Making your to-do list for the new year

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Now that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over, marketers need to revamp their search engine campaigns, experts say.

Helping consumers to save or to follow through with New Year's resolutions can be effective campaign ideas at this time, said Chrysi Philalithes, vice president of global marketing and communications at Miva Media, New York.

"'Saving' and 'new' are always big themes in the beginning of the year," she said. "The 'new' centers around New Year resolutions. The 'savings' manifests itself in January sales and overspending in December. Either way, monetary prudence is alive and well in January."

Recruitment, fitness, health and travel are strong categories early in each year, as people tend to make resolutions falling under these categories, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, finding a new job and taking more trips.

Because most people spend more in December than in any other month, financial offers are a strong category now as well, making it a good time to solicit ways to save or even take out new credit cards.

"[Retailers should] ensure they are clearing stock in their online January sales and gearing up for their spring campaigns," Ms. Philalithes said.

St. Valentine's Day campaigns are prominent for the travel sector, she said, while those in the entertainment sector should take advantage of Golden Globe and Oscar fever.

Stuart Larkins, vice president of search at Performics, Chicago, said marketers should begin a new year with a thorough analysis of their holiday campaigns.

"[Marketers need to consider] how performance was in regards to sales, ROI, site traffic and click-through rates," Mr. Larkins said. Assess your strengths and weaknesses to prepare for 2007.

Plan out the year's budgeting, sales forecasts, creative plans and test budgets for emerging search opportunities such as local, mobile, pay per call and innovations within the engines, he said.

"Marketers should have their annual search plans formulated and be implementing them while remembering that search can assist them to offload inventory from the previous season," Mr. Larkins said. "Finally, use any down time to implement custom research and gain a better understanding of your customers and how channel attribution is shifting."

Michael Bonfils, president of SEM International, Anaheim, CA, said Yahoo's new Project Panama paid search initiative is the most-discussed event happening in the first quarter of 2007.

"My top initiatives for the first part of the new year would be implementing, testing and allocating funds to Yahoo's new Project Panama, increasing our client campaigns in Europe and Asia and researching the effectiveness of Latin American online markets," he said.

John Rodkin, CEO of WebTrends Dynamic Search (formerly ClickShift), said marketers should be in their annual planning cycle for how they will manage campaigns in the upcoming year.

"The trend will be more integrated," he said. "Not just multiple channels online, but offline and online together," such as buying search terms for phrases that will be in your television commercials.

Planning is key because ad costs are steadily rising, Mr. Rodkin said.

"That's why they'll be doing more integrated marketing planning," he said. "They need to. They'll need to be creative at getting cross-channel success because they won't be able to get the results they used to with the same methods they used to use."

Focus on category naming and natural search early in the year to position sites well for the next holiday season, Mr. Rodkin said. Companies need to consider the search terms they want to emphasize long before September in order to get good placement before the holidays.

"So think now about what terms you want to emphasize and work the entire year to get good natural search placement," he said. "In some cases, the best thing you can do here is to emphasize some trademark phrases that you'll use consistently all year."

Meanwhile, advertisers should start St. Valentine's Day campaigns now if they're in that market, said Diane Rinaldo, senior director of the retail category for Yahoo Search Marketing.

"As things quiet down between Valentine's Day and spring shopping, these are good weeks for advertisers to focus on testing, catch up on new consumer insights and research," she said. "Also, they should be checking out the competition with upcoming [National Retail Federation, Retail Advertising Conference] and Shop.org retail conferences."

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