"WE'LL EVEN TAKE QUESTIONS ABOUT search
engine marketing." That was Jim Waltz, CEO of Conducive Corporation,
giving in to the audience mood at Frost & Sullivan's Internet
Marketing Strategies Symposium. For no matter what the workshop topic
was, presenters and audience members in Phoenix, Ariz. last week for
the conference couldn't stop talking about search.
The speakers at the event were unusually open. Whether it was a
marketer sharing aggregate customer data or a search engine
optimization expert revealing successful tactics while on stage with
competitors, Frost & Sullivan presented the most open and honest
environment I've encountered anywhere this side of an episode of Dr.
In light of all the sharing, I'll share a few search-related highlights from the event.
Lazy Is as Lazy Does:
One of the most provocative assertions at the conference came from
Avinash Kaushik, Intuit's senior manager of web research &
analytics. He called paid search "the lazy man's option."
This is a misconception branching off from some seeds of truth. Paid
search can be deceptively simple. A marketer can independently launch a
paid search campaign in minutes, whether the budget is $10 or $1
million. It's all a waste if you don't measure through to the
conversion, lead or meaningful metric of choice. Kaushik referred to an
AdWords campaign he ran where the customer acquisition cost was three
times higher than the average order size. Most search marketing
advocates in the room bristled, with Fortune Interactive CEO Andy Beal
vowing he could turn that into a profitable campaign.
Kaushik, one of my favorite speakers at the conference, discussed using
Web site analytics to improve the consumer experience. He urged the
audience to enlist analytics to challenge conventional wisdom. As an
example, he shared a test that showed how consumers coming via paid
search to a generic page with a slew of products converted just as well
as consumers coming to a more targeted page. The generic campaign was
thus more profitable, since it didn't involve the cost of creating
additional landing pages.
That case study has its limitations. Countless other case studies from
others show how landing page targeting and optimization can lead to a
higher return on investment. However, the big picture takeaway is a
powerful one: use available research to test your assumptions, and
accept that some of your assumptions may be unfounded.
Taking It Personally: One of the best sessions featured Brian
Price, Verizon's executive director of online marketing, discussing
personalization and privacy. He reminded attendees, "[Consumers don't]
know what we know about them."
To date, personalization discussions about search engine marketing have
centered on registered users who are logged in. Such a user may find
ads targeted to his or her demographics, interests and behavior, and
Google is experimenting with personalized search results. Yet one can
argue that a degree of personalization (used in its broadest sense)
occurs every time a user enters a search query which returns paid
search ads; the set of ads displayed changes based on the individual
user's query. It might not be true personalization, but for the user,
the experience is extremely personal. I'll return to this in future
editions, as consumer education, government pressure, improved
technology, and advertiser demand will turn personalization into the
most important and nuanced issue affecting online advertising this
Perfect Search: The one session where I wish I could have taken
more notes was the one I moderated. The panelists, one of the most
eloquent search marketing brain trusts assembled on a single stage,
included: Katherine Craig, director, online marketing &
distribution, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide; Scott Delea,
senior vice president and general manager, DigitalGrit; Jeff Hollowell,
CIO iCrossing; Aaron Shear, Chief Technology Officer, SEO Inc.; and
At the end, Brett Crosby, product marketing manager of Google
Analytics, asked the panelists for their favorite SEM tips and tricks.
Crosby shared one of his own, which he'd heard from SEO-PR co-founder
Greg Jarboe. Crosby mentioned how images added to press releases are
not only picked up by Google News, but the visuals sometimes appear
atop natural search results, adding to the exposure.
Several panelists stressed focusing on building out search
engine-friendly content that's keyword rich and still makes sense to
the user. Other recommendations: testing content in the Mozilla Firefox
browser, planning linking strategies, conducting A/B and multivariate
testing with paid search, simplifying domain structures, using domain
redirects with caution, and developing a sound pre- and post-click paid
The one and only tip I could add after the panelists' sage advice was
to use the time at the symposium to learn from one another. Whether you
attend an event, scour blogs and message boards, or take a peer out for
a cup of coffee, keep the conversations going. Fortunately, when it
comes to search engine marketing, there is no shortage of teachers.