IBM’s search marketing guru reflects on industry trends

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Following his presentation last month at BtoB’s NetMarketing Breakfast in New York, Mike Moran, IBM distinguished engineer and manager of site architecture, discussed broad trends in search marketing with BtoB Editor Ellis Booker. Moran is uniquely qualified to speak about search. He led the original search marketing strategy for, as well as the integration of’s site search technologies. And he led the product team that developed the first commercial linguistic search engine in 1989. Along with holding four patents in search and retrieval technology,

Moran is co-author of the book “Search Engine Marketing, Inc.” More information about Moran can be found at

BtoB: What are some of big trends you see in search marketing?

Moran: There are a few shifts. It depends on how far forward-looking you want to be. In paid search, the most popular keywords, drawing the highest prices, are in some cases out of proportion to their ROI. The thing that I’m advising—and that we’re doing at IBM—is [buying] less popular queries and aggregating them. So you get the same traffic but pay far less. You might need to have dozens or even 100 queries that add up to that mega keyword you used to buy. And if you choose the right keyword, you might even convert better. For example, half the searches on “digital camera” might be from people searching for how to use one. Whereas searches on “4 Megapixel digital camera” are from people who want to buy one.

BtoB: How much less can you spend buying keywords this way?

Moran: You’ll spend 50% less, far less in many cases.

BtoB: What’s the future of local search in b-to-b?

Moran: I think it’s huge. And it’s part of larger trend, that of having search results personalized. [Look at] all the speculation about Google buying AOL. Why? Because [Google] right now has far fewer relationships with their searchers than other [search engines] like MSN and Yahoo!

Almost all the innovation in search has happened on the content side. But [you have to] think about relevancy, what’s relevant to a searcher. So it helps if you know more about the searcher. [When someone comes] to IBM and searches for “monitor,” do they mean a display or monitoring software? If we know who they are, their past activities, we have a better chance of knowing.

BtoB: What about vertical search?

Moran: For some kinds of searches, it can be very helpful. It mostly depends on whether the kinds of information you are looking for can be easily confused with other information. So in travel, you can find people who want to travel, not people in the industry. The problems that have faced a lot of these vertical search engines so far is they haven’t shown they have higher relevancy than the mainline search engines. [The vertical engines] are partnering with those brand names that have, or could have, a tighter relationship with searchers.

Over the next five years, this will change search marketing the most. In a personalized search world, it’s much more like the way the media is bought in magazines. You’ll sell queries based on industry sector, “firmagraphics,” title. What kind of rate could Google get if they could sell keywords against that?

BtoB: What’s the biggest mistake search marketers make?

Moran: The biggest mistake people make is to focus on rankings and traffic, not conversions. I don’t think you can prove your ROI unless you know how many you’re converting. Search marketing is not mostly about search, it’s about marketing.

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