Search: More Options, More Money, More Media

The outside temperatures may have hovered in the single digits, but for four days this week attendees of Search Engine Strategies Chicago paid the weather little heed. We were too busy networking and straining to absorb the changes — and their implications — in the fast-moving world of SEM (define).

How quickly is search changing? I was blown away by the data comScore’s James Lamberti, SVP of search and media, prepared especially for the “Universal, Blended and Vertical Search” panel. Lamberti contends search is becoming a destination unto itself with major implications for marketers.

The engines are pushing to update the SERP (define) and to create more of a multimedia experience. “With good bandwidth in the home, Web 2.0 technology, and a new generation of savvy users, it’s clear the engines are committing to a more dynamic user experience,” said Lamberti, while “economics is pushing [the search engines’] own content to the forefront.”

Take Google. Nearly 400 million Google search referrals are to its own multimedia properties. Over the past six months, the search behemoth has been holding on to plenty of search traffic rather than push it to other sites. Traffic to Google’s own images has grown an astonishing 173 percent; YouTube has grown 143 percent; Google Video has grown 77 percent; Maps has grown 45 percent; and News has grown 32 percent.

And boy, are people ever searching! In 2005-06, search queries grew by 15 billion, and this was widely expected to level out. Yet with 20 billion to 35 billion searches in 2006-07, search growth is as strong as ever. According to comScore, the average American conducts 74 queries each month (versus 52 queries per month last year). Lamberti says this means more creative options for SEM.

“With the natural side of the page evolving so quickly, the engines by necessity will need to offer those same multimedia options on the paid side of the page. This helps overcome the single biggest objection in search marketing: no creative real estate. We will see — soon I hope — images, click-to-play ads and integrated paid listings that will open up opportunities creatively,” he predicts.

It also means more competition for real estate and higher prices for marketers buying paid search ads.

Lamberti found the major search engines are decreasing the likelihood a paid ad will appear on a query. The bottom line for users is more relevance. Fewer ads translate into higher click-through rates and better targeting.

The downside? More creative options plus less real estate equals higher costs.

Higher expectations, too? I moderated two new sessions on how to sell search and integrated marketing plans to the C-suite. One attendee raised an unexpected question: how do you sell realistic expectations to the suits who control the purse strings?

This marketer’s problem is far from unique. Last year, he was allocated 5 percent of the marketing budget for search and interactive marketing. Results were so strong, this year he got 40 percent of the marketing pie. Now, you and I may understand the concept of diminishing returns, but it seems his bosses are, as nFusion‘s Bill Parkes put it, addicted to “Google crack.”

Sage Lewis suggested it may be a good time for this marketer to update his resume.

Paid search isn’t the only thing changing, of course. Universal, blended, and vertical search means SEO (define) is moving rapidly beyond mere keyword and link-building strategies for text-based pages. As Mike Grehan put it, “We have to educate the client again. It’s not just about putting a title tag in.” Multimedia search means involving (and educating) advertising and PR departments.

That won’t be easy, of course. Northwestern University professor Don E. Schultz refers to this as “The Rodney Dangerfield School of Search Marketing” (after the comedian who famously griped he got no respect).

“Why, and how, and in what manner can search become a legitimate resource?” Schultz asked. “How do you justify someone giving you a sack of money and taking it out of television or promotional advertising? Because if you can’t do that, you’re going to end up a little miniscule operation.”

Somehow, I think search — and SEM — is up to the challenge.

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

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