The veteran search executive said the industry is starting to do more integrated marketing that involves paid search and that direct marketers "really get" search and stand to benefit most from this relatively young channel, which borrows some of direct marketing's oldest tricks.
BtoB: What's the most powerful benefit of search marketing?
Belanger: As ad budgets get scrutinized more and more for performance-based metrics, you are only paying for those prospects actively seeking a solution. You control the keyword portfolio and the messaging. You can directly correlate the number of leads, the number of prospects and the number of sales you got for your search buy. You can measure results on the back end for every dollar you spend. It's very easy to test because of its immediacy. You can fine-tune the effectiveness of your campaign. Search is really good at [reaching] people who are raising their hand. But it's important to do banner buys and sponsor certain categories or pages, and to do trade shows to create awareness to get those people to raise their hand.
BtoB: What are search marketers getting right?
Belanger: They are starting to get creative right. We're starting to see some savvy folks testing copy. Yahoo! search offers 190 characters of text versus 70 characters. We're starting to see companies take advantage of that real estate. We're also seeing some creative A/B testing solutions. People are testing landing pages, for example. Maybe my product page or "About Us" page is pulling better conversion rates than my home page. It's a lot of the skills folks in the direct marketing space take for granted and have been doing for 25 years. But they're now applying it to paid search, and it's really paying off. Direct marketers have the right skills and the ability to drive search in the next generation.
BtoB: What are they getting wrong?
Belanger: I still see a lot of offline advertising and product launches that aren't supported with search. Not surprisingly, our most popular search queries are [about] products and services that are recently launched or news stories. A lot of folks spend money to generate that buzz and are not following it through with visibility in search. I tell advertisers all the time, "Make sure you are supporting your offline efforts with search." That's how many people will interact with that product or service on their own time.