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Search engine marketing integration: The next wave of search

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If you're like most marketers taking advantage of search engine marketing today, you are probably satisfied with the low-cost, high-quality leads you drive from this channel. After all, search has been a godsend for b-to-b marketers that have seen trade show attendance decline, strict anti-spam legislation passed and an increasingly fragmented buyer base.

Depending on the size of your organization, you may have internal resources dedicated to search or you may outsource search to an agency. Either way, it's likely that you could be deriving more value from your efforts by integrating search marketing with many other stakeholders across the enterprise.

The search marketing industry is made up largely of professionals who are highly specialized tacticians. These individuals understand the intricacies of search algorithms, the bidding systems of the paid placement publishers and the tool sets available to assist in scaling search engine marketing. Because these individuals are highly specialized, search marketing as a practice tends to be treated as a specialty, and its results tend to be used only in certain departments within a company. More tragically, input into the search program rarely comes from other, "nonsearch" departments.

One area where I constantly see a need for better integration is between IT and marketing. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "We just built a new Web site, now we need you to perform SEO services on it," I would no longer be envious of my stock-wielding friends at Google. After a site has been completed is precisely the worst time to be thinking of implementing SEO. The agency or internal search team should be dialed into the site development project when it is still being drawn out on white boards. Implementing SEO in the beginning stages will allow you to take advantage of the search team's recommendations about technologies or design considerations that can improve the site's ability to rank well-and ultimately allow you to attract more visitors.

A second area where tighter integration should be taking place is between lead generation and lead qualification. Most search marketing professionals consider their job done when a visitor from a search engine fills out a lead capture form on a Web site. Many reports I see from search groups feature "number of visitors," "number of leads" and "cost per lead" metrics. What ever becomes of these leads? Are they even leads or simply unqualified prospects?

Companies need to create a closed feedback loop between the search team (lead generation) and the inside sales team (lead qualification) to become more strategic with search marketing. Analysis might prove, for example, that Google prospects turn into customers at twice the rate of Overture prospects, and thus justify a higher bid tolerance threshold. Without this feedback, the search team can only determine an average "cost per prospect," with little to no insight into the quality of these prospects.

Integration can go much further still. Imagine tight communication between the search team and customer care. In many b-to-b companies, customer care consists of a team of highly skilled professionals who have deep insight into customer needs. They can truly represent the voice of the customer-a huge asset for search marketers.

Rather than think about solutions in terms of product features and specs, why not get creative with your search portfolio? Say you are trying to capture leads for your ERP solution, and buy words such as "systems integration" or "Enterprise Resource Planning." What if you found out through conversations with customer care that many of your customers actually put out a request for proposal for ERP because of their mandate from management to "consolidate reporting" or to "cut order processing time"? Such communication between departments allows for a deeper insight into the mind of your customers.

These are just a few areas where we could see better integration between search engine marketing efforts and the rest of the enterprise. Those marketers that are riding the next wave of search marketing sophistication are beginning to think laterally across the organization for maximum value and strategic advantage. Be one of them.

Ron Belanger is VP-search engine marketing for Carat Interactive, Boston. He can be reached at ron.belanger@carat.com.

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