The New World of Search

Year after year, the San Jose Search Engine Strategies (SES) event coincides with major industry announcements. This year is no different:

  • Ask Jeeves announced a new PPC (define) platform as well as expansion plans that integrate search into IAC properties.

  • Yahoo expanded the size of its index… again.
  • Google introduced RSS (define) and Atom feeds for its news service.
  • MSN publicly shared a bit more information about the upcoming adCenter PPC-auction-based system, still in development.
  • Ingenio announced an API (define) for its pay-per-call platform.
  • Several new search companies have popped out of nowhere, fueled by venture capital.

The list goes on. Things in the world of SEM (define) are still moving at high speed, but some macro trends are evident when you talk with SES attendees.

Search Expands to Cover Contextual

This year’s SES agenda seems to foreshadow a turning point. Search is converging with other media on the paid side more than ever. Contextual advertising continues to gain momentum for marketers who can’t find sufficient inventory in pure search venues. Marketers who understand search and keyword auction marketplaces are more than halfway to understanding best practices in contextual auction markets. The engines themselves have a huge focus on non-search PPC inventory because it provides a method of growth that doesn’t require stimulating more search activity.

SES is a logical place to cover contextual advertising, given the largest providers of contextual inventory are the search engines. SES sessions have broadened to cover another ultra-hot topic that intersects with search: blogs. Clearly, some convergence is going on of search with other media forms, both from a paid and an algorithmic, or unpaid, perspective.

Is the convergence of search with other media really as much a stretch as it initially appears? I don’t think so. Much of the initial convergence is of search with content. Content is, and always has been, a success driver in SEM. Organic SEO (define) requires great content to succeed. PPC search requires landing pages with great content to get conversion rates high enough to support top bids. Existing content about a company — its products, services, and problems potential customers face — drives search activity.

New Metrics

Major marketers are showing up at SES, and they’re starting to think beyond immediate return on investment (ROI) in respect to marketing and search. Before and during the conference I had some great discussions with marketers who recognize search as a powerful marketing channel for all stages of the buying cycle and a measure of all other media’s effectiveness. Search volume on key related phrases and brand terms increases dramatically when media spend across online and offline media goes up. One could even say the greater the lift in searches for a brand or for information relating to a product, the more effective the non-search media were.

Ad media stimulate customer search response. In prior years, that response may have been visiting a store, asking a salesperson questions, or making a call. Now, driven by a wealth of great content on the Web and an easy way to get that content, consumers turn to search engines for answers and information. Likewise, marketers are catching on to the media multiplier effect: the power of being there when consumers search and the dire consequences of not being there.

Similarly, marketers recognize some of the media metrics used in traditional advertising and even online media don’t fully recognize search’s value. Searchers are in a psychological sweet spot for marketers. They’re open to suggestion, open to influence, and willing to be educated on the features and benefits. Consumers are ready to absorb brand messages through both the search ad and, more important, Web sites themselves. This high level of brand engagement requires completely new measures. Marketers are rising to the challenge.

Some marketers are far ahead of their time in respect to understanding the power of engagement. At an NY Ad Club luncheon in 2001, Jim McDowell, VP of marketing for BMW’s North American operations, explained to the audience his measure of success for the BMW Films initiative was the “BMW minute.” The BMW minute includes consumer time spent watching the films and surfing BMW’s site. This metric is a great way to measure engagement with the brands and compares favorably with other media when measured as cost per BMW minute. This metric won’t work for all marketers. But, clearly, visionary marketers will build a foundation as their metrics enable them to outmaneuver their competitors who are still using outdated or inappropriate metrics to measure success.

As consumers change how they interact with brands, brands must develop measures that reflect those interactions’ value. Search may play a critical role in transforming how marketers think about and measure the positive interactions that lead to and correlate with long-term sales and profits.

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

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