A millionaire friend once told me, "What it all boils down to, Paul, is that I always keep my shovel in the manure pile." He was referring to how successful C-level executives always maintain complete awareness of every aspect of his or her business-- not only knowing everything from the bottom up, but actually digging into every nook and cranny. His management style is reminiscent of Tom Peters' management by walking around.
I admire a business manager who digs into every aspect of the business, and I believe this quality remains the distinguishing characteristic of today's successful C-level manager.
C-level employees need the knowledge
As we all know, search engine marketing is a critical and effective marketing strategy that provides an excellent return on investment (ROI). By virtue of the improved KPIs (key performance indicators) in web analytics reports, savvy marketers understand SEM's value. But what about your C-level execs? Do they know? Do they care? A word of advice: they better know.
The company website: your internet presence
Your website touches virtually every aspect of your business, as well as every one of your employees, new and old customers, vendors, investors and business associates-- even your competitors. Your site has a tremendous impact on achieving your business goals. It is the workhorse that pumps up your bottom line. This means its health and maintenance are key to your company's success.
While your website is the engine that drives success, search marketing is what fuels that engine. That's because search engines drive qualified prospects to your site that are likely to convert. This is most certainly something you can quantify and bring to the attention of your company leadership. It will quickly show them the value (ROI) of your efforts.
You can also direct customers to your online website through offline and online marketing campaigns. Just imagine the implication of this statistic reported by comScore recently: U.S. residents conducted 5.15 billion searches in November 2005. Google's search sites processed 2.05 billion of those searches (39.8 percent of web traffic), followed by Yahoo sites with 1.52 billion (29.5 percent).
Both your corporate image (brand), and your company's product/service, are being viewed and sought while you sleep at night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Where is your shovel?
Search is a great place to start digging, and if you don't like to dig, then delegate it to your VP of marketing, asking him or her to keep you informed. Whatever you do, you must get your website and its search marketing strategy under tight control. You must understand every aspect of what's going on in the search world as it relates to your business and your competitors.
Know all the search strategies available that can drive unique visitors and conversions to your site. With search engine optimization (SEO) as your foundation, you can also take advantage of various paid search strategies including paid inclusion, pay-per-click, search contextual ads, pay-per-call and more.
Don't play Russian roulette with your marketing program; get educated on how search marketing can enhance your internet presence while improving your bottom line. Recent research shows that national advertisers are creating a new budget item for search marketing while other companies are shifting money from existing marketing and website development programs to search engine marketing. But remember, your C-level decision makers will need to be constantly aware of the progress of your efforts.
Don't do the hokey pokie
Do not "put your left foot in, put your left foot out." Jump in with both feet and familiarize yourself with the features and benefits of all search marketing strategies.
While the uninitiated may simply grab the low-hanging fruit of pay-per-click, savvy marketers will lay the foundation with organic SEO. Research shows that 70 percent of internet users click on natural listings, versus 30 percent on paid listings. Organic links are perceived as unbiased, therefore more credible than paid links.
When you don't have SEO in your marketing mix, you incur an opportunity cost as search rankings and keywords become more competitive from year to year. One of my clients wanted to be well ranked for a keyword with 1.5 million pages indexed in Google two years ago, relying only on sponsored links. Today, that keyword has over 80 million pages indexed in Google. And according to Yahoo Search Marketing, that keyword is now searched over 1 million times each month, averaging about $2 per click. It now takes at least two years to become well ranked in the natural listings. That's your opportunity cost.
Empowerment with analytics
Web analytics both validate and empower search marketing. Search is the first step toward improving your internet presence. That's because the majority of web visitors start with search engines to get where they're going, and search is the most popular internet activity after email. This means most of your traffic comes from search.
The first step after setting up your KPIs through web analytics is to address your organic search results before your sponsored search results. According to Jupiter Research, 87 percent of commercial traffic from major search engines is organic or natural, non- sponsored traffic results.
Your analytics KPI reports are the first line item to check off your list. KPIs are one of several items on the dashboard. If you're going to drive company profits, make sure you have a dashboard to look at-- and a rear-view mirror to see where your business comes from. This data is available with web analytics, the tool that contributes to the continuous improvement of your website and marketing campaign performance. This can also be an extremely useful tool, providing an analytics dashboard for your C-level execs.
Search marketing as part of IPM
At Red Door, Internet Presence Management refers to the ongoing improvement in the way your company functions on the internet. The term itself evolved out of the desire to distinguish between web development (i.e., the programming and design of web-based applications, emails, websites, and so on) and the ongoing (or "evolving") nature of the way companies do business online, which includes not only the site (a destination), but also search engines, blogs, wikis, business process automation software, and so on.
Limitations of sponsored search
Sponsored search requires significant management and controls to achieve the results you need.
Yahoo Search Marketing is one of the leading providers of sponsored search traffic. Two examples of sponsored search case studies conducted by Yahoo Search Marketing are quoted below:
- Fairmont Hotels has been able to achieve an average cost-per-sale (CPS) of 3 percent within its Yahoo Search Marketing campaign. Fairmont increased its revenue by a whopping 57 percent and its brand awareness went from 2 percent in 1999 to 17 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2004.
- EverythingHome, formerly EverythingBagel, is an online retailer that offers hundreds of home-related products. They wrote customized titles and descriptions that attract interested buyers to their site, EverythingHome's search listings grew to nearly 5,000, so did their business. Consistently, EverythingHome has seen results as they have achieved almost a 50 percent ROI while generating close to $500,000 in sales.
Imagine the pleasure your execs would have with these results. Now remember, in both cases, it took a lot of time and investment to acquire, and it was no easy walk-in-the-park. Yes, it can be done. No, it's not just a matter of signing-up and counting the clicks. There are dozens of granular issues to address.
Virtues of organic search
With organic search, your search engine results page (SERP) translates into the real estate mandate for "Location, Location, Location!" Type in a search query at Google for "Fraud Protection" and you may see the following SERP with listings in the Golden Triangle (the F-shaped area on SERPs where websites appear for optimal search engine visibility in both paid and natural listings).
A primary factor to consider in organic search is user preference for organic links, illustrated in the chart on internet user behavior.
Studies suggest that B2B internet users prefer natural (organic) search results when presented with a choice.
As shown in almost every instance, users chose organic over sponsored search results. Other studies indicate that B2C and B2B2C internet users mirror B2B user behavior in similar percentages.
When you consider roughly 70 percent of searchers at Google and Yahoo prefer organic to sponsored links, and given the Golden Triangle eye tracking results, you can begin to appreciate the value of being listed in the top three organic search results for your industry.
Reinventing your business
Once you've integrated web analytics with your website functionality and achieve a good balance of organic and sponsored search links, you will have reinvented your business with improved website performance. Installing analytics and search on your dashboard will require the completion of several other prerequisites, including site architecture, page construction, content and linking. Your site architecture will be a thematical vault of valuable data. Your page construction and content will match up with the science of relevance. And popularity, as others link to you, will be yours to have and to hold.
In the process, you will have developed a superior site and will be presenting yourself to the world as the subject matter expert. Your competitors may try to take you down, but it can take them years to catch up. And when budget time comes rolling around, you'll have plenty of backing to show your value to the company and its success.
Your next step will be to set-up a perimeter, define additional objectives, add new features to the dashboard and continuously improve performance. You'll be strong and centered with support from the basics that got you there.
Search industry standards
The call for search marketing industry standards dates back to 1996, and thus far the industry is yet to step up to the plate. I trust we will see the search marketing industry continue to increase its value, authenticity and integrity by identifying standards and supporting ethical business practices in the future.
Perhaps due to the lack of search marketing standards, many businesses have ignored this valuable marketing strategy and at their peril. That said, I have one tip for you before I sign off: get a methodology document from your search marketing vendor or agency. Read it and understand every detail; study it as you would study the manual to your new 60" plasma screen or Bentley Arnage T.
And most importantly remember keep that shovel in the manure pile, and always, always let your company leadership know and understand your work and its amazing impact on the firm's bottom line.
Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As director of search marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services. Paul has provided search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) services to thousands of websites, including clients like Lexis-Nexis and NASDAQ. Paul is a well-known industry columnist, having written articles for ClickZ, iMediaConnection, Search Engine Guide, Pandia and MarketingProfs. He has also been a featured speaker at the Search Engine Strategies Conferences and at eComXpo. Paul can be reached at 619-398-2670 ext. 127.
Boldly go where they've never gone before
After hearing an earful about the limitations of internet video from a content perspective, I ask the room if they've ever heard of Joost, a video destination site still in beta testing. Only Todd and Andrea, who downloaded the small application ahead of time, know about the site. But nobody in my ad hoc focus group has high expectations for what they're about to see.
With the click of a button, Todd transports us all from the familiar -- and pedestrian -- YouTube to Joost, where Adam quickly remarks that he finds the streamlined layout pleasing to the eye.
But the crowd is still wary, having been burned by too many bad internet video experiences. And so when Todd selects a full-length "Star Trek" episode, the room settles in for a laugh at the expense of yet another platform that promises the world while delivering ad-supported buffering.
To everyone's surprise, a high-quality video begins to play instantly and without interruption either from wonky technology or distracting ads.
Barrett marvels at the quality, while Andrea takes note of a friendly banner ad precisely because it does not interrupt her viewing experience by appearing inside the stream or flashing while the video plays.
But Adam and Michelle, who say they like what they see, remain cynical.
"Todd has the right equipment for this," Michelle says, as Adam notes that even the best computer screen isn't as comfortable or familiar as his couch and TV.
Yet the more the group plays with Joost, the more they seem to be willing to acknowledge a world where internet video has more to offer than Chris Crocker pleading with world to leave his beloved Britney Spears alone.
Todd smiles and says he's going to look to Joost for at least some of his video content. But the others aren't so sure…
The catch, the catch
Everyone laughs when Hervé Villechaize shouts, "The plane, the plane!" as Todd opens an old episode of "Fantasy Island." But after a few laughs, it becomes clear that Joost has cornered yesterday's content market, not today's.
We open the Comedy Central channel and disappointment sets in.
"It's got everything you don't want to watch," Todd says.
While Joost has high-quality content, its offerings aren't as competitive as the group would have hoped.
Todd wants to watch old episodes of "Star Trek" and Barrett is intrigued by an Elvira-branded horror film channel, but the others aren't so keen on the content offerings.
Adam sums it up, saying Joost has great platform that needs better content.
Looking for different, newer content, we check out Veoh.
Barrett and Adam criticize the layout, which appears cluttered to them compared to Joost.
But when we find an episode of "Arrested Development," everyone is pleased until the pre-roll appears.
To be fair, it's a short clip from Cisco that doesn't last more than a few seconds, and after it runs, the video plays without commercial interruption.
For Andrea, pre-roll is just another place where video is likely to buffer or fail altogether. She's been there before and she's cut shows out of her media diet because of it. So when she sees pre-roll, she doesn't think about the ad, she thinks about the likelihood that she won't get to see her favorite show.
Adam, who says he's OK with the pre-roll, makes a point TV advertisers are coping with on a daily basis.
"I could just as easily watch this on TV without the ads because I have TiVo," he says.
Barrett, who doesn't mind the pre-roll, says it's still a tough sell.
"It's all about expectations," Barrett says. "If I'm watching TV, I expect ads every 10 or 15 minutes, but I know I'm also getting something done by professionals with an excellent picture. On the internet, I don't have those expectations, and so I just don't have the patience for the ads, especially if it's short content."
But that's not the only problem with Veoh.
The picture quality leaves something to be desired. Everyone wants to go back to Joost, or worse yet, break out a DVD. Although it loads relatively fast and there's no buffering, Veoh suffers from diminished picture quality compared to Joost. So even though everyone rates the Veoh picture quality as high compared to what they see elsewhere on the web, it's still not high enough to sustain a 30-minute show.
Back to You, Tube
I try to show the group one more site, but the fact that the unnamed destination is down highlights how precarious long-form internet video really is.
So when I instruct Todd to load [website name omitted], the group turns to me as if to say, see, this is the kind of uncertainty we deal with when we try to watch video online.
Then someone remembers that there's footage of an exploding whale on YouTube and we return to the comfort of internet video's established powerhouse.
As debris from the beached whale carcass falls from the sky, and someone remarks, this is the great thing about the internet, I can't help but ask if anyone has ever seen an ad on YouTube.
YouTube launched its pilot ad program last year and has had trouble making it work. No one has seen an ad, but they all have a piece of advice for the Google-owned video company -- keep the ads out of the video player.
There's something terribly basic about TV from a user perspective. You watch the show, the ads come on, you go get a snack, and you watch the rest of your show. But while internet video may look a lot like TV (assuming the content and the quality make their way to the computer screen), the advertiser/user relationship is something quite different.
That old exchange between brands and people didn't require advertisers to delve into the minutiae of a consumer's viewing habits. After all, the medium and the advertisers set the rules. But internet video is first and foremost the domain of the users, so it's worth finding out what they think.
Perhaps you've played with some of today's video portals or done qualitative research with a user that goes beyond the usual metrics. If so, I encourage you to join the conversation and share your thoughts with the community by posting a comment.
Editor's note: Adam, one of the people who expressed concern that Joost only looked good because of Todd's expensive monitor, tried to run the application at home. To his dismay, he got a message telling him he couldn't support Joost even though his computer met all of the site's requirements. Slaying the TV giant is indeed a tricky endeavor.
Michael Estrin is associate editor at iMediaConnection. Read full bio.
Bryan Maleszyk, senior experience designer, Isobar North America.
I'm somewhat bearish on the LBS app ecosystem right now. With all of the badges and pins on offer with apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, I think we're reaching a point of "badge fatigue," where badges and their ilk are now more of a commodity and less of a reward. My current favorite location-based apps are the ones that have moved beyond the check-in/badge pattern. There are two that come to mind: The first is Whrrl. Whrrl's differentiator infers context from your interactions -- something that they call a "society." If you frequently check in to your local cafe, you might join the Coffee Lovers society. Within a society, you get more relevant recommendations, deals, and rewards. These societies can be targeted by society owners, who can create relevant society rewards for users to earn. The more relevant rewards potentially lead to hire customer acquisition and loyalty through.
The other LBS social network to keep an eye on is SCVNGR. SCVNGR's mission is to "create a game layer on top of the world." Basically, users go places, check in, and then perform activities (called "challenges" in SCVNGR-speak), such as snapping a photo or answering a trivia question, for which they are awarded points (and potentially, rewards, such as discounts or special offers). Calling SCVNGR a game is a little far-fetched -- it's more Pavlov than Warcraft -- but it's an interesting and unique way to increase the interaction between businesses and customers and it's definitely an app to keep your eye on.
Mae Karwowski, community manager and strategist
Location-based apps know where you are and (fingers crossed) use this information to augment your experience. Some succeed with flying colors, enhancing an evening out or a day spent wandering a city. Others simply drain battery, and now that we're outside without an outlet to call home, a dead phone becomes a scary possibility. Here are some of my personal favorite location apps:
Utility location apps
Marco: in terms of utility, this one is fantastic. Share your exact coordinates with a friend and have them do the same. It makes calling and describing which corner of the street you're on look old school. One nifty feature: Your friend doesn't need to have the app on their phone.
Fashism: Does this shirt make me look fat? Upload a photo of yourself in your outfit before you leave the dressing room or your apartment, and get real time feedback from stylish people. I am indecisive in the morning, so this is really fun.
KickMap: What's the best way to get from here to there using public transportation? KickMap takes your location data and does all the work for you. Which trains are arriving soon and which are held up are all laid out in the palm of your hand. I haven't been left stranded on the subway platform in ages.
Social location apps
Foursquare: Now that Foursquare has photo uploads, I'm really happy with the user experience. You are served content from your friends, whether it's a beautiful sunset or quirky coffee cup. My favorite reason to use Foursquare has always been to keep a location based diary of sorts. Now my personal record of places visited has so much more content.
Facebook places: It's geolocation plus your entire social graph. The possibilities for fantastic integrations are boundless, and right now it's cool enough to show your friends what you're up to in a place they'll actually see it (their newsfeed). You're much more likely to get comments and feedback when you use Facebook Places.
Meet Gatsby: Add Meet Gatsby as a friend on foursquare, and then enter in keywords to describe your interests. Meet Gatsby will send you a text when you are near someone else whose interests match up. Right now very few people use it, so the only sure-fire common interest will be "tech." But it's still a cool idea!
Word Lens is not a location-based app, but it is about to make traveling in a country where you do not speak the language much easier. Hold this augmented reality app up to text, and it will translate the words into your language on the screen. Right now it is in English and Spanish only, but this powerful translation tool is a glimpse of exciting things to come.
Here are a few apps that had promise but I've since deleted from my phone:
Future Checkin: I'm tired of checking in everywhere on my phone, and my non tech friends make fun of me. Future Checkin solves this problem by auto checking you in to venues from your pocket. This sounds cool, but in practice it kills your phone quickly, and you definitely can't check in at all when your phone flat lines.
SCVNGR: This app adds game dynamics to any activity by creating tasks and challenges for you to complete. It has received a lot of press and funding, but that can't get me to like scavenger hunts. A good idea in theory, but there's just not enough time in the day. I'm over it.
In-store coupon apps: Get coupons in store to your phone sounds financially responsible and exciting! Too bad only a few big box stores have signed on and there are so many apps that do this that it's hard to actually get deals.
Lucia Davis is associate editor at iMediaConnection.
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