreshed daily, meaning changes can offer an early warning to brands.

It obscures category growth”

Where categories are experiencing fast growth (or decline) benchmarking purely on a “share of” metric will obscure the full picture, which could lead to early decisions not indicative of the commercial reality.  We can get around this, at least in part, by tracking search patterns over time by brand.

“Byron Sharp doesn’t like it” 

Byron Sharp’s criticisms are that it is a simple mathematical model.  However, this simplicity is also its charm: share of search can be easily adopted and used by marketers across multiple categories.

Those hoping that Share of Search would offer a panacea may be disappointed. What SoS does offer is a helpful snapshot that brings brand and performance closer together. It has strong potential as an intuitive and useful leading indicator and offers a current view of brand’s place in their category, especially as it can be applied cheaply, quickly and often.

Critically though, as with any metric, Share of Search tells us what is going on, but not the how, or why.  Answering these questions remains an art, not just a science.