Search engine experts agree that marketers need to reach potential customers at all the varied touch points along their purchasing path.

And as consumers have increased their use of search throughout the purchase process, opportunity for the channel exists in all stages of the buying cycle.

"Search is moving quickly from a narrow online customer acquisition channel to a consumer engagement channel through which marketers can connect with consumers at every level in the purchase process," said Stuart Frankel, general manager at DoubleClick's Performics unit, Chicago. "Marketers need to take a broad view of the value search adds to the overall marketing mix, both online and offline."

Building relationships and perceptions, consideration and comparison and then purchase are the steps through the buying process, said Ron Belanger, senior director of channel strategy and development for Yahoo Search Marketing Awareness.

Misty Locke, president of Range Online Media, Hermosa Beach, CA, advised using non-branded search terms.

"Most studies show the basic pattern to be that a consumer searches with less-branded terms earlier in their buy cycle," she said. In later stages of the cycle, consumers then search mostly branded terms.

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