SearchTHIS: Much Ado About Searching

Absolutely nothing happened in search last week. Well, there were a few possible exceptions. All over the world search marketers optimized pages, developed keyword lists, studied return on advertising spending figures and adjusted artificial intelligence on bid management tools.

Come to think of it, there were a few thousand people in the Chicago Sheraton, attending ad:tech. Details are a little sketchy, but as I recall there were discussions about online advertising innovation from one or two big brands' decision makers like Motorola, Purina and E-Loan.

There were discussions about budgets, brand persuasions, blogvertising (heaven help us) and -- wait a minute -- one or two thoughts on search marketing. You know what? Now that I think about it, there may have been one or two slices of Chicago style worth sharing.

Nothing but us search marketers

If you had chosen to brave deep-dish-pizza town last week to bone up on search, then you would have been treated to a few smart sessions on search engine marketing. Some of the search-focused conference rooms were slightly less than packed, which allowed for some fantastic one-on-one discussions.

Sitelab co-founder Dana Todd and Range Online's CEO Cheryl Pingel led a sharp discussion on the tools of the search marketing trade in a paid search session designed for gurus. Smartest words of advice in a search session to date? Don't leave those low volume keywords behind. Just because less than millions of people a day are not searching for a particular term doesn't mean you shouldn't be buying it.

Yours truly appeared with Greg Sterling, senior vice president of the Kelsey Group. We had a lively discussion about the search landscape, vendor selection, and the broad spectrum of user behavior. Key thoughts included the need for simplified click fraud and brand usage monitoring in paid search. Sterling cited multiple sources with sobering research on buying behavior:

  • 92 percent of purchases influenced by search in the CE/C category were made offline (comScore 2004)
  • 74 percent of survey respondents say they research online and buy offline (BIGresearch 2005)
  • 62 percent of U.S. online consumers prefer to buy offline (Forrester, 2005)

How about those metrics? Still think you're tracking all of your return?

Nothing in common

Here's a thought that speaks to the mind of marketers. Interestingly enough, the same question popped up (from the same attendee) in the Todd/ Pingel session as the Sterling/ Ryan session. Is it better to hire separate firms for paid and natural search? For a complete answer, please pay close attention to the following paragraph.

Barbara Cole, chief executive of Webmamma, Inc. and Rob Garner of discussed "Optimization Strategies and Tactics for Achieving High Visibility in Search Results." This get-back-to-basics session explored everything from search as a brand device or the all-too-popular sales tool. Cole offered an interesting twist on paid search as an organic or natural search optimization tool. Through effectively studying conversion rates from paid terms a site owner will learn key terms that should be optimized in the organic world.

Using every aspect of search in concert will lead to more effective search engine marketing and online advertising -- that's just the beginning of the knowledge fountain from search. Does that answer your question? 

Nothing but new metrics

Performics' Chris Henger, senior vice president of marketing and product development, stole the show with his study on search behavior, completed with a little help from comScore's mega panel. Speaking of comScore, vice president of research, James Lamberti, recounted the latest consumer electronics study with Yahoo! searchers completing 92 percent of sales offline.

Henger's study concluded that buyers conducted multiple related searches prior to making a purchase. Consider the travel category, which averaged six relevant searches in the 12 weeks before a transaction. Brand names were much more likely to be used closer to a purchase. Once again, in the travel category, nine percent of clicks occurred in the same session as the purchase, and 49 percent of these clicks included a merchant's brand name.

Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce you to a wonderful new concept? Let's call it the pre-purchase desired action funnel. Drop me a line if you want a complete description and metric architecture, but let's start with reducing our collective dependence on brand terms as the sole revenue generator in search terms.

A success criteria overhaul may be in order for some, but getting senior managers to, ahem, buy into new metrics after being hooked on direct conversions for so long may be something of a task.

Not for nothing, try some feeds

The original master of moderation, Dan Boberg, senior director of partner programs and technology at Yahoo! Search, profiled the schizophrenic buying habits of shoppers: switching back and forth between buying terms and search sites is rule, rather than the exception for buyers, wherever they might complete the purchase.

We later heard from Matt Solomon, vice president of marketing at; Chris Bowler, vice president and media director for; Carolyn Larson, senior manager of interactive marketing strategy for Carlson Hotels; and Lori Krzyewski, vice president of marketing and advertising for Barrie Pace: all of whom sung the praises of direct and ongoing communication with search sites.

They referred to the practice of providing feeds (large quantities of data in a digital format, also called paid inclusion feeds) to keep important pages top of search for advertisers. They pointed out a few key benefits of using feeds:

  • Keeping inventory fresh and indexed
  • Getting content, otherwise un-indexed onto search spider radar
  • Fast, easy and reliable ways to get inventory into shopping engines

Panelists were quick to point out that a feed is not a fire-and-forget missile. A program requires constant massaging, but it is oh so worth it.
Nothing, but nothing, can stop search

Every time I hop the plane, train or automobile home from ad:tech, I carry with me one overwhelming feeling. Some would call this the overall theme of the show. Maybe the "nothing" sensation I was having wasn't inspired by the lack of headline activity. It quite possibly could have been the absolute nothing one feels when confronted with the horrible realization that one's occupation is no longer the latest and greatest thing.

It's about time. All that search press was starting to get on my nerves.

Search got a couple of solid mentions in keynote sessions, but the most inspiring was a comment from Steve Pinetti, Kimpton Hotels' senior vice president of marketing. Mr. Pinetti referred to paid search marketing as something that was on its way to his marketing budget, and he knew it was going to be expensive. If a premium travel brand like Kimpton has yet to enjoy an important part of the search experience, this can mean only one thing: Search engine marketing may not be new and exciting, but it's still anyone's game to win. 
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 chief strategy officer at Zunch Communications.