With apologies to Buddhism, new empirical data from Yahoo! Search Marketing suggest that search is a "middle path," between branding/awareness and direct response and probably most effective when combined with other advertising — in particular display advertising.
In short, Yahoo! observed the behavior of roughly two million consumers over a three-week period. Half of those consumers were served Harrisdirect display ads and half were not. The ads appeared in MyYahoo!, Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Mail.
Those who saw the display ads "conducted 61 percent more searches on keywords related to Harrisdirect." They also clicked through on related search ads almost 250 percent more than the control group, which had not seen the Harrisdirect display ads. The study did not track eventual conversions (or the lack thereof), just clicks on paid search ads. Everyone involved issued statements cautioning against drawing too many conclusions and recommending further study.
However, as I discussed in an earlier post — Search: The Consideration Medium — paid search is most powerful when used in tandem with other types of online or offline awareness advertising.
As the newest consumer research is now showing, paid search is neither a pure awareness nor pure direct response medium, although direct response has been its legacy. Rather, it probably falls somewhere in the middle.