Much has happened this year in the realm of search engine marketing, and the space continues to evolve rapidly. BtoB recently spoke with John Enright, VP-sales and marketing for Affinity Internet, a Web services and search engine marketing agency in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., about what he sees as some of the biggest developing trends in 2007.
BtoB: What’s hot in the search world right now?
Enright: Over the past few years, Google has come to completely dominate other search networks such as Yahoo! and MSN, and companies like MIVA are scrambling to find their niche.
Search marketing in general is becoming much more competitive, especially in industries like insurance and financial services, because the return is very large. You have a situation where competition is so fierce that you are paying the most you can possibly pay for your customers.
BtoB: What are marketers doing to stem the rise in keyword prices they are paying?
Enright: We see a slew of other [search engines] out there that are not as nearly competitive. The bid for keywords is nowhere near as inflated as [at] the large search engines.
The same principle applies in b-to-b. The narrower your focus, the more of a niche you are in, the less competition you are up against and the better your return on search marketing. Also, while Yahoo! and MSN don't generate nearly as much traffic, the traffic they do drive is much more qualified. If your sales objectives are maybe not quite as high as Fortune 500 companies out there, then you can be very selective with where you advertise on search engines.
There's no question that Google has the largest by far in terms of market share in total traffic. MSN is a new player to the game and they have the least amount of traffic among the three [search engines], but we see that MSN, on a sales-to-click ratio, is one of the best performers.
BtoB: Will Google continue to dominate the search landscape next year?
Enright: We see that continuing for the foreseeable future. They've been very capable up until this point of scaling. However, advertisers are going to be looking for ways to stand out in the crowd. The majority of click traffic on Google right now comes from text ads.
BtoB: How will the engines address marketers' need to stand out in the crowd?
Enright: A lot of the search networks are incorporating other media into their search engines, like video and even banner advertising. Most of the media rich advertising placements right now don't run on the search engine site itself; they usually run on the content sites that are part of their network. I wouldn't be surprised if the search engines incorporated multimedia ads like video or image ads on the actual search results page. They've taken several steps in that direction.
BtoB: What about mobile search?
Enright: Mobile search is relatively easy to take advantage of. There are a variety of ways a business can make its site mobile-friendly. A text-only version [of the site] is one way. Google itself has a mobile version of its search engine and a way to take sites not optimized for a mobile experience and filter them so that they show only text, not images.
Marketers should go visit their site on Google's mobile search and confirm it is displaying correctly. Optimizing your site for mobile is not very difficult, but there are very few marketers who have taken that step.
BtoB: Yahoo! continues to play second fiddle to Google's lead in search. How will that play out next year?
Enright: Yahoo has a lot of content, and a lot of valuable content. A lot of their traffic is not search-related at all.
I've seen them make some good updates to their content. I think it's challenging for them to be updating so many different areas, so they are refocusing their top priorities. We definitely use Yahoo! for our search clients. It's a very successful avenue for them to advertise.
They've recently made some major changes to the search marketing interface they have and they've actually made the bidding process far more like Google than it used to be. That's gone into place within the past 30 days.
Previously on Yahoo!, you could see who was bidding and how much they were bidding on each word. On Google, it's a blind bidding process and they decide what your rank will be based on a very complicated algorithm.
On Yahoo!, up until recently, you could see what everyone was bidding. It was good for advertisers because you knew exactly what you needed to bid to be in the third position on the results page. Yahoo! wanted to simplify the process there. Most business owners don't have time to constantly monitor 24/7 what they are bidding for each individual keyword. The main disadvantage is you no longer know exactly what it will cost to get to a certain position in the results.
BtoB: What will be the major opportunities and challenges for search engine marketing agencies in the New Year?
Enright: We see a tremendous amount of growth. From an awareness perspective, more and more marketers are recognizing search as an opportunity.
The challenge is that your typical marketer doesn't know how to establish an SEM campaign. A typical business owner does not have the time to launch and manage a search campaign and assure money is being spent wisely. We see a tremendous opportunity for continued awareness and demand for search engine marketing services.
BtoB: What are the basics a marketer needs to understand in order to successfully market through search?
Enright: A lot of businesses have a great amount of knowledge about their products. Many of our clients—and businesses in general—overlook that everyone who visits their site does so intentionally. The more useful content you have on your Web site, the greater value visitors will find in your Web site and the greater value the site will be to the search engines.
For every client we work with, it's a holistic approach. It starts with the Web site as the fulcrum for everything. Whether it’s paid advertising or an organic listing, you are trying to drive people to your Web site and convert visitors into sales. It goes beyond making changes to your site; it requires building links to your site and building relationships with other Web sites.
BtoB: What should be on marketers' resolution lists in the New Year?
Enright: It starts with the Web site. Many businesses established a Web site several years ago, and a lot has changed since then. A lot of people had dial-up [Internet access] in 1999 and 2000.
For those who do have a site, is it up to date? Does it compare favorably to competitors' sites? Does it have the right look and feel?
Second, take a look at the content on your site and add content or update the content. People do research online. If you can provide more information, it'll benefit both visitors and search engines. If the site is too static, there's no reason people will visit it more than once.
Third, make sure you have some interactivity on your Web site and that the interaction is as easy as possible.
Service-based companies can make information available to download. Most businesses are surprised by the number of people who are willing to provide contact information in exchange for information they seek.
Four, analyze results you are getting for your Web site—amount spent on advertising, goods sold, traffic that not only [includes number of] visitors but [also includes those who] bought something, where traffic is coming from, is there more traffic from Google or Yahoo! and is your ROI better on Google or Yahoo!. Looking at that information, answering those questions, and reacting to it is absolutely critical.
Fifth, [you should] invest. Invest in what's working on your site and make the investment to fix what's not working. A lot of people click order but a lot of people don't finish the checkout process. It may be that the process is clunky or is confusing customers. Maybe it means you need to replace the shopping cart application, but maybe it's just about being clearer with the information you provide. If you make that one-time investment in optimizing that experience, it'll pay dividends the entire year long.
The same applies for things that are working. If you find Google is generating a great amount of sales for the investment you are making, maybe it's time to spend more there. The best way to grow your business is to invest in the things that are working for you.