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SearchTHIS: Search is a Snap

Kevin M. Ryan
SearchTHIS: Search is a Snap Kevin M. Ryan

It never ceases to amaze me how innovation comes from the most unexpected places. Not happy with mainstream search’s answer to video? Try Blinkx.tv for a deeper video search experience. Butler not talking back the way you want him to? Head over to Answers.com. Got the click fraud blues? Try searching with Idealab’s Snap.com.

If you liked cost per click search advertising, you’ll love cost per acquisition search advertising. Yes ladies and germs, from the people who brought you GoTo.Com (later Overture and later still Yahoo! Search Marketing) comes a search engine that makes performance based search ads well, a snap.

Think you have been here before? Sure, cost per (insert desired site activity here) models are nothing new. But Snap has quite a few little twists that add up to a whole lot of innovation. Let’s take a look under the hood of the search beta that has people talking.

Search, Crackle, Pop!

The first thing you notice when performing a search on Snap is the dynamic refinement of your query as you type. Thanks to third party search query data dialed into a smart interface, searching becomes easier as you query is guided into the most popular direction. Of course, one could argue this is a bit restrictive, but the obvious intention is to eliminate unwanted results.

Snap relies on a variety of search technologies for its bells and whistles. A weekly feed purchased from an independent research firm shows the number of searches. Listing data is provided by the combined resources of Gigablast and LookSmart. News results are provided by Moreover Technologies. Another surprise comes from Idealab’s X1 Technologies. The same technology Yahoo! uses for its Desktop search lives inside Snap.

Snap offers a toolbar as well, but probably the most interesting aspect of the Snap experience is the product search. A search for “iPod” delivers an interactive multiple source grid. Searchers can refine results within the grid on the fly while getting product and purchase point information.

I know what you’re thinking, where do I sign up? Hold that thought for a moment, because you really have to see the ranking methodology.

A new way to rank

Snap is taking user selection to the next level. While paid results on the majors are currently self-regulated by click activity -- either with minimum click through rates, click popularity or a combination of both -- Snap uses actual conversion or desired activity information to help rank results. In other words, simply clicking into a site just won’t do it: the searcher has to buy something in order to climb the ranks.

Of course, the click to buy relationship is a bit dicey. Users often visit multiple sites before reaching a purchase point and it would seem a little flexibility is in order. “One of our goals is to be more transparent with both users and advertisers,” says Scott McCollister, Snap’s Senior Product Manager. “Until very recently, we were displaying conversion rates for advertisers as well, but we had to remove them because users were confused about the terminology.”

All the transparency in the world won’t help an advertiser if the measurement dynamics aren’t there. While the term “conversion rate” might be pretty self explanatory to you and me, this situation proves there’s still some work to be done in educating advertisers on a larger scale.

The buy in

Snap currently offers two different ways to get into search cost per action. The first is a fixed model that works exactly as it sounds: one price for all conversions. The second is variable in which revenue is achieved as a percentage of sales. This allows for a bit more flexibility to accommodate the needs of multiple product lines with varying margins.

While Snap’s advertiser system is still in beta, several enhancements are scheduled for release later this summer. There’s a dashboard reporting interface in the works, along with a feature that allows advertisers to reject specific conversions that don’t jive with sale or desired action data.

“The interface will look something like an interactive phone bill in which advertisers can review their conversions (including time of event, product ID, product price, et cetera) and reject any that are not valid,” reports McCollister. “Likely reasons for rejecting conversions would be test or mocked fake conversions. Again, any advertiser that chooses to reject valid conversions will see their ranking drop appropriately.”

Kind of makes the click fraud discussion disappear, doesn’t it?

Keep breaking the rules

As Snap moves out of Beta, they are promising some pretty sharp enhancements to their user and advertiser functionality. Along with the smart executive dashboard, shopping engine components from smarter.com will be integrated. Verticals are all the rage in search, and Snap plans to charge into these areas as well. The model looks like a winner, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to break into the search budgets.

Introducing new search technologies in today’s search advertising economy takes guts. I like that. The industry is worth billions. Search intermediaries have invested equal amounts of money and sweat in building administrative tools to help make sense of it all, so coming in with new ideas while initiating a paradigm shift is not for the faint of heart.

Each time you want to do something new or circumstance dictates a break-the-mold situation, there will be hordes of nay-sayers lining up to tell you it’s not the right fit. Well, I'm here to tell you that fitting into the mold is easy, and sometimes outside blood is exactly what you need to raise the bar.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations.

Kevin Ryan is the principal of Kinetic Results, Inc. a New York based online presence management firm.

Meet Kevin Ryan at AD:TECH Chicago, July 11, 2005.


The Wallflower

The Wallflower is easy to pick out at any event. Usually they hold a drink and stand at the perimeter of the event space during the networking events. This is typically the shy person who doesn't know many people at the event. What will make or break this person is how much intestinal fortitude they can muster based on their desire to succeed. Generally, I've found that the Wallflower falls into two types: shy but personable or shy and very socially awkward. The shy but personable people are the ones who generally are the best to network with because they form stronger relationships. Shy and socially awkward people have their work cut out for them. Sometimes they are classified as the Soloist, which is the person who, instead of hanging out on the sidelines, haunts the fringe of everyone's conversations but doesn't engage.

Another variation of the Wallflower is the Pod, which is when people from the same company stick together like they are connected by an invisible force.

If you find yourself being a Wallflower, Soloist, or Pod, there is a cure.

First, get out of your comfort zone and start talking to people. I used to be painfully shy, and at my first business event I had to resist my desire to be a Wallflower. I had clear objectives at this event: to increase the number of positively performing advertising campaigns. I knew that I couldn't achieve that goal by standing by myself. As I was observing, I saw someone about 30 feet away who seemed like the center of attention. He constantly had people around him, and he was clearly enjoying himself while exchanging business cards and starting new business relationships.

That person was Sean Finnegan, who possesses natural charisma and is a talented networker. He demonstrated several key facts about business events.

  • Networking events are fun, and you get the opportunity to meet interesting people.

  • Everyone (yes -- that means you) has something to bring to the table that others will be interested in.

  • Everyone is in the same boat as you, so muster up the moxie and start a conversation.

The Puffer (also known as the Windbag)

The Puffer is the opposite of the Wallflower in the fact that they have no problem inserting themselves into a conversation. These people are also easy to spot because they are talkative (and loud, with enough alcohol) but lack substance. In order to make up for substance, they compensate by casting themselves as much more important or talented than they actually are. These people aren't focused on building relationships, but on raising their own stature in the short term.

A variation of the Puffer is the Name Dropper, who starts every conversation with the people that they know or are connected with. Sometimes this is irrelevant to the conversation, but most of the time the name is dropped in order to make the Name Dropper seem more important in everyone else's eyes.

Have you fallen into this trap? If so, it's time for a little tough love.

The key with any conversation is to remember that it's not all about you. Treat conferences and networking events like a speed date where you are genuinely interested in learning about the other person. The digital marketing industry is full of amazing individuals worth getting to know -- both on a business and personal level. We would all rather do business with someone who we like. Be a good listener, and take a genuine interest in people. As a byproduct, you will end up learning a ton of valuable things that aren't mentioned on stage.

The Name Tag

Next time you're at an event, look at the angle of people's heads. While most people look level (unless, of course, you are taller than 6'4 or shorter than 5'2), the Name Tag's head is angled down, reading everyone's badge to determine who is "worth" their time. The Name Tag has trouble with eye contact because, even in the midst of conversation, they are looking at all of the name tags of the people walking by to quickly ascertain if another person will help them fulfill their short-term business objectives.

The primary purpose of going to a conference is to ultimately generate more business, but that doesn't mean you can stop paying attention to your surroundings. Quite the contrary, you need to have a heightened sense of observation. Engage in genuine conversations with everyone that you come across. If you are genuine, business will naturally follow. Sometimes this will be one-on-one and other times it will be part of a group. Observe who is leaving and coming into group conversations, but be mindful to not alienate those who don't serve your immediate business interests. Finally, learn how to exit a conversation gracefully, which is an art that will set you apart from even the most comfortable and talented networkers. Always look people in the eyes, thank them for the conversation, leave by stating any follow up that was discussed, and smile. Keep in mind that nobody expects you to hang out with them all night.

The Business Card Collector

If you had what you thought was a good conversation with someone at an event, exchanged business cards, but then never heard from that person again, you probably met the Business Card Collector. This person looks good to their boss immediately after an event because they have physical proof of their networking prowess. However, they typically lack the discipline to follow up and develop relationships that result in business.

This is an easy trap to fall into. It isn't too difficult to come back from a conference with 20 to 30 business cards from people you had a conversation with. It can easily become overwhelming if you have not developed your post-event follow-up process.

When I come back from a conference, I take all of the business cards and create three piles. The first pile is for the people where I don't see any current or near-term business, but could down the road. The second pile is for people where no business exists between my company and their current company (keep in mind that everyone jumps to a different company from time to time). Finally, the third pile is for the people where there is a current business opportunity. I send everyone, regardless of which pile, a LinkedIn invitation and personalize each invite.

Follow up everyone you met with via LinkedIn or email. Try to recall at least one conversation topic to get the conversation going, and let them know if you see a current business fit. For those with whom a current business opportunity exists, you should try to reach out within three days after the event to continue to build the relationship.

Remember that networking doesn't end when the event ends. Even if there isn't a direct business fit, keep in touch with as many people as possible and seek them out at future events -- even if it to just say "Hi." Maintaining these relationships could lead to future business or, as in my case, open the conversations that lead to a current job.

Mr. Entitlement

Have you ever had a brief conversation with someone at a conference who calls you later and expects a large insertion order simply because you had a drink together? Congratulations, you've met Mr. Entitlement.

Having a good conversation at an event or even discussing business possibilities doesn't entitle you to an insertion order. Business conversations at events usually just scratch the surface. For example, when I was on the media buying side, someone I had met more than a year earlier contacted one of the people on my team and explained that he should have "friend" pricing (whatever that means) and preferential terms because he and I spent some time together at a conference. In reality, he was overstating the extent of a conversation that lasted no more than 10 minutes. Regardless, nothing entitles you to any amount of business. Everyone (even Mr. Entitlement) should be evaluating any type of business relationship based on the merits and expected performance. 

Have you ever been Mr. Entitlement? Having confidence is one thing, but conveying entitlement based on a superficial conversation is something else. Approach every new conversation as a prospecting conversation. Most conversations that happen at a conference are simply launch pads for a more in-depth discussion. Take the time to nurture the relationship, and put your best foot forward.

I've also seen Mr. Entitlement turn quickly into Mr. Disgruntled. Remember that receiving a "no" doesn't necessarily mean "never" -- instead, it may mean "not now." Insulting your prospect or going over their heads will not win business. Instead, you risk permanently closing the door for you and your company.

What is your networking persona?

Before your next business event, think about your short-term and long-term objectives. Then consider what persona will help you achieve them.

The formula is simple: 

  • Have clear objectives

  • Be genuine in all of your conversations

  • Create and maintain a follow up system

  • Keep in touch with the people you meet

Have you run across other personas that make someone a terrible networker? Share your story below.

Sean Cheyney is the VP of sales and business development at Triad Retail Media.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Composition of diverse people smiling," image via Shutterstock.


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