NEW YORK, March 25, 2009 — Given the theme of the recent Search Engine Strategies conference here, there's little surprise that attendees and presenters clung to the notion that search-engine marketing continues to hold its ground. As users allocate more time on social sites and less time on search pages, predictions began circulating that social networks would soon attract money previously budgeted for search-engine marketing. That has yet to be the case, according to Kevin Ryan, chair of the conference's advisory board and moderator of a panel entitled "The State of Search."
Ryan acknowledged the obvious -- that the social component is huge -- but stressed for attendees that social networks have yet to lead to any true revolution. On the contrary, he told the crowd, the growth trend has been far more reserved, with search engines still ahead of social networks. How consumers conduct their searches, though, is certainly changing, forcing marketers to adapt accordingly. Despite differing attitudes about the search market, the panelists -- representing corporations such as Google, Microsoft, Digitas, iCrossing, and iProspect -- seemed to agree on a few key issues affecting the search-engine industry. From the conversation, several central strategies about moving forward with marketing and search emerged.
1. Start playing with mobile search: Ryan presented a dramatic statistic: In 2007, only 13 percent of mobile customers were online at all; by 2011, almost 90 percent of mobile Internet users will be searching via handheld devices. "With mobile now, it's not about the technology and how the ads are rendered," said Jon Diorio, group product manager with Google AdWords and Monetization Products. "[It's] what issues are going to resonate? People you're dealing with have a different mindset when [mobile] searching than when sitting around [a desk] doing research on items." The panelists underscored the fact that mobile searching differs from desktop searching, and although momentum is relatively slow in North America, future growth will be explosive. James Colburn, manager of Microsoft's digital advertising solutions unit noted that mobile search probably isn't getting a lot of marketing spend right now, but organizations should consider devoting resources to it. "Mobile is still in a relatively experimental stage," he said. "Budgets for experimental things are being cut, but it might be an interesting time to carve out a little bit [from your budget] in order to play with this."
2. Optimize social content: The numbers on Facebook alone are staggering, said panelist Steven Kaufman, a senior vice president with Digitas. It's essential, he noted, to ensure that social content is searchable, which means properly tagging and categorizing every element. Diorio provided an anecdote of a consumer packaged goods company that uploaded to Google's YouTube site a video that eventually succeeded in going viral. Despite the video's explosive popularity, the company had attached no metadata to it, so when people went to search for the video using keywords, nothing was attributed to the company. Instead, search results attracted consumers to the company's competitor.
3. Use brand awareness as a selling point: Amazingly, only 25 percent of advertisers track brand awareness. Why? Proving return on investment (ROI) for brand awareness is notoriously tricky, but 98 percent of online ads aren't clicked on, according to the panel -- their only value is in the creation and extension of brand awareness. Ryan noted, however, that two out of three people are driven to perform searches after viewing some kind of online or offline marketing -- that alone proves the importance of brand awareness.
4. Integrate online and offline campaigns: Panelist Robert Murray, CEO of iProspect, used cosmetics giant Avon as an example of an organization successfully aligning online and offline marketing. Avon splurged on a Super Bowl Sunday commercial spot. The company also invested in paid search, which thankfully, worked to Avon's advantage. The Super Bowl spot drove consumers to the Web, where the number of searches for "Avon" went through the roof. Diorio cited another example, a car company that aligned its online and offline marketing campaigns based on a Web-based focus-group iniative to gauge keywords consumers were more likely to respond to. The phrase "fuel efficiency" garnered the greatest attention. With this informaiton, marketers quickly rerouted a TV campaign to include those consumer-friendly words.
5. Use technology to make it easier to track marketing efforts: According to a survey by Forrester Research unit JupiterResearch, marketers spending more than $500,000 per month on search-engine marketing put "insufficient personnel to manage programs" as the top barrier to success. Organizations often have a laundry list of projects, but not enough manpower to handle them. Google's Diorio suggested that companies look to automation to ease the burdens of manual intervention. Marketing technology contrinues to evolve and can help with management and ROI.
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