Search marketing has grown to become the largest part of the online advertising landscape generating $35 billion in annual revenue. Why? Because it works! With search advertising, messages are deliverable to potential customers at the “moment of relevance” – when they are in the buying window actively seeking information on an advertiser’s product or service. This is unprecedented in marketing history.
But this potent advertising tool is evolving rapidly through innovative platforms and applications. Because of its success, more advertisers are competing for the search audience driving up the price of paid search across expanding keyword portfolios while integrating advanced search capabilities like call tracking and Google Places. Industry estimates suggest as many as 300,000 businesses have registered with Google to improve their local search presence. Search messaging is progressing as advertisers add mapping, site links, phone numbers, geo-targeting, and day-part segmentation to their campaigns. Search is also going mobile with roughly 15 percent of searches conducted on smartphones and tablets in the last quarter. On the SEO side, recent changes to Google’s algorithm are impacting the quality score of advertisers making organic search optimization much more complex. And most importantly, search is increasingly influenced by social media.
Adding social to the search mix is essential in order for marketers to stay relevant in search results. It is arguably the most significant evolution in the search space. Search Engine Land recently described how Facebook has potentially patented “social search.” And The Wall Street Journal cited Google’s launch of “+1” as an indication it saw the need to more fully incorporate social signals into its search results, while Search Engine Watch summarized the fundamentals of “+1” here.
The heightened awareness of social search makes sense. If you were searching for a great restaurant or skilled plumber, would you rather poll your friends or the entire web audience? As search continues to capture buyer intent and incorporates the influence of social signals – what your friends think – results will become even more relevant for users and potent for advertisers.
The good news for marketers is that the rapid development of search marketing can make their efforts more efficient in a complex, competitive environment. Here are five trends to consider to effectively navigate the advancing search landscape.
- Search is not just for online retailers, it’s for everyone! Online searches influence offline purchases. Forrester Research estimates $917 billion of retail sales in 2009 were “web-influenced” versus $155 billion actual online sales. This is especially true for considered purchases such as autos, financial services, education, furniture, etc. For example, JD Power estimates 90 percent of potential car purchases research their purchase online before going to a dealer.
- Search means more than Google. It is important to diversify PPC efforts. Google attracts the majority of paid search but Bing and Yahoo are gaining share. Similarly, Facebook appears intent on charging into the search market. But search audiences at Bing and Yahoo differ from Google. In 2010, click-through rates for small and medium-sized businesses grew 109 percent for Bing, 123 percent for Yahoo, but only 32 percent for Google. As Facebook emerges, targeting and response rates will likely vary from the other providers. Search success will require the ability to manage all four platforms successfully.
- Local and mobile search will explode. Local results are increasingly dominating search results pages. Businesses must maintain local registrations with the search engines to ensure presence in local search results, maps, and geo-location queries. Segmenting customers through geo-targeting with paid search also helps focus the right ads to the right customers. Use of mobile devices to conduct searches is exploding. Search on Android devices grew 300 percent in the first half of 2010. Like registering your locations, configuring your website for mobile compatibility is now table stakes.
- Integrated paid search and SEO programs boost overall search performance. Vanessa Fox, creator of Google’s Webmaster Central and author of “Marketing in the Age of Google,” tells of several studies where click-through rates, conversion rates, and revenue are all higher when organic and paid listings appear together for a given search. Advertisers must coordinate their SEM (paid) and SEO (organic) efforts, e.g., having a common keyword portfolio, to ensure optimal search marketing results.
- Getting search right means getting social right! It remains unclear whether Google or Facebook will win the race to assimilate the precision of social influence with the power of consumer intent in the search experience. But it is crystal clear that this integration is on the way. Having a well-designed social media strategy, one that anticipates the impact corporate social initiatives will have on search marketing efforts, is essential. Moreover, taking advantage of the hyper-targeted ad opportunities available through Facebook and other social venues to tap new customer segments will prepare a business to maximize the effectiveness of these converging audiences.
Search has emerged as the king of online advertising because it works. Getting your message in front of the right consumers means mastering this landscape and being better than the competition at overcoming its increasing complexity. The transition to search 3.0 means you cannot waste time. The competition, online and offline, is building capabilities across all search providers, configuring their sites for local and mobile, coordinating SEO and SEM programs, and investing in their complete social media presence, to ensure the addressable market finds them before you.