The evolution of search marketing

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Search marketing seems like a mature marketing channel, since it’s been around for more than a decade in both its organic and paid versions. But it continues to evolve in ways that present ongoing challenges for marketers.

“It feels like there are more things for me to pay attention to each day,” said Corey Carrillo, global search manager at Intel Corp.

“It’s still a very vibrant area.” Carrillo said the biggest change is the growth of universal search—images, social media commentary and expanding paid-search results that appear at the top of results pages—and therefore an increase in the number of opportunities to gain exposure.

“Universal search is finally taking root in the user interfaces of both Google and Bing,” Carrillo said. “When that happened, it quadrupled my opportunities to reach people. One keyword can translate into two or three clicks and two or three additional impressions.”

While they may appear to offer many advantages, new ways for marketers to be found via search can also stress marketers’ paid search budgets, Carrillo said.

“I have to be aware of this—of my ad messages and the money I have to spend,” he said.

Craig Macdonald, senior VP-product management and CMO at Covario Inc., agreed that the challenges nacent in seeking to be found high up on a query results page now make careful budgeting critical.

“Many advertisers adhere to a ‘conspiracy theory,’ that Google or Bing is occupying more and more space at the top of pages with images and videos, and pushing their organic results off the first page,” Macdonald said. “The result is [that] you have to spend more money to stay relevant and to fight the all-or-nothing game.”

That can have ramifications beyond marketing budgets, Macdonald said. Increasingly, search is becoming not just a marketing channel but, he added, also a means of measuring the impact of other channels and campaigns. In short, when campaigns resonate with audiences, those audiences tend to search for additional information about products and brands. If they can’t find their results up high enough, those campaigns may fail to drive website traffic.

“The goal for marketers now is trying to integrate search into the campaign process of metrics, governance and the mechanics of running a campaign,” Macdonald said. “Search is a proxy for campaign metrics.”

Macdonald cited one Covario client that conducted two separate product introductions. One of the client’s launch campaigns showed a significant uptick in search visits and social media mentions, while the other showed no commensurate interest.

“For whatever reason, that second campaign didn’t resonate, or people didn’t understand the call to action; it didn’t drive any traffic to a website, nor was [it] picked up in talk on the blogosphere, on Twitter or Facebook,” Macdonald said. “Search can be a good critique on the effectiveness of creative.”

One result of this is that an acknowledgement of search’s importance is becoming more common throughout organizations. Content from product and spec sheets, research, white papers and newsletters is virtually all online—and potentially findable via search.

“We’re seeing an integration of search both backward and forward,” said Jack Petropoulos, product manager-search at Unica Corp. “Its integration back into a company means making content findable at a low cost,” he said. “Its forward integration is taking the outcome of your search marketing spend and blending it with the rest of marketing to measure the worth of your advertising.”

Unica entered the search marketing field this year with its February acquisition of paid search bid management company MakeMeTop, based in the U.K., whose product is now marketed as Unica Search OnDemand. Unica itself was acquired by IBM Corp. last month.

One effective search metric affects the growing field of landing-page testing. Today, it’s relatively easy to assess the effectiveness of separate landing pages from the same search ad. That in turn can help improve organic search optimization as well.

“The benefit of paid search and search engine optimization on the same page is better than additive; it’s one plus one equals three,” said Eric Hansen, CEO of SiteSpect Inc. He pointed to the introduction of Google’s free Website Optimizer tool in 2007 as spurring a more widespread appreciation of landing page optimization as a natural adjunct of search marketing.

“It’s something you can do in-house, and a lot of people are doing it,” he said. “Where there is a big gulf between the least sophisticated and the most sophisticated websites, tools like this can make or break success,” he said.

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