SearchTHIS: Hot Talk from the Summit

A hearty welcome back from what I hope was a solid summer kickoff and day of solemn remembrance of those who fought to keep our country free. Among the key elements of my holiday weekend were taking a look back at a long week in the Florida heat with today’s top agency leadership: all of this at last week’s iMedia Agency Summit. With a little help from you, it turned out to be a pretty good week to talk about search.

As many Summit attendees will tell you, discussions continue well beyond the sessions. They tend to last far longer than the allotted one-hour timeslots. They bleed off into the hallways, dinners and even the carefully choreographed horticultural expeditions (read: golf outings). Indeed, one of the biggest benefits of an iMedia event is the Summit concept itself: a core group of authority sequestered in a remote location yields thought leadership.

Here’s a synopsis of the hot topics from on and off the stage, from Google bashing to the future of targeting, click fraud and everything in between, the lowdown from the summit hoedown.

Google bashing comes to a head

Among the category five (that’s tornado talk for heavy carnage) Google bashings heard around the business last week was some reader feedback.’s CEO Barbara Cole had this to say about the future of search engine marketing, no doubt in response to Google’s latest auction cost per thousand (CPM) based graphic ad unit offering.

“Search needs to stop calling itself search. It is not just about search, it is about what kinds of product offerings and functionality are available from the 'search' portals,” says Cole. “The name needs to change from Search Engine Marketing to Buying Whatever Ads Google Sells [BWAGS].”

Add that to a series of controversial tools and the less-than-adequate description of customer service from the recent Jack Myers report and you have something a bit shy of a Google love in.

Perhaps an ego check is in order for Google? Then again, it really doesn’t help when the news is riddled with profiles in wealth as Google employees cash out or sell big chunks of stock. According to the Washington Post, Wayne Rosing, Google's vice president of engineering, is leaving to take an unpaid academic position at the University of California at Davis. Rosing is apparently going to follow his passion in astronomy.

Well good for him, and even better for us if he finds that big rock heading for earth and offers an advance warning.

If I were in the position of obnoxious wealth as a result of unprecedented short-term success, the story would read somewhat differently: Search engine marketing luminary purchases island, forms Xbox cult.

Here’s a couple of thoughts all the way around. Note to Google: You will meet the same people on the way down. Note to rest of us: Envy is still part of the nasty seven.

Advanced search targeting

Speaking of Microsoft, MSN veteran and director of marketing for the search product, Bob Visse, seemed pretty optimistic about future search offerings. Everyone’s waiting to see what Microsoft will do next, and targeting seems to be the name of the game.

“We think there is a lot of untapped opportunity for advertisers to drive brand traffic with search. For example, it makes a lot of sense for brand advertisers to drive customers from search to brand experiential marketing campaigns and micro sites," says Visse. “Search is a very efficient way to drive traffic to high value branded experiences.”

While MSN’s paid search tools are still a year or so out, and marketers are excited about more players in the space, a few wondered exactly what effect advanced targeting methods will have on simple directive search. The question is this: If I do a search for Ford, what difference does it make how old I am or what my ethnicity happens to be? At that point how difficult is it to figure out what I want?

Visse provided the best practical explanation I have heard to date on the subject. He noted that search results will be more targeted to the user conducting the search because, in the above-listed example, auto accessories and vehicles are purchased by a broad base of consumers. He further explained that one person’s search for Ford might mean a new truck, while another’s might mean custom rims.

Indeed, it might just make sense to target beyond the text.

Desktops and fraud and standards, oh my!

No future dialogue is complete without discussing desktop search. Every major provider has some type of desktop search tool, and Google recently launched its enterprise level solution. The problem is, marketers have difficulty drawing the line from a software application to search advertising. Try to think of it this way: As the desktop space evolves, the tools used for desktop search will have a direct influence on the ones used for web search and ultimately the advertisements associated with them.

Another subject that seems to be impacting search’s future in a silent-but-deadly sort of way is click fraud. Estimates place the average number of fraudulent clicks to be as much as 20 percent, but experts continue to debate the source sites. In any case, fraud tracking has become a strong differentiator in third party search tool providers, demands measurement in every campaign and raises the question of need for terms and conditions and regulation.

Standards for natural search and click fraud aside, brand marketers have been writing in for some time about a bit more regulation in the paid search business, citing a need for same/similar standards with terms and conditions and third party auditing. In the interest of embracing advertisers and engaging agencies moving forward, Ts and Cs for search would seem to be in order. It would seem said marketers and third parties should lead the charge.

Insecticide for SEM

You can’t spend a week in Amelia Island without coming home with a few thousand insect and/or alligator bites, and you can’t wrap up a search discussion without pontificating about today’s issues. Our break out discussion on search focused on the future of what search marketing and technologies might bring us. At least that was the plan. Clearly past events will shape our future and we have to let a few things go before moving on. 

Agency panelists Ron Belanger, vice president of search engine marketing at Carat Interactive, and Bob Heyman, chief search officer at Mediasmith, were very optimistic about the future of relationships of search providers and agencies. Both cited recent positive changes in service sets and collaborative execution.

Last on the list of feedback and discussion points was the future of minimalist search. Will feature-rich search be all the rage, or will a simple search box (a.k.a. boring search) on a page do the trick? One reader wrote in with a pretty solid opinion. “I think over the long haul, 'boring search' will win out," says David Berkowitz, director of marketing at the search engine marketing firm, iCrossing. “Look at Drudge Report. Craigslist. eBay. Amazon. All are boring. But they’re effective.”

At the end of the day, it seems one thought really shines through the search marketing growth protective netting. Our midnight stroll on the SEM beach is certain to have a few bites, but with a little click fraud spray and the occasional industry regulating malaria shot we can continue to enjoy the moonlit view for many years to come.

Additional resources:

SearchTHIS! My Plan to End Spam

SearchTHIS! Debunking Click Fraud

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.

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