Advertising Week 2008

The Ongoing Elusiveness of Measuring Online Search

Panelists at Digital Talk Seemed Flummoxed by Putting Value on Engagement

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Mark Grote
Mark Grote Credit: Scott Gries
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NEW YORK ( -- "I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony," said Mark Grote, Microsoft's senior search-advertising manager. "I know what I need to do; I just don't know where to start."

Mr. Grote, appearing at Ad Age's Digital Bites Breakfast today at New York's Paley Center for Media, was speaking of the elusiveness of measuring the engagement value of online search. And he wasn't alone -- other participants, including Peter Hershberg, managing partner for RepriseMedia, talked at length about the intricacies of search as part of a broader marketing campaign. But much of the discussion floated around the necessity of measuring consumer engagement, something that Mr. Grote said is a continuing struggle for marketers.

It all begins with search
Mr. Grote said 80% of all online sessions begin at a search engine, and 41% of web surfers use that engine to navigate to websites. In general, he added, the majority of search activity revolves around current events.

Mr. Hershberg, whose RepriseMedia worked with Microsoft to develop search-marketing strategies, spoke about aligning goals with specific channels, and the need to coordinate reach and frequency targets with site engagement, a frustration that punctuated the entire discussion.

"Search is the best real-time focus group in the business," he said, noting that it should be harnessed internally as marketing intelligence.

Curt Hecht, president of Publicis Groupe's VivaKi Nerve Center, said it is important to "get to the point where chief marketing officers say 'How does search fit into campaign?'" He added, "There's a lot of capacity in the global marketplace for search. ... It's how you leverage search as a platform that's critical."

Emphasis on accountability
The economic climate was also addressed, as panelists broached concerns of threatened ad budgets and marketers' margins. Each seemed to agree that all media -- including search -- are being held to more accountable standards.

Ron Belanger, VP-agency development for Yahoo, said there are still "untold ways to measure search," and that because its efficacy is apparent fairly immediately, it "is relatively recession-proof."

But search still "is not immune" to economic woes, warned Jeffrey Glueck, chief marketing officer of Travelocity.
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