SearchTHIS: More Integration Concentration

Last week, we discussed -- in a neatly packaged homage to the greatest creator of sophomoric yet moderately cerebral filmmaking in our time, Kevin Smith -- the development of agency in search and the foundation of search specialist firms' hostilities toward the agency world. Indeed, to really enjoy and possibly allow oneself to absorb the messages in a movie like 'Dogma,' one must separate the message from the big rubber poop monster, as it were. 

Likewise in search, without several grains of salt and a great sense of humor, many times the marketer's message, goals and objectives can get lost in a myriad of hype, misinformation and conjecture. So here we go again, closing out this series of shattering search marketing dogma, in the hopes that we all don't end up as clerks selling cigarettes and smelling like shoe polish.

Potzers, Inc.

What the hell is the FTC up to? Seriously. I've had a rant cooking about this since I saw the letter just over two years ago demanding search listings be labeled advertisements. OK, search sites labeled all of their listings as such, now back off. This means leave inclusion alone, as it is the last bastion of search engine marketing freedom.

I have an idea -- why don't we ship Ralph Nader and the subsequent interested parties at the FTC over to the terrorist training camps? They can teach the boys who are planning to blow up our national landmarks about the delicate intricacies of labeling search ads and nitpicking every aspect of our otherwise happy lives. I am guessing the terrorists will either kill themselves, or begin feeling so sorry for us they'll call off the next wave of attacks. In any case, it might be a nice hobby for them, and they desperately need one.

Also in the Potzer category is the bane of an honest search marketer's existence, the spammer. Search spammers not only give the industry a bad name but they also make it difficult for the honest folks to make a living by offering comparatively inexpensive -- although ultimately worthless -- services. 

Last week, I had the unfortunate displeasure of listening to the sales pitch of one these less than savory search firms. Said slimeball had some of the slickest sales tactics I have ever heard, but the misinformation presented had me writhing in agony. For instance, I was not aware that Google is required by law to crawl Web sites. And, while their activities are not considered spam by the evil dark lord Google (are they kidding?) they somehow managed to get their own URL banned from the Google index. Right. Of course. I am sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for being banned and I have for sale a sharp-looking 1982 Buick Skylark with only 3,000 miles on it. Honest.

"I am not even supposed to be here today"

The now ubiquitous story of one marketer generating tremendous buzz with a Super Bowl spot exhibiting a new product launch without including a search component epitomizes today's lack of integration in search. While the ultimate point may have gotten lost amid Janet Jackson's "nipplegate" scenario, this action (or lack thereof) is unfortunately typical of the agency or search firm disconnect with product-launch search marketing. A new product release is planned, media initiatives are planned, marketing efforts are planned, but it is difficult to assign a cost or plan for terms yet to be searched -- so it is generally left behind.

The real problem here is forecasting (more on this later) search spending. In order to effectively project paid search costs, optimization firms and agencies alike use historical search numbers, estimate costs based on average bid prices and project traffic. It's not exact, but before losing sleep over how to include search, an advertiser might be well suited addressing whether or not search is actually needed or finding creative ways to include search aside from buying product-specific terms.

Let's say, for argument's sake you are one the biggest brands in the soft drink universe. And, oh, let's say you buy up a lot of the real estate on Yahoo! and MSN to help with the Internet portion of a new product launch. OK, so I am referring to last month's Coca Cola C2 launch. Amid much hype and well-orchestrated positioning, the new cola was introduced to the Web world via two powerhouse portals. Search was conspicuously absent from the launch and Coke came under fire for skipping search, but was search even necessary?

According to Hitwise clickstream data for in the week ending June 19, the site received very few visits from search engines. Hitwise indicated the majority of visits came from Yahoo! (58.43 percent) and MSN (19.61 percent) homepages and the Coca Cola Web site (1.58 percent). Further analysis from Hitwise showed two search engines, Yahoo! search (0.87 percent) and Google (0.16 percent) sending a very small portion of traffic into the C2 site. The fact is, very few searches were actually conducted for C2 keywords and time spent attempting to forecast "future search" was obviously better spent elsewhere.

The bottom line? Integration for the sake of integration is a barrier to integration in and of itself. The Coke people have been well served in the past buying search terms or optimizing for search when celebrity promotions are involved or to send traffic into other specific promotions. In this instance, it appears buying the keyword "C2" may have been like adding Velcro straps to sneakers with laces.

My karma ran over my dogma

Industry organizations are easy targets for "we the pundits." While I will be the first to call bullspit when one of these partial liabilities does something categorically stupid (like, for example, aligning with an industry publication… ahem), I have to applaud the efforts of the two big wigs in this space. The always with us Interactive Advertising Bureau  (IAB) and Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) are making strides to help SEM integration proliferate.

While the IAB launched its SEM roadshow  last week beginning in Los Angeles, SEMPO has been busy with helping its members reach out to the online community. Checking their respective Web sites frequently will help keep you up to speed on each organization's activities. You'll find the roadshows, the studies and the articles. But you won't find many agencies, given the bulk of members are either search specialists or search sites.

And yet, we are all still 'Chasing Amy'

I am still waiting for the blockbuster Kevin Smith film, just like I am waiting for search to win big at the integration box office. In both cases, I have high hopes. There are positive signs with industry education initiatives and research indicating increased adoption rates yet both search firms and agencies alike are quibbling over scraps.

In almost every environment there are opposing forces of good and evil. One might find bright, good-hearted people in an agency, or, one might find a series of sociopaths who thrive on chaos. In a search firm, one might find professionals interested in developing a balanced search initiative, or one might find a series of morons hell bent on fooling the evil search engine masterminds. 

In the end, I am reminded of words from ever present foul mouthed, simpleton, weed-head and incorrigibly gauche, Jason Mewes, "Dude, the whole world's against us, I swear to God." Clearly, we are a long way from holding hands and singing together.

iMedia columnist 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. Meet Ryan at the Jupiter Advertising Forum, July 28-29.