NetIQ Quietly Changes SEM — Forever

Two weeks ago, NetIQ acquired FirstPlace Software and its search engine marketing (SEM) product, WebPosition Gold. To my amazement, hardly anyone noticed.

The Internet business press noted the transaction with little more than a line or two. Virtually no one recognized the implications.

It happened so quietly, but something huge just happened. A new market was just created and NetIQ just cornered it — the search engine marketing and advertising analytics market.

In terms of significance, it’s a bit like the 1970 sale of the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation to then American Motors. That acquisition launched a new market: the SUV market, and the ubiquitous Jeep dominated that market for the next two decades. This acquisition by WebTrends is likely to result in that same sort of domination.

A Brief History of WebPosition Gold

WebPosition started as the only product of a tiny company. FirstPlace Software was founded by Brent Winters, who ran it from his home office in Joplin, Missouri.

Winters created a tool originally called WebPosition Agent. It made possible the practice of then-called “search engine positioning.” The tool performed a search engine query, then spidered the search results to find your Web site. It recorded your rankings in a report.

Before WebPosition, the SEM business did not exist in a serious way.

This software launched a revolution in online marketing. Search engines today don’t fully appreciate how much they owe to this single, small product. Long before GoTo (later Overture) was a twinkle in its founder’s eyes and before Google contemplated AdWords, WebPosition Software was helping companies determine if their site could be found in search engines. When WebPosition revealed competitors’ sites were found instead, it created a demand for SEM products and services.

How do I know this? I was there. In 1997, I owned the marketing and PR agency of record for WebPosition and helped launch its product. My first book, “Secrets To Achieving Top-10 Positions” was distributed as a premium with the software.

Because WebPosition was created by a true devotee of SEM, its feature set continued to expand. A submitter function was added. A “page critic” evaluated Web pages as a search engine might and offered recommendations on page design for higher rankings. Winters even added a link checker to identify dead links within your site.

What’s NetIQ?

NetIQ publishes WebTrends, the pioneer log-file processing and analytics tool used by many online marketers. WebTrends offers software and hosted services, which support both log-file and Java script tagging. The latest release, WebTrends 7, is an Web analytics tool everyone in an organization can use.

Pay attention: WebTrends is a marketing force extraordinaire. This latest move will easily extend the reach of WebPosition’s rank-checking technology by an order of magnitude.

Why Acquire WebPosition?

When evaluating the synergies between WebPosition and WebTrends, I noticed the new WebTrends 7 offers two particularly interesting features: the ability to export all reports to Microsoft Excel and the ability to import any kind of data and merge it with the traffic and conversion data through a built-in wizard.

So WebPosition ranking reports, which can be exported in comma-delimited format, are easily imported into a spreadsheet and can be merged with WebTrends traffic data. Suddenly, you have powerful, actionable marketing intelligence that relates the search engine rankings of all your keywords on all the search properties to the traffic, conversions, and return on investment (ROI) all those keyword/search engine combinations generate.

When I spoke to Greg Drew, general manager of WebTrends, he pointed out a number of interesting things. First, most owners of any WebTrends version already own WebPosition. Second, WebPosition already speaks to the broadest audience of people engaged in search engine marketing.

What I found most interesting was this comment from Drew:

Some studies show that most search traffic comes from the natural search listings, not paid. By some accounts, five out of six commercial searches worldwide originate from organic search results. Because WebTrends offers a flexible solution, we believe that we are uniquely positioned to provide the most comprehensive SEO solution.

WebTrends is betting on natural SEO! WebPosition measures a Web site’s ranking in the natural search results. It offers virtually no functionality to assist a marketer with pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising. Though everyone is enamored with PPC, WebTrends is betting natural SEO is where smart marketers will make investments and reap the highest ROI.

The WebTrends/WebPosition Killer App

Make no mistake, WebPosition is a market leader the way Tylenol is a leader. What acetaminophen ranks second to Tylenol? Who knows. WebPosition is a market leader the way JELL-O’s a leader. What’s the runner-up gelatin? Who knows.

WebTrends didn’t buy a rank-checking tool. It bought a market. it acquired the one tool at the very heart of the SEM industry.

At the recent Search Engine Strategies conference in New York, I declared 2004 would be the year of paid SEM. Now, roughly half the clicks from natural search are sold on a CPC basis. It logically follows 2004’s killer app may just turn out to be the marriage of analytics and ranking technology to more accurately measure the return on that spend.

What’s Next?

Ranking reports merged with click-through data by position and keyword will increase the market’s understanding of natural SEO’s power.

WebPosition’s functionality will get into more hands, and more marketers will become more aware of SEM’s power.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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