Search marketing evolution provides opportunities, challenges

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Search marketing has proven a highly effective medium for many b-to-b marketers and is a vital component of the overall marketing mix. With search marketing’s emergence have come both challenges and opportunities.

BtoB spoke with John Battelle, chairman of Sausalito, Calif.-based Federated Media Publishing about what marketers need to do to stay in the game.

Battelle, founder of the now defunct Industry Standard and co-founding editor of Wired, is the author of "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture," published by Penguin Group USA in 2005.

BtoB: What is the biggest challenge for search marketing executives this year?

Battelle: Mastering the technology and understanding how to move to the next level of automation is probably the biggest challenge. We're seeing the major players buying millions of keywords with billions of permutations. I think the drivers of this market are increasingly going to be the very big marketers.

In the b-to-b space, even if you're not being squeezed by the same kind of competition, you have extreme competition for the most valuable keywords. Understanding what business you are in is probably going to be the hardest thing for b-to-b marketers. You need to be in the search business. It's an incredibly important distribution channel. The question is, how do you use that efficiently?

BtoB: Are marketers doing a good job incorporating search into their integrated campaigns?

Battelle: I think most marketers understand search is important. That's a big step up over a year ago. Whether they're doing a good job is debatable. That's case by case. For most marketers, they are in the "Let's just make sure we've covered our ass in terms of search" mode. When my trademarks and brands are searched, my keywords should pop up. It's the basic stuff.

BtoB: Is click fraud going to continue to be an issue for search marketers and the search engines that serve them?

Battelle: Yes, it will always be an issue. I do believe there is significant confusion between the two parties, the advertisers and the search engines. The search engines are saying, “We've got it under control, don't worry about it,” and the advertisers are saying, “I'm not so sure about that.” All the parties—publishers, advertisers and major search engines—need to sit down and put their cards on the table [regarding click fraud]. When you have the major parties that say, “We don't have a problem”—which is what Google and Yahoo! are saying—you don't have the ability to fix it. The advertisers with the most influence and publishers with the most influence are being taken care of individually [by the search engines]. If you want to be smart in search, you have to watch what the “arbitragers” are doing. These are people who have created algorithms that determine the most valuable clicks and keywords, who are buying them before anyone else for more than anyone else and reselling them. They are printing money.

BtoB: What is the next big thing?

Battelle: The next surprising thing will be the growth of structured search businesses like CareerBuilder and Yahoo! Local, where we know what the data are and who is asking for them. We'll see some really interesting businesses created out of that. There are great businesses to be built based on understanding a universe of data and then understanding the people who are using those data.

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