New Yahoo! executive on state of search marketing

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On Tuesday, Ron Belanger, newly named senior director, global advertiser strategy and development for Yahoo! Search Marketing, sat down with BtoB Senior Reporter Carol Krol at the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference in Atlanta. Named to his new position late last month, Belanger was previously VP-search and affiliate marketing at Carat Interactive.

The veteran search executive said the industry is starting to do more integrated marketing that involves paid search and that direct marketers “really get” search and stand to benefit most from this relatively young channel, which borrows some of direct marketing’s oldest tricks.

BtoB: What are some of the current trends in search marketing?

Belanger: The most interesting trend we’re seeing in the marketplace right now is the entrance of non-direct response advertisers. A lot of the advertisers that sat by the sidelines when search was really growing are starting to see—because of its incredible reach and the engagement factor—that it’s really a great vehicle for enhancing a lot of the advertising campaigns they’re doing in other channels. People are starting to realize it’s a lot more than selling and shipping products or widgets online.

BtoB: Are b-to-b marketers also doing branding via search?

Belanger: Probably less so from a pure branding standpoint, but they’re using it to supplement other advertising vehicles. A trade show is a great example. It’s information overload. You get back to your office and back to your laptop and that’s where you filter through and create a shortlist of potential vendors or solutions that you’re interested in. People synthesize their two- or three-day experience and will engage on their own level in their own time using search.

BtoB: How does your background help you in your new role?

Belanger: Search marketing was just one of the services Carat provided. From a b-to-b perspective, we did some work for Microsoft’s b-to-b services and products where it wasn’t a siloed campaign. We [measured] how other awareness-generating campaigns they were doing—trade shows, print, even targeted banners on b-to-b portals—were generating search demand. We looked at how to capture that interest through search. Carat was one of the thought leaders in terms of thinking of search as a complementary, integrated solution and not a standalone direct response tactic.

BtoB: What’s the most powerful benefit of search marketing?

Belanger: As ad budgets get scrutinized more and more for performance-based metrics, you are only paying for those prospects actively seeking a solution. You control the keyword portfolio and the messaging. You can directly correlate the number of leads, the number of prospects, and the number of sales you got for your search buy. You can measure results on the back end for every dollar you spend. It’s very easy to test because of its immediacy. You can fine-tune the effectiveness of your campaign. Search is really good at people who are raising their hand. But it’s important to do banner buys and sponsor certain categories or pages, and to do trade shows to create awareness to get those people to raise their hand.

BtoB: What are search marketers getting right?

Belanger: They are starting to get creative right. We’re starting to see some savvy folks testing copy. Yahoo! search offers 190 characters of text vs. 70 characters. We’re starting to see companies take advantage of that real estate. We’re also seeing some creative A/B testing solutions. People are testing landing pages, for example. Maybe my product page or “About Us” page is pulling better conversion rates than my home page. It’s a lot of the skills folks in the direct marketing space take for granted and have been doing for 25 years. But they’re now applying it to paid search, and it’s really paying off. Direct marketers have the right skills and the ability to drive search in the next generation.

BtoB: What are they getting wrong?

Belanger: I still see a lot of offline advertising and product launches that aren’t supported with search. Not surprisingly, our most popular search queries are [about] products and services that are recently launched or news stories. A lot of folks spend money to generate that buzz and are not following it through with visibility in search. I tell advertisers all the time, “Make sure you are supporting your offline efforts with search.” That’s how many people will interact with that product or service on their own time.


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