SEMPO Study: Social media dominates search-marketing conversation

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Like so many other aspects of marketing, search marketing is being heavily influenced by social media.

According to the sixth annual “State of Search Engine Marketing Report 2010,” conducted by the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization, along with research provider Econsultancy, 52% of companies said that social media has had a “huge” or “moderate” impact on their search engine marketing. Social media has left an even larger impression among agencies, with 74% saying its impact on search is huge or moderate.

“Social media is really the game-changer at this point,” said Steven Abramowitz, senior search manager with e-mail marketing company Constant Contact, and an agency-side participant in the online survey, which received 1,471 responses in January and February.

“Social marketing is still a little young and Wild West, but the ability to target keywords in Facebook, tweets and so forth will be increasingly important,” he said.

Abramowitz stressed that social media has transformed search marketing. Time was when researchers would conduct a Google search, then visit a company’s website to check out products and services.

Today, he said, searches are likely to start within social media sites, with users joining conversations and getting product feedback from peers and reviews. Subsequent search engine queries might lead to blogs, for more social input. Only after this labyrinthine process, courtesy of social media, might a corporate website be a final destination.

Despite its usefulness in the search-marketing arena, social media remains problematic within the C-suite. When asked about the biggest challenges in carrying out social media marketing, 38% said “making the business case for investment” was tops.

Nevertheless, b-to-b marketers are more engaged than their consumer-oriented peers in social forums; 71% of b-to-b companies carry out social media marketing, versus 68% of b-to-c companies, according to the SEMPO study.

And in fact, 59% of companies said their budgets for social media marketing will increase this year, while 37% indicated social media marketing budgets will remain the same.

“This year we saw an increase in our social media budget, and currently are focusing on re-evaluating our social media strategies to develop more comprehensive programs,” said Kirsten Bjork-Jones, director-global marketing communications with Edmund Optics America, and a client-side respondent to the SEMPO survey.

“The challenges we are facing are justifying ROI, determining the best-fitting social media channels and properly allocating resources to maintain these new marketing programs,” she said.

Among b-to-b companies, Twitter was the favored social marketing channel, used by 72% of companies. It was followed by Facebook (64%), LinkedIn (62%) and YouTube (52%).

Abramowitz said that careful listening to social media can provide key insights into keyword construction and the development of search campaigns.

“Typically as marketers, we try to figure out what people are looking for based on their search queries, so there’s some guessing going on,” he said. “But with social media, people basically are telling us what they’re looking for.

“Taking that from social and plugging it back into search can give us more insight and the ability to target more specifically,” he said.

While social media may help to better target keywords, those phrases are becoming more expensive to buy, according to the SEMPO survey.

Marketers who employ paid search have found that Google keywords have become more expensive over the last year, with 56% of advertisers and 62% of agencies indicating they’re paying more.

By contrast, only about a third of advertisers noted an increase in Yahoo (32%) and Bing (29%) keyword costs, according to the study.

Google’s escalating prices may be reflective of the company’s dominance as a search engine; 97% of companies are paying to advertise on Google AdWords, with 71% advertising on the Google search network and 56% placing keyword-targeted ads on the Google content network.

“All marketers, including b-to-b marketers, must be prepared for escalating cost-per-click in the search engines,” said Kevin Lee, CEO of digital agency Didit, and a SEMPO board member. “B-to-b marketers have the added challenge that not all searchers for all their keywords are necessarily businesspeople with a business need.”

B-to-b search marketing overall continues to leach budget away from other channels: 49% of companies are reallocating monies away from print advertising and into search, with 36% augmenting their search efforts from direct mail budgets, 24% moving funds from conferences and exhibitions, and 23% poaching on Web display advertising, according to the survey.

And, from an array of trends and marketplace developments, company respondents were most likely to say the personalization of search results is having an impact, with 75% saying it is either “highly significant” or “significant.”

For their part, agency respondents felt the rise of local search was the most significant emerging trend, with 85% saying this either was “highly significant” or “significant.”

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