Sullivan: Vertical, Organic Search Deserve Attention

  |  March 3, 2005   |  Comments

The search guru highlights latest trends at SES.

NEW YORK -- Search engine marketing guru Danny Sullivan urged search marketers to get familiar with vertical search opportunities, pay more attention to optimizing organic search listings, and consider adopting pricing models that do not undervalue their services.

Sullivan spoke at the "Evening Forum with Danny Sullivan," one of the most anticipated sessions at the Search Engine Strategies show in New York.

"I can't say it enough. Vertical search is going to take over," he said. "The people who are going to win are the people that understand shopping search now."

Recent studies from Hitwise and JupiterResearch have backed up this verticalization trend.

Sullivan pointed to Google's "one box" display that places 10 top vertical search results above organic search results when a query can be interpreted as vertical in nature. At this point, that means a local search from Google Local or a shopping search from Froogle, but the possibilities are limitless.

The box pushes organic results farther down the page, so that the user mainly sees the results that Google has determined are more relevant, making it vital for search marketers to understand how to get listed in those results.

As for the organic listings themselves, Sullivan said he sees more companies paying attention to them, and he expects that trend to continue. "Many companies are turning back to SEO (search engine optimization). They got a quick fix from paid listings, but now they're starting to see research that shows more searchers click on organic listings," he said.

Most marketers in the crowd, which was evenly split between professional SEM firms and in-house marketers, said they were engaged in both organic optimization and paid search marketing. Only a few people said they were strictly doing organic optimization, which most agreed was undervalued.

Organic SEO has waned in popularity recently as paid search, with its instant gratification, has risen. Organic SEO results are often not seen for a long time, and are difficult to maintain in the face of the search engines' constantly changing algorithms.

"What we need to do as marketers is educate them on the phenomenal ROI possible on organic when it's done properly," suggested Fionn Downhill, CEO of SEO firm Elixir Systems.

Because the search engines do not charge sites to be listed in organic search results, site owners often view them as a source for free traffic. What this attitude does not take into account is the difficulty and constant work involved to maintain a high position, Sullivan said.

"I think you're undervalued for the organic traffic you generate," he told the crowd. "It's like PR. If you're doing PR and you get your client covered in a major publication, you're still not going to be paid like the people who create a Super Bowl ad."

One cause for this thinking, which search marketers can change, is the pricing structure they use. Many companies don't charge enough for SEO services, and they often don't insist on long-term contracts. This leads clients to hire SEO firms on a project basis, and then neglect the efforts required to maintain any success gained. By shifting to a monthly retainer-based model, with long-term contracts, the ongoing nature of SEO as a professional service could be emphasized, along with the long-term commitment required.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Newcomb

Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.

Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.

With a combination of real-world marketing experience and years of business journalism, Kevin brings to ClickZ a unique ability to deliver news and training materials that help online marketers do their jobs better.

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