Advertisers, Agencies & Automation Oh My!

Search Engine Strategies Chicago 2008

Moderator Greg Jarboe (President & Co-founder, SEO-PR) opened the session by asking the audience “Who on our panel is the Lion, the Tiger or the Bear…oh my?”  All Wizard of Oz references aside, there appears to be no clearly defined Yellow brick road to success in these tight economic times.

It would take a wizard to clearly see the future and direction of the current marketing but to the panel’s credit they gave it their best shot. The panel consisted of: Craig Macdonald VP of Marketing & Product Development, Covario Inc. Ellen Watson Relationship Marketing Manager for Child Care brands, Kimberly – Clark Corp. and Henry Hall, Head of Search Media Contacts NY.

All of the speakers took the opportunity to pull aside the curtain and offer some excellent insight into the strategies and business relationships necessary between search client and search marketing agencies and firms to tackle the tough economic times ahead. Magic Kingdom or bust!

The current cyclonic economic maelstrom has swept through and gutted most corporate marketing and advertising budgets in 2008 and all indicators point towards further cuts through 2009. It is more important than ever to speak to concerted, targeted, streamlined, efficient strategies that are trackable through conversion. Clients will weigh ROI against conversion more than ever before.

A Brain: Craig Macdonald spoke about “The new reality”. Economic trends are starting to affect even paid search advertising. Unthought-of even a few months ago, paid search showed a mere 5-10% growth in the last quarter (3rd 2008) compared to 35% growth in the previous period.

The market for paid search has obviously softened and Mr. Macdonald predicts significant cuts in paid search advertising during the first half of 2009. The bottom line is that companies need to get better at search marketing.

Pure branding campaigns are no longer an efficient use of marketing dollars. Companies are looking for targeted conversion driven strategies to drive direct consumer activity. Along with integrated cross marketing platforms and improved search techniques they will look to invest in improved landing page technology to better capture and entice conversion on their web properties. They will require consistent and comprehensive testing of all paid and organic search campaigns as proof to justify their ROI.

A Heart: Ellen Watson asked the question, “Where is the client in the mix?” Search agencies and firms need to work closely with clients in developing overall goals and expectations of any campaign. Clear, concise communication is paramount to success. Listen and use straight talk. Many clients want the results and not the details, some want it all.

The depth and comfort/trust established early on in the relationship between the agency and client will go a long way in determining the success and dynamics of the marketing plan going forward. As Ms. Watson put it, “We (executives) don’t need to necessarily know which bid management company we are utilizing, we just need to trust that it is the proper one for us and the campaign.” That comes from strong and trusted relationships established with reputable marketing firms.

Ms. Watson is a strong believer in triangulating your search strategies. The balance between budget, volume/impressions and traffic quality are key factors in spending. Anywhere you can acquire consumer contact is a conversion but you need to track and validate the quality of that contact to justify the ROI of any campaign. Search agencies and analytics teams need to work closely together to ensure the quality of your conversion traffic.

Courage: Henry Hall spoke about having the courage to streamline all of your processes to create greater efficiencies. Build a team and program focused on simplification and transparency of all processes, one centralized point of data collection and greater efficiencies and standardization.  Be nimble enough to act quickly and have the ability and options to tweak all campaigns to meet local market interests and trends. “We need to get away from the last click mentality.”

Not only for search but all other media.” Otherwise search will face the same budget cuts as all other media. “Search is too important to risk being lucky.” The courage to implement new team strategies with clearly defined and measurable goals is essential to survival and success. According to Mr. Hall, “Most companies have grossly underinvested in web analytics and they are essentially flying blind.”

The entire panel tackled the issue of the role technology will play in the process. The performance tracking of paid search, improved automation in auditing of natural search and the multi-variate testing capabilities of comprehensive search management were all key points discussed. According to one panelist, “Rank is becoming a less reliable indicator of the natural search process” and another noted, “Many organizations and businesses are looking at “true post click” as the arbiter of what is really happening”.

In the end the key is to build a strong team, set clear concise agreed upon goals, with measurable metrics, true analytics to support and define ROI, nimble strategies that allow for market fluctuations, patience and trust between the Client and the Search marketers. The Wicked Witch of Recession is upon us. But with a good brain, a little heart and a lot of courage we should be able to get back to the emerald city just fine.

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