Search Marketing’s Changing Algorithms

If there’s one constant in the paid search marketing industry, it’s change. We are constantly dealing with change, and often this change is for the better. Better ad relevance (something Yahoo and Microsoft recently implemented), better technology, and more options with for targeting are all positive changes. However, some changes are unexpected and bring sad news. One is the loss last week of an industry pioneer, Alan Rimm-Kaufman, 41, who succumbed to leukemia after a long fight. He was a competitor. But in this small industry, there are many players who mutually respect each other, even though we’re often doing our best to articulate to prospects why our firms are the best fit or can deliver superior results.

I remember pitching Rimm-Kaufman when he ran search as a staffer and consultant for Crutchfield. After reading his obituary, I realized many of the reasons he became a formidable competitor after starting his own firm. A fellow Yalie, Rimm-Kaufman “graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from Yale University in 1991 and a Ph.D. in operations research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, in 1996.”

I enjoyed arguing with Rimm-Kaufman when we shared the same panels at industry conferences, but we agreed far more often than we disagreed. Unfortunately, Rimm-Kaufman wasn’t the first online marketing pioneer to pass on this year. Andy Bourland, ClickZ’s founder, also passed away recently, and there are others within our industry who are dealing with potentially life-threatening health issues. Human events certainly put things into perspective, and it shouldn’t take tragic events to provide the catalyst for a moment of reflection. Outbidding the competition in the SERPs (define) and winning the business game derive their fun from the human element and this element can’t be forgotten. Now back to our regular column.

What’s Next in Search Marketing

Yahoo released both its earnings and a new home page design on Tuesday. During its quarterly investor call, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz mentioned that there were initiatives in place to improve ad relevance within the Yahoo SERP. Interestingly, the recent release of Microsoft’s Bing also contained relevancy-enhancing algorithm changes.

Yahoo clearly has some work to do, and I’m pleased to see that Bartz and her management team acknowledge just how hard it’s been for advertisers to do business with Yahoo. Short term, she wants to throw warm bodies at the problem. Long term, however, they need to automate the processes of advertisers doing business with Yahoo. That would be a step in the right direction; it may even impact budgets positively.

Some analysts are quite bullish on overall online budgets. According to a “Forbes” article, Outsell Inc. predicts that “$65 billion will be siphoned away from traditional advertising channels in 2009 and spent instead on companies’ own Web sites and Internet marketing.” I’ll take my share of that.

On the other hand, searcher behavior seems to be growing more fickle. Yahoo’s new home page design is more about user stickiness than improved monetization (either through ads on the home page or through increased search). While the new search bar design was mentioned on the call, I doubt it will be more heavily used as a result of an almost imperceptible change in the search bar.

The big edit buttons, however, call users to action and allow them to create personalized Yahoo pages. As these users become more addicted to a particular navigational scheme, they will likely be less inclined to make a home page change.

It’s a simple feature added to the home page but executed more elegantly than a bookmark page because much of the content appears simply by rolling over the new navigational elements. The content’s immediacy and the customization are elements that Yahoo and Bing share. The new hot area of search and content is instant gratification. Will consumers expect the same level of instant gratification on advertisers’ landing pages? I think they already do. After all, by far the most common action on most landing pages is clicking the back button.

As search marketers, we tend to think about our field as one of text links. While organic SEO (define) has evolved into image search optimization and, more recently, video search optimization, the paid search platforms have remained textual in nature for the most part. I believe we’ll see an increasing array of non-text advertising options this year, including everything from a micro logo (the size of a favicon) to product images and mini banners that advertisers can use within a SERP, at least for specific keyword types. If you (as a marketer or an agency) aren’t familiar with graphical ad serving, you may want to brush up.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center. Spend Day 1 learning about social media and video strategies with ClickZ.

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Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.