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Search -- Look No Further?

  |  March 21, 2003   |  Comments

Search products and services are multiplying in number, and in sophistication. Why -- and five search trends marketers should watch.

In a lingering ad slump, search is white-hot. Piper Jaffray forecasts the search industry will generate $2.1 billion this year, and balloon to $7 billion in 2007. Search is the workhorse of interactive marketing. It's not expensive. It's not glamorous. It works.

A 360-degree view of your customer? Dream on. Search's goal is more realistic: the right message to the right person at the right time. Need a toaster? Here are toasters. You ask, you receive. Pretty much the essence of interactivity.

Search is a conversion tool. If journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, consideration of a single purchase begins with a visit to a search engine. By some estimates, 35 to 50 percent of all searches are for products, services or a commercial purpose. Put another way, of 210 million daily Web searches, nearly half generate revenue.

Standard paid search options, including cost-per-click, ranking, keywords and paid inclusion, have seen so much development, we recently added a new column on the topic. Paid inclusion alone, a $200 million business today, will be worth up to $3 billion in 2007, predicts LookSmart CEO Jason Kellerman.

In addition to these standard SEM options, marketers must now consider others. Search offers marketers new, evolving or different options.

Five you should start thinking about:

Contextual advertising: In search, these are paid listings that appear in places other than a search results page. Contextual advertising is when ads are delivered to a viewed page or site, based on that page or site's content. Say you're checking Aspen snow conditions on weather.com. Text links could appear for ski resorts or equipment, airlines into Denver...you get the idea. The concept isn't new. About.com's Sprinks has been in the game for a while. Companies that deliver contextual pop-up or -under ads, like Gator, do it too. Gator is testing a product that includes listings from Overture and FindWhat, delivering the paid search companies' listings when searchers make inquiries of other search engines.

Now that a Google's Content-Targeted AdWords product is slated for imminent release (and a rival Overture product is in the pipeline), marketers are viewing contextual ad opportunities in a new light. Unlike the Gator model, Google's ads are served on a Web page (not over or under it), with the publisher's full consent. As Danny Sullivan points out, Google's recent acquisition of Pyra Labs provides a wealth of contextual ad opportunities on content-specific (and increasingly popular) blogs.

Metrics Tools: Ready for a new product array? In addition to bid management applications, like those from BidRank and GoToast, marketers will soon consider investing in tools to track and manage the ROI of their paid search campaigns. FindWhat.com introduced AdAnalyzer just this week. It can display data on search-generated page views, conversions, and calculate ROI by keyword or by campaign. Overture recently acquired analytics company Keylime Software. Companies and products, including the Webalizer, Urchin, even DoubleClick, offer search ROI tools -- or soon will.

Specialized search engines: It's not all Google and Overture. Are you sitting down? There are c. 3,700 specialized search engines out there. Some, unsurprisingly, are creating ad products. An example is Singingfish's new paid inclusion program for audio and image files. Consider shopbots, and shopping search tools like Froogle, Yahoo or MSN Shopping. Vertical industry search engines focus on law, medicine -- you name it. Where does your product or service fit in?

Local search: Let your mouse do the walking? Think Yellow Pages, at about a third of the cost (average $0.35 per click, vs. the dollar-a-lead phonebook average). Citysearch's network of local sites just launched paid search for local advertisers. In other words, your plumber's about to go online. In Boston and Atlanta tests, the company claimed local search tripled sales productivity. Overture and Yahoo plan to offer localized search products to compete for a share of the $90 billion local advertising market.

Site search: Once surfers find your site, the search isn't necessarily over. Site search is marketing, not a tech add-on. Before potential customers get frustrated and leave, ensure they can find what they're after. Can your search function handle misspellings, plurals and other variables? (Amazon delivers completely different results for "a/v cable" and "av cable.") Site search should be integrated with information architecture. Results ideally display headers and sub-headers to help searchers zero in on the options (e.g clothing: women's: shoes: athletic). Finally, if there was ever a time to think about your business from a layman's perspective, this is it. Take it from someone who spent way too much time fruitlessly searching "cabinet + handle" before stumbling on the fact the trade name for protuberances that open (or close) a piece of furniture is "pull." Who knew?

Think search is changing now? Don't look back. Mobile devices and other new technologies will doubtless soon account for even more SEM options.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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