Archive for the ‘search’ Category

Make search a branding vehicle

May 31, 2008

iMedia Connection

 

Search engines reward ads containing relevant calls to action over those that focus exclusively on branding. Steak Media’s VP of corporate strategy explains why this should change.

 

Every time search practitioners gather at a conference, there is always healthy debate about what the future holds for the seemingly all-powerful medium. At a recent event I attended, Gian Fulgoni, comScore’s chairman, focused attention on the value marketers currently are not getting from search and display advertising. He asserted that over-emphasis on the “last click” overlooks important latent online and offline effects. Overall, Fulgoni suggested, as little as 5 percent of paid search ads on Google result in a click, but by failing to monetize the latent value of the remaining 95 percent, Google and the other engines fail to capture as much as 84 percent of search’s value. Essentially, comScore’s findings imply that search should — and may — become more of a branding vehicle, while not necessarily sacrificing its primacy as a direct response mechanism.

In effect, what comScore has issued is a monetization and measurement challenge to both engines and marketers, since the engines are now so focused on performance that they reward ads containing relevant calls to action over those that focus exclusively on branding. Pouring resources into search engine optimization can help with branding efforts, but that’s not likely what Fulgoni had in mind. Nonetheless, emphasizing the branding value of search makes sense. Consider the consumers marketers are trying to reach. They don’t distinguish between branding or direct response ads — they see ads. All direct response ads also have a branding element to them while all branding ads, though they may not carry a call to action, will have a direct effect on consumers’ perception of a brand and their subsequent purchase activity. In short, both are opportunities to put a message in front of a prospective customer.

The challenge comes at a time when there is increasing emphasis on a) the value derived from integrating search and display; and b) the branding value of search. None of this should come as any surprise in an age in which industry consolidation and in-house innovation have united both media under one roof at all of the leading search players. In this context, trumpeting the synergistic benefits of search and display media buys makes dollars in addition to sense.
According to Fulgoni, only one-third of online ad spending goes to brand building (the reverse of traditional media), so remodeling search to facilitate branding may further fill the engines’ coffers. Yet, beyond attracting the brand dollars, which is where the big money is, focusing on the branding value of search may help elevate and solidify the medium’s presence at the top table. This would be a welcome advent for both in-house and agency practitioners, who continue to relentlessly trumpet search’s effectiveness in the face of the sexier media, both online and off.

In my previous column, I focused on the importance of using search strategy and tactics to manage a brand’s reputation online, especially in the age of universal or blended search. If the future of search is increasingly brand focused and we’re going to be putting a great value on latency in both search and display, the nexus of search and reputation management comes into sharper relief. Reputation management is all about building and protecting the brand. It contains both a defensive and a proactive component, but in most cases, it is not about direct response — it is all about the latent actions consumers take or don’t take as a result of what they discover through search. Making search more of a branding vehicle and further fusing it with display advertising would make managing online reputation a far more viable concern.

Unlocking value that currently goes unrealized is a laudable goal, but the key to reaching this proposed but still-nebulous future is maintaining relevance. That’s a goal in which everyone from marketers to the engines to the consumers who use search is invested. Search has become a universal activity. In the future, it will likely be a ubiquitous activity as well, one that transcends every possible device, but regardless of where, when and how the activity occurs, no one wants relevance to be sacrificed. That would be bad for search’s online reputation.

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Your guide to alternative search engines

May 31, 2008

iMedia Connection

New categories

There’s a search engine so popular that even Webster’s and the Oxford English Dictionary have accepted its transformation from a noun to a verb. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? (Hint: It starts with a “G,” ends with an “oogle.”)

Hitwise recently reported the hardly surprising stat that Mountain View-based Google in April received nearly 70 percent of all U.S. searches. With numbers like that, you might wonder why the entrepreneurs behind new search startups even bother getting dressed in the morning.

It turns out that not only are the founders of new search companies hatching schemes to go up against Google, but in the process, they’re also inventing entirely new categories of search — some of which can, in turn, create entirely new marketing opportunities.

Many of the new search engines rely on sharing information, either among users in the case of social search, or among developers as in open source search. Two other search categories focus more on borrowing than sharing. Metasearch takes advantage of searches conducted by third-party engines, and visual search delivers the results of various searches in a more intuitive, eye-catching format.

Here’s a primer for the new search age.

Social search

What it is
Social search is the broadest of the new search categories. Searchengineland.com Editor-In-Chief Danny Sullivan, a search engine analyst for the last 12 years, defines social search as “Any kind of search that’s involving humans in some way and, in particular, humans that have a network of friends or associates.”

Google Vice President Marissa Mayer in January described this type of search to VentureBeat as attempting to “leverage a social connection to try and get a piece of information that would be better than what you’d come up with on your own.”

At its most basic level, social search looks something like the Amazon.com model of recommendation. Results for a book or CD search on Amazon return with a note that “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” Amazon tracks user behavior to generate suggestions that might help guide other purchasers.

More sophisticated social search sites aim to combine these overarching recommendation engines with social networking. Delver, one of the newest arrivals to the social search scene, combines user information (name, email, social network profiles, etc.) with search requests to tailor its results to the individual preferences and habits of the person conducting the search.

More established social search sites such as Digg and del.icio.us rely on users to rank news stories or blog posts to give visitors an overview of the moment’s most popular conversations across the web. Sites such as Mahalo pay users to filter through search results and eliminate fluff.

Who’s doing it
Delver (currently in private beta), Digg, del.icio.us, Eurekster, FriendFeed, Mahalo, Mechanical Zoo, StumbleUpon

Why you should care
Social search sites can offer real value to marketers. Though direct marketing and advertising opportunities remain limited across social search sites, these engines allow marketers to easily track user communities and conversations, producing knowledge that can ultimately drive traffic to brand sites.

Sullivan points to digital marketing company 10e20’s campaign for Virgin Vacations as the archetypal social search success story. Virgin Vacations produced a text and video story about the world’s best subway systems. Thanks to a little viral marketing, users of Digg, del.icio.us and StumbleUpon picked up on the story, resulting in a huge increase in traffic to virgin-vacations.com.

Metasearch

What it is
As the name implies, metasearch engines simply search other search sites, either combining the results into one list or displaying multiple lists on the same web page. These engines provide an overview of search results across multiple sites with the aim of helping users select the most useful search results. 

Who’s doing it
Clusty, Dogpile, Mamma, Metacrawler, Vivisimo

Why you should care
Maybe you shouldn’t. According to Sullivan, where marketers are concerned, “you can’t do anything with metasearch.” That is, anything other than employ traditional text or banner ads.

Open source search

What it is
Think of it in terms of the SATs: open source search is to Google what free speech is to censorship. Founders of open source search sites make their code available to other developers to use and, ideally, improve upon. Without the cumbersome barriers of licensing fees or other limitations, open search sites allow for disparate developers to work together to return better search results, faster.

Open source search developed as a direct response to companies such as Google that keep their algorithms chained in tightly protected Silicon Valley dungeons. It’s Google’s algorithm that ranks its search results and decides which items appear at the coveted top of a search page.

Proponents of open source search say the algorithms of Google and others are akin to an editorial judgment call and insist the public should be apprised of the types of judgments being made.

Who’s doing it
Grub (owned by Wikia), Lucene, Nutch, Sphinx

Why you should care
You probably shouldn’t. At least not yet. But don’t write off open source search engines just because they’re a brand new search niche, warns Sullivan, who predicts they may prove valuable in the coming years. Though “there’s nothing for a marketer to mess with on open source right now… it’s going to change so much,” he says.

Visual search

What it is
Visual searches fall into two broad categories. Until recently, visual search referred only to image searches. Traditional searches for images have long functioned the same as text searches; search engines simply scanned the web for keywords in the text tags that accompany JPEGs, GIFs and other image types. More advanced visual image search engines focus on technology that can recognize colors or patterns within an image itself, rather than on just the surrounding text.

Lately, however, visual search has come to mean something entirely different. Visual search now more often refers to the visual presentation of search results. Instead of being presented with a text-based list of search results, consumers using visual search sites now receive their results in the form of snapshots or makeshift spreadsheets of the web pages on which their search results appear. (Try searching for your name on sites such as searchme.com to see what we mean.) The aim of visual search is to prevent users from wasting their time and clicking onto parked or irrelevant web pages.

Who’s doing it
Kartoo, Searchme, Quintura, Viewzi

Why you should care
Visual searches offer an interesting spin on the humdrum presentation of traditional search results. Right now marketing opportunities on visual search sites are relegated to old-school text and banner ads, but marketers who keep an eye on the evolution of these sites may find themselves at an advantage over the long term. That’s because visual search sites will likely require digital agencies to rethink their web design choices according to how their pages might be displayed differently on each of the disparate visual search sites.

Conclusion
And now the bad news for the new players in the alternative search engine market. Behind Google’s 70 percent market share in April lagged Yahoo with approximately 21 percent of all U.S. searches, MSN with 6 percent of searches, and Ask.com with 4 percent of searches. Combined, the other 45 search engines Hitwise tracks ran just 1 percent of all domestic searches.

Translation: Despite the innovation taking place in the search market, the startups have a long way to go to catch up with even Google’s strongest 48 competitors.

But stay tuned, says Sullivan. The search market is definitely something you want to keep an eye on.

He adds that if these sites start to show a substantial amount of traffic, that’s when you want to start taking a closer look.

Leah Messinger is a freelance writer.

A roadmap to creative success

April 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

By Tiffany Young

Part of what makes a campaign work is appropriateness of media and message for each stage of the purchase process. Here’s how to map it out.

I recently judged an online advertising competition and I found a very clear distinction between the great work and the rest of the work. The great online ads were few and far between — even in a competition in which agencies submitted their best efforts — because doing great work is difficult (no surprise).

As I looked at the best ads, here’s what I noticed: The very best ads surprised me. And while they were unexpected, they were not irrelevant or unfocused. Most were inventive without being obtuse. They were approachable and appropriate for their target audience. And finally, the very best ads engaged consumers by putting them in control of interactivity.

So those are some simple tips, right? Easy peasy! Just go out there and invent a campaign that’s surprisingly relevant and approachable while being fun and engaging. Unfortunately, that’s only the beginning.

The beauty of online advertising is that it encompasses so much. But this can also be the ugly part. Many media plans are presented with an emphasis on rich media. All the “other stuff” like newsletters, contextual content and keywords are often treated like value-adds, because they cost less or require less time to produce.

By emphasizing the most expensive online media, it’s easy to mistake the “other stuff” as unimportant. But each component of a comprehensive online media plan is an important piece of a puzzle that can help bring consumers from awareness to purchase. Taking time to map each piece to the purchase continuum can help your creative teams craft messaging that resonates with consumers right where they are, both emotionally and in terms of how much information they have about your brand.

It seems like common sense, but I don’t see it done that often. I imagine media plans as road maps for consumers. If I get each piece of communication right in a comprehensive online media campaign, I give consumers driving directions from where they are to where I want them to be.

So let’s start with the first turn on the map: awareness.

Run-of-site and run-of-network display ads can help build awareness of your brand through multiple impressions. These ads shouldn’t be complicated. If a consumer doesn’t know about you yet, he’s probably not going to drill down into multiple tabs of an expandable rich-media ad unit. Focus on a simple, compelling message that catches the attention of consumers and leaves them with a good impression of your brand.

Now as for relevance, section placements and e-newsletters place your brand in the context of something consumers choose to view. For instance, say they’re reading a home furnishings blog. You could serve a geo-targeted display or text ad for your brand that tells them “hey remember me? You just met me. Guess what, I’m in your area — funny huh? Yeah I’m totally relevant now.” This is also the point at which to share more of your brand with consumers. Splurge on the rich-media ads with more interactivity and information for these types of media placements wherever possible.

Moving along the purchase continuum, consumers eventually get to preference. They know you, they know you’re relevant to them and in their area now, but they have other options. When they search for products like yours, the search results they get should give them a reason to prefer your brand over the others. Are you better, cheaper, faster, more exclusive or more fun? Make sure your search results tell consumers why you’re the best option.

When consumers are interested in you and your brand, you’re in a great position. Unfortunately, many brands drop the ball at this point. A media plan doesn’t normally include what happens after consumers click, so it’s easy to get caught up in planning and forget to fulfill your end of the deal. Give consumers a compelling, relevant landing page to take the next step towards purchase. Make sure they’re glad they met you, and then make it easy for them to get what they want.

Lastly, once you’ve made it easy for consumers to purchase, utilize that success by putting measures in place to analyze your website. Make sure you’re set up to track results so you can garner the most learning for next time. Remember that a consumer’s first purchase can be the beginning of a long-term relationship, or it can also be her last purchase. Strong analysis is key to turning more first-time buyers into lasting, loyal customers.

By mapping creative executions and your media plan to the purchase continuum you can get the most out of every bit of your media budget while giving consumers a great online experience with your brand.

Jump-Starting Keyword Demand

April 2, 2008

 By Erik Dafforn, The ClickZ Network,

Get Your Foot in the Door

Paid ads such as Google AdWords are one of the most effective ways of interjecting your perspective into an existing online conversation. For example, if you have a new sort of high-definition television technology, you could buy ads focusing on existing high-def, LCD, and plasma terms: “Confused About High Definition? Discover Why SarahVision Is the Answer.”

Even if you don’t get clicks right away, you get visibility. When enough people associate SarahVision with plasma and LCD TV confusion, having seen it for multiple queries on multiple engines, they’ll begin to wonder what the fuss is all about.

Similarly, become a reliable, authoritative part of one or more online communities. I spend time in the Audio Visual Science Forum and constantly see users recommending vendors to each other because of how helpful the vendor has been in answering specific technical questions. Remember, this has nothing to do with whether the vendor’s signature link passes juice or whether it has a “nofollow” attached. The most successful vendors don’t say, “You need cable X; come visit my site.” Instead they say, “You need cable X,” and their affiliation is noted in their signature.

Get Offline and Head Outdoors

The birth of online marketing initially made a lot of people sigh with relief because it appeared that such annoying activities as getting dressed and talking to people on the telephone would no longer be necessary.

While it’s possible to conduct a successful marketing initiative on the Web only, it’s foolish to ignore other media when they can bolster your online presence and the interest in your project.

Television is a natural complement to online advertising. But not all of us can afford 30 seconds during act two of “The Office.”

My friend and outdoor advertising expert Brent Bolick pointed me to a fantastic study performed by Reagan Outdoor. It showed that in a telephone poll, only 1 percent of the greater Austin, TX, market knew that Calvin Coolidge was the 30th U.S. president. After a 60-day outdoor saturation campaign (billboards said simply “Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President” and showed a URL), that number rose to 24 percent of the market. As a control group, 30 percent of the market also knew that Rick Perry was the state’s lieutenant governor before the campaign ran. After the campaign, those numbers had not changed.

The traffic numbers were impressive, too. The site logged over 36,000 unique visits, with 5,400 people visiting the registration page. And 2,500 of the registration page’s visitors actually registered, getting a chance to win a T-shirt and a personal billboard run.

Bolick also shared some interesting data regarding the overlap between heavy commuters and search engine use. Using Arbitron data, he looked specifically at people in his market (metro Jacksonville, FL) who regularly use search engines. Nearly half of search engine users (46 percent) are considered “heavy” users of outdoor advertising as well, due to their commuting distances. So before you look askance at offline advertising, you’d be smart to figure out how it can help you.

Conclusion

Before you spawn massive amounts of search demand for new query phrases, be completely sure you’re ready for the traffic. I don’t mean your server; I mean your message. When your coverage starts to reach a tipping point and consumers start looking for your words in droves, what’s your organic search visibility like? Do you answer all the questions they have? Are your corporate blog, Web site, press releases, and social media assets properly organized, crawled, and indexed so that when the queries start, you control the message? Or are you leaving gaps in your message that an eager blogger or competitor will jump on?

What’s your paid search visibility like? People lie in wait to jump on a keyword bandwagon (remember the Pontiac “Google us” campaign?), so make sure you continue your paid ad campaign even after natural search takes off. After all, someone else might want to offer users an alternative to SarahVision.

 

‘Visual Search Engine’ Launches in Private Beta

April 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

SearchMe, a visual search engine that displays results as webpages (comparable to how iTunes users can scroll through their music libraries with album covers) has gone into private beta.

The company raised $31 million from Sequoia, DAG Ventures and Lehman Brothers. Sequoia previously invested in Mahalo, a human-powered search engine.

SearchMe comes stock with another search product, WikiSeek, which returns results from Wikipedia and sites linked to it.

The visual engine also indexes pages categorically to avoid confusion. For example, a search for “apple” can be searched in the “technology” section to avoid results about fruit.

SearchMe is not the first firm to try realizing the notion of an image-oriented search engine. In 2006, Like.com enabled consumers to search for products by appearance rather than text. When asked, representatives from Google have refused to comment on whether the search giant is working on image search features.

Slow-Loading Landing Pages Get Slapped by Google

April 2, 2008

Marketing VOX

Google will begin penalizing advertisers whose landing pages take a long time to load, reports CNET.

A post on its AdWords Blog reports Google will start looking at the length of time it takes for a landing page to load. Loading speed will contribute to an advertiser’s ultimate ad position and bid price on the Adwords platform.

The inclusion of pageload time into price and position determination follows findings that slow-loading pages are more likely to be abandoned by people who click on ads. Re-directs, slow servers and other barriers to instant gratification lead to a poor user experience.

Pageload time will be reviewed over the next few weeks, at which point advertisers with slow pages will be notified so they can make changes.

30 days following notification, load times will become an official part of their ad positioning.

3 keys to unleashing your website’s potential

April 2, 2008

iMedia Connection

By Dan Naden

Let’s face it: customers will leave your website. But what pages they leave from — and why — will tell you volumes. Here are some essential pointers.

I am a big golfer. I love playing a game that requires mental patience, flexibility, resolve and dedication.

Like anything, the game of golf requires consistent practice. The best-of-the-best embody a “test and learn” approach to his or her continuous improvement.

The master of golf in the last 10 years (and probably the next 10) has been Tiger Woods. Tiger took the golf world by storm, and his dominance has shown no signs of slowing. Why? He’s never satisfied with his current position, and he continues to “test and learn” his way to the top.

So let’s be realistic. You probably can’t test and learn your way to golf’s nirvana, but a few simple tips can improve your website’s performance.

1) Key entry points
Have you dissected how people are getting to your site? The most basic web metrics solutions (Google Analytics or WebTrends, for example) can inform you about entry pages emanating from direct traffic, SEO campaign pages and search keywords.

Perhaps certain pages are better optimized for search engines than others. If so, you should really implement a site-wide optimization project to get your pages in a better position to be properly spidered by the engines. As you dig into this analysis, you may also be shocked at the pages through which consumers are entering your site.

Once you’ve isolated the key landing pages/entry points for your site, put yourself in the mind of your consumer and try to answer these questions: 

  • What will make me continue “down the path” with this site?
  • Is the consumer closer to achieving his/her goal?
  • Am I overwhelming the consumer with too many choices?

By reviewing path analysis, you may uncover that consumers are clicking on buttons or links that you never designed as critically important to solving their goal (buying a computer, finding out more information about a house, generating a credit report).

Don’t be afraid to A/B test a number of different versions of key entry pages, like the homepage and landing pages. You may be surprised by the up-front costs of implementing an effective A/B process, but the results you glean from these tests will make that money back in the long run.

2) Key exit points
Let’s face it: customers will leave your website. But what pages they leave from will tell you volumes about what is working and not working with your site.

If consumers are leaving your search results before browsing through product details, perhaps your ads are too intrusive, the result links are not clear or a Flash movie/tour provides distraction rather than information or guidance.

If your homepage turns out to be a big exit page for your site, take an outsider perspective and consider what may be deterring the customer from moving forward. Here are a few things to consider:

  • If search is your main activity to push from your homepage, are you making this clear? Are other things too actively drawing consumer attention?
  • Does a consumer clearly understand through pictures, video or short, bulleted text the reason for your website’s existence? Don’t be surprised by the number of consumers that ask: Why am I at this website?
  • Are you clearly catering to your most profitable customers right from the start? If your site caters to a wide variety of demographics, the Baby Boomers may need different visual cues than the Generation-X set.

The ways your customers exit your site may also tell you just as much, or even more, than their entry path. Take this data seriously and you will do wonders in converting more browsers to buyers.

3) Key conversion points
Think about Tiger Woods practicing and perfecting his golf game with all of the clubs except the putter. Wouldn’t it be hard for him to finish tournaments?

All of the slick, effective work that you’ve done up until this point is obliterated if you can’t get the consumer beyond your key conversion points.
 
Key conversion points for most sites include: 

  • Lead submission
  • Checkout
  • Register

(Not to mention the many micro-conversion points that all lead up to that pivotal moment. Is your site ready for your moment in the sun?)

It may seem obvious, but freely test different layouts and call-to-actions on your lead pages. 

  • Are you using “action” buttons or links? Test to see which are most effective on your site.
  • Is your verbiage persuasive and benefits-focused? Don’t lull your customers into lethargy with passive language like “Request” or “Submit.” Talk to your customers about solving their problems, not about meeting your goals.
  • Are you removing any possible points of confusion for the consumer to continue with your offer? Will your information be sold to a third party? Do I know exactly what the next step is after I fill out this form? Uncertainty is not your friend when your customer is ready to buy, checkout or become a lead.

Tiger will keep hoisting trophies; he’ll continue to modify his putting, short game or long game to stay at the top. His belief and implementation of a “test and learn” methodology may solidify him as the best golfer ever.

Utilizing these three simple tips may very well escalate your site’s performance to the top of your industry. Stay true to the metrics, never give up and always believe you can test and learn a better way to design a page, implement a campaign or persuade an audience to act.

Omniture Adds Tracking For Video, Search Engines

April 2, 2008

Media Post Publications

 by Mark Walsh, Thursday, Mar 6, 2008 7:00 AM ET

AMONG PRODUCT UPGRADES ANNOUNCED WEDNESDAY, Omniture has added the ability to track video to the latest version of its flagship SiteCatalyst Web analytics software.

 

The new capability will allow marketers using video in online campaigns to monitor engagement through metrics such as how long videos were played, whether viewers skipped through them, and which led to conversions. The technology can also be used to track Flash- and Flex-based applications and is compatible with Windows Media Player, QuickTime and RealPlayer.

Omniture said the move is aimed at addressing the growing use of rich media, user-generated content, widgets, video and mobile devices. The prior version of SiteCatalyst added features for tracking Web 2.0 marketing campaigns on forum such as blogs and social networking sites.

The new version-SiteCatalyst14-also features a new dashboard that allows users to publish and distribute reports in various formats including PDF, Excel, Word and HTML.

The company also launched a new version of its search engine marketing software that lets users analyze campaigns through metrics such as revenue, clicks, return-on-investment or budget optimization. Its SearchCenter 3 also increases the volume of keywords that can be managed under a given campaign. It also shows natural and paid search results side-by-side in a new interface to make it easier to track SEM efforts.

Separately, Omniture on Wednesday said it had entered into a partnership with Baidu.com to provide metrics for search marketing campaigns through the Chinese-language search engine. “By integrating our search metrics with Omniture, we believe online marketers will not only be able to measure campaigns but also improve conversion by making the end-to-end search experience more relevant,” said Haoyu Shen, Baidu.com’s vice president of business operations, in a statement.

Baidu.com’s share of Web search traffic in China as of the end of September 2007 was 73.6%; its share of search marketing spend was 60.8%, according to iResearch.

Omniture has cemented its position atop the industry in the last year through a string of acquisitions including an agreement to purchase Visual Sciences (formerly WebSideStory) for $394 million.

 

 

Survey: Paid Search Reaches Big-Ticket Item Consumers

April 2, 2008

Media Post Publications

 by Tameka Kee, Thursday, Mar 6, 2008 7:00 AM ET

ONE OF EVERY 10 INTERNET users is “influenced” or “greatly influenced” by sponsored links when it comes to searching for products or services on the Web, according to data from a recent BIGresearch Simultaneous Media (SIMM) survey.

The Columbus, Ohio-based consumer research firm surveyed more than 15,700 Web users for the SIMM 11 report, and found that the 9% of respondents who were influenced by sponsored links were often prime targets for those ads in the first place–as a significant portion of them said that they’d be undergoing major life changes that warranted big-ticket purchases like computers and furniture within the near future.

For example, roughly 12% of sponsored link-influenced respondents said that they were planning for their child (or themselves) to start college within the next six months, compared to just 6% of non-influenced respondents. Meanwhile, about 7% were planning to get married, 5% were planning to have a baby and 4% were anticipating retiring within less than a year.

According to Gary Drenik, president of BIGresearch, these life-changing events give consumers a razor-sharp focus when it comes to searching for information about a product or service that relates to the event.

“Think about it–if someone is in the market to buy a computer for themselves, or possibly for their child who’s going off to college, they’re going to do it online,” Drenik said. “A person could watch TV for 24 hours straight and still not get as much info about buying a computer as they would in five minutes on the Internet.”

Indeed, about 25% of all respondents who were influenced by sponsored links said that they were in the market to purchase a computer, a television, furniture, an automobile, or a vacation package within the next six months. In contrast, the average for non-influenced respondents for the same five categories hovered at about 17%.

Drenik said that the data creates a compelling case for the efficacy of paid search as an ad model, particularly for advertisers concerned about a recession. “For companies that are complaining about their business not growing or wringing their hands about the economy, here are the people that are looking to make purchases, and this is the way to reach them,” Drenik said.

 

 

In Defense of Narrow-Minded SEM Shops

March 19, 2008

As a whole, the SEM (define) industry frequently takes some undue criticism. The reputation that precedes us is one of narrow-minded reliance on search traffic and a calculated avoidance of other avenues of traffic generation.This is similar to my walking into a transmission shop and asking the owners why they don’t seem too concerned about my car’s brakes.

To be fair, some SEM firms probably do tout organic or PPC (define) traffic as “all you need,” but not very many. Most reputable firms understand that search traffic is one slice of a very large pie of on- and offline marketing. But as specialists, they promote their own fields. Why wouldn’t they?

Is Search Traffic Even Necessary?

The backlash of this mindset is people not only question SEM motives but also whether SEM as a field (and the traffic associated with it) is even necessary or helpful.

In a recent post, Mike Markson (who works in business development for Topix) questioned whether top sites actually need search traffic: “Not so coincidentally, if you actually look at the recent successful sites over the past few years — YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. — none of them got there by Google traffic. They created a product and figured out a way to get mass appeal outside the Google regulatory system.”

Yes and no. I agree with the idea that with many viral sites don’t owe their initial popularity to search engines. For example, I don’t think the Facebook phenomenon owes much success to the masses searching for “social utility to enable me to connect with others.”

Search Engines’ Secondary Role?

On the other hand, what this post ignores is the secondary, societal role of Google and other engines. In most cases, engines like Google aren’t involved in creating branding success, but they’re critical to maintaining online brands. While people think of search engines primarily in the role of retrieving information they don’t yet know, it’s crucial to understand that engines serve a secondary purpose: retrieving information users already know about, because they found it there previously and expect it to be there again.

Simply put, the biggest social bookmarking sites in the world are not del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, or Ma.gnolia. The world’s biggest social bookmarking sites are Google’s and Yahoo’s search boxes.

It’s funny that Markson’s post mentions Facebook and YouTube. In 2007, both of those terms were on Google’s list of the 10 fastest rising queries. And both sites appeared in Yahoo’s 2007 list of the most popular tech queries. These rankings account for literally tens of millions of visits each year. So while these sites may not have engines to thank for their initial popularity, they do owe thanks to them for a significant delivery mechanism for that continued demand.

User Behavior Proves It?

I’m continually amazed at one aspect of user behavior at the search box. First, it’s quite odd for me to see “yahoo” as one of the top search queries at Google and “google” as one of the top search queries at Yahoo. They’re not in the top 10, but they’re very large.

Second, people don’t just search for site names at engines. Year in and year out, people search for entire URLs at the search box. Go to Google Suggest or use Yahoo Search, start typing “www,” and see what comes up. Your own site’s search logs probably reflect that habit. (I’m not sure whether people know they can actually type URLs into a browser’s address field or they know but are more comfortable searching for it.)

Conclusion

Search engines aren’t just for the initial search. Right or wrong, they enable users to “store” information for later use. If you maintain a big brand’s presence, it’s critical to know and utilize this.

But for popular sites, social or otherwise, that are growing weary of annoyingly high search traffic levels, fear not: there’s a solution. It’s been around for several years as a longstanding test of whether sites truly need search traffic or they’re simply trying to make a grand statement.

If search traffic really doesn’t matter to a site, the simplest solution is to exclude the entire site via the robots.txt file so it can no longer be crawled and indexed by engines. This isn’t a perfect solution, however; because of external link popularity, the site will still likely show up in search results for its name.

A better solution, if search traffic really doesn’t matter, is to choose a deserving charitable or nonprofit site and configure the server to redirect any traffic from Google, Yahoo, or Live Search to that deserving site.