When it comes to search marketing, another word for engagement is "intent." Consumers using search engines are intent on getting information, and the argument goes that this makes them receptive to search ads.
"High intent is one of the biggest reasons that marketers like search," said Ms. Siminoff, president-CEO of search engine marketing company Efficient Frontier. "It delivers terrific ROI against any other marketing-type campaign."
Efficient Frontier claims to be the leading company in search engine marketing, managing more than 15 million keyword ads and more than $200 million in paid search spending. Thomas Weisel Partners expects search engine marketing overall to hit $12.2 billion by 2008.
Joined company in 2004
Ms. Siminoff joined Efficient Frontier as CEO in 2004 after making a major investment in the company a year earlier. Despite her Stanford MBA, Ms. Siminoff doesn't position herself as the numbers whiz behind Efficient Frontier. That honor goes to founder Anil Kamath, a fellow Cardinal with a Ph.D. in computer science.
Mr. Kamath "is a stellar engineer," Ms. Siminoff said. "Where I helped was taking the technology and applying it to what the business could actually do."
"When people talk about leaders in this space, they talk about [the likes of] Google, Yahoo and E-Frontier," said Imran Khan, director of marketing at E-Loan, an Efficient Frontier client. "It's a testament to Ellen's ability to increase her company's profile even though it is relatively young."
Not that Ms. Siminoff, 38, had no experience in online search. She was part of the founding team at Yahoo. Today, Efficient Frontier says it's the largest manager of search spending on Yahoo and Google.
Search marketing ecosystem
"Google and Yahoo provide a platform around which an ecosystem exists," said E-Loan's Mr. Khan, "and the biggest name in that ecosystem is E-Frontier."
Efficient Frontier has borrowed from Wall Street financial trading systems to develop technology to help marketers decide how much to bid during auctions of search keywords and measure the effectiveness of their search ads.
"Think about Yahoo, Google, MSN as marketplaces that you can manage against," Ms. Siminoff said. "You're making an investment in these keywords and you want to manage them to your business return. You're less concerned with the keyword's hourly performance and as a marketer want to make sure that overall portfolio of keywords has a high return."
The mother of two doesn't see her Silicon Valley company evolving into the role of a conventional ad agency, but the creative aspect is going to be a bigger concern in the future for search ads.
Different ad types
"You will see different types of [ad units]," Ms. Siminoff said, noting Google's move into video ads. "Marketers are going to have visibility and control of what they're going to use."
And that doesn't even touch on ever increasingly omnipresent, on-the-go technology -- today the computer, tomorrow the cellphone for search engine marketing.
"Over time," Ms. Siminoff said, "the search will be on any device. ... The positive side of this mobile world is that any device is going to be able to link a whole set of information. For marketers it's great because you're going to be able to access the kind of customers you want when you want them all the time. It's going to make that one-to-one relationship incredibly powerful."