The advent of search marketing has created skill sets that have been in high demand lately. But there are not enough skilled people around. As a result, we're seeing some doubling up of staff responsibilities within marketing teams, which is less indicative of a lousy economic climate than of a paucity of skilled, available search experts.
Search marketing offers a safe haven for marketers and advertisers who already are pushed by the recession to meet aggressive ROI goals. Search is comfort food for them, and, as a result, they are intent on maximizing their search budgets.
But as a company grows, it can become more difficult to continue down this path. At some point, you hit the top of the ROI curve, and it becomes much more difficult to maximize value.
One factor affecting this ROI slowdown in search is its incredible competitiveness, due to the low cost of entry. A program can start off easily but can get complicated quickly. To combat this, there are advanced tactics that are, unfortunately, underused by marketers. These include A/B tests to optimize landing pages and multivariate testing for the same purpose. Only 10% of paid-search marketers are using A/B testing; just 4% are using multivariate testing.
These advanced methods offer the savviest marketers a competitive edge in an environment in which it's easy to lose money very quickly. Especially with Google, your ads can become a fire hydrant of traffic if you turn it on and don't know how to manage the flow. It can bust your monthly budget pretty quickly—in days if not hours. If you're not savvy and graduate to the advanced tactics, you can find your ROI diminishing rapidly, even after realizing some early successes.
In addition to mastering the advanced skill sets of search marketing, it's essential to become savvy in all channels. For example, we know that display ads affect search. That last click often gets 100% of the credit for a sale, but there is certain brand value in customers' minds that determines final purchase decisions.
If you're a pure lead-gen company, or you have a finite budget, search is a wonderful first foray for grabbing leads and getting sales. We've seen millions of mom-and-pop businesses born and survive on Google alone.
But for larger companies, with lots to spend across all kinds of channels, a multiplicity of programs, including direct marketing, display and offline, is necessary to be successful.
And search is just one component of an overall marketing effort; it's essential to have advanced analytics about the other ingredients to know how each is affecting conversion. This can be particularly important when it comes to b-to-b companies, which do not encourage compulsive buying decisions and which require advanced analytics to manage the leads that come in.
B-to-b marketers have to be very sophisticated in attributing what happens offline to online success (and vice versa), using more advanced data tracking to measure everything that led to a purchase. B-to-b marketers who don't do this and only look at impressions and clicks are operating in a two-dimensional world.
Assuming the economy stays where it is and doesn't get much worse, paid search can continue its healthy ascent; if the recession lasts longer than recent past examples, growth may flatten.
Either way, there is a continual shift in marketing dollars from offline to online - and to search specifically because of its great ROI. With that, and with dollars flowing away from other programs to search, many companies' marketing foundations today consist of search and search alone.
That can be a good thing or not, depending on the skill that marketers bring to the search table.
Evan Andrews is an interactive marketing analyst with Forrester Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.