A Peek Inside Search Engine Marketing

Marketers attending Search Engine Strategies London are a different crowd compared to other conferences that I attend, including those focused on Web analytics. Yet, I noticed there were more analytics-oriented sessions at this year’s SES London, organized and hosted by my good friend and fellow ClickZ columnist Michael Grehan. The importance of properly measuring and demonstrating ROI (define) was definitely more prominent on the agenda.

With Mike, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and I was involved in a couple of the conference’s panel sessions, which I’ll discuss today.

Measuring Success in a 2.0 World

After an hour of discussion and debate between the panelists and audience, the broad conclusion was that there are still many hurdles and challenges in properly measuring success in a Web 1.0 world.

Much of the discussion focused on how to set proper KPIs (define) and ensure you’re measuring the right things right. As always, I discussed the need to ensure that online goals and objectives are properly defined and then to work out what the KPIs should be. It’s easier to measure success when you know what success looks like.

Toward the end of the session, someone in the audience asked a question about what role SEMs (define) should play in ensuring that organizations are focused on establishing the right ROI metrics. I didn’t get a chance to address the question because the session ran out of time, but it got me thinking.

As an outsider I look at the SEM industry as fairly mature, and as a channel it tends to be well optimized. Of course, there are always improvements to be made. But when it comes to managing activities and measuring results, plenty of technologies can help, or indeed automate, the processes.

So what additional role can SEMs play in the future? They can help optimize search in the context of other channel activity. SEMs have a lot of transferable skills, particularly in the direct response model, that can be used to manage the portfolio of channels that many advertisers would typically use.

As organizations increasingly want to look at optimizing across channels as opposed to just optimizing spend within a channel, who’s going to lead those sorts of initiatives? It seems to me that SEMs are well placed to do that.

Why Does Search Get All the Credit?

This links in with the second session I was involved in. This session focused on the perennial problem of sales attribution and why it’s naive to attribute a conversion event to the last activity that the user clicked through on.

My presentation set up the problem by looking at some examples from the financial services industry and why the last click model is a problem. Typically, it takes users more than one visit during their purchase cycle; often the channels to find the site change from visit to visit. So the reliance on using the last click model means that branded search terms are often being given the credit rather than the generic terms that might have been used in the early visits to drive awareness and consideration.

Most Web analytics tools, particularly the cheaper or free tools, tend to be based on a last-click attribution model. As a result, decisions about allocation of resources and budgets might be based on the wrong model of how consumers buy those products.

The good news is that there are additional or alternative technologies emerging such as Clearsaleing that focus specifically on the issue of sales attribution management. It would be great if the Web analytics systems vendors addressed this issue as well.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York March 23-27 at the Hilton New York. The only major search marketing conference and expo on the East Coast, SES New York will be packed with more than 70 sessions, including a ClickZ track, plus more than 150 exhibitors, networking events, parties, and training days.

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