Search is a silver lining

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There's also, of course, still chatter of a Yahoo-Microsoft partnership, which many experts believe is the only chance that Google could meet any significant competition. But even as Google reigns supreme, marketers stress the importance of not giving up on other engines. 

"There's a substantial percentage of people who haven't given up searching on Yahoo and MSN," McVeigh says. "However, because Google is constantly rolling out new and easy-to-use features, more and more advertisers are mistakenly making the choice to only advertise there."

At the very least, he points out, brands' should make sure that their high-value terms are on all the major engines. 

Mobile search is another trend that marketers thought would fly high this year. And, with the proliferation of Apple's iPhone and other Web-enabled mobile phones and devices, marketers are keeping their eyes on mobile search. However, some say 2009 is just not the year for the channel to truly blow up. 

"The iPhone has a killer application for mobile search right now, but no killer app for the advertisers," McVeigh says. "Mobile in general is improving more from the user perspective, but isn't quite there yet from the advertiser perspective."

Additionally, more marketers say they are lumping mobile search into their local search budgets. Murray says mobile really stresses the importance of local search because 80% to 90% of queries from mobile devices are local in nature. "Unless I'm killing time at the airport, I'm not browsing for a new car on my mobile phone," he says, "I'm looking for a gas station, a restaurant, a bank or something of that nature when I'm on the go."

Schwartz says the idea of advertisers moving more quickly into the mobile space is dependent upon mobile agencies and applications being able to deliver the same type of measurability available online.

"In the past, we saw more and more companies testing mobile campaigns because budgets were looser," he says, "As we get better at measuring the results of mobile marketing, I think we'll see more marketers try to embrace it in more interesting ways."

Agencies are beginning to stress integration now more than ever — not only with each component of a brand's marketing mix, but also with all of a brand's agencies.

"More and more, our clients are giving us full insight to their budgets and other agencies," Murray says. "Because of this, we can make sure that anything they're doing offline or in other online initiatives that are driving intent, that we're there to capture that intent via search."

Garner says generating returns is not a one-way street. "Search doesn't do it all," he continues, "You have to be ready to meet search intention through a landing page, compelling content and a specific call to action."

Murray adds that transparency and communication between agencies will synchronize marketing efforts and maximize the efficiency of all channels.

But perhaps more importantly, McVeigh says this type of integration can also save money. When search drives to a landing page, which prompts an e-mail capture, it's easy to see how search can impact other channels, he says. "Marketers are asking the tough question: 'How do we make this all work in unison and not as separate limbs from the same body?'" he explains. "You can't afford to spend that same money again and again, reacquiring those customers through paid search."

A down economy is no excuse for search campaigns to remain stagnant, especially with changes in so many industries, says McVeigh. "In every industry vertical there's been a pretty seismic shift in the way people are searching, even if the volume is still high," he says.

Many marketers still tend to stick with the status quo, Schwartz adds. "I'd urge marketers to continue to test new keywords, creative, landing pages and even new engines
and channels," he says. "Now is an opportunity to grow market share, steal customers away from competitors and try to build long-term value in your brand through the search channel."

Garner adds that research is key for today's search marketers. "Look at your natural results, your history of optimization, your traffic history and your analytics," he says. "Test as much as possible, and invest in where you send your visitors."

Though search is one of the few sectors still on the rise today, marketers need to remain realistic about clients' budgets and the economic reality of the year ahead. "I don't think innovation is going to be a core focus this year," Murray says. "No one is coming to us with a big pot of money they have lying around to try something new."

Because of its accountability, though, search should remain strong, he says. "This means search has a major seat at the table," he continues. "We've been saying for years that search deserves a seat, and guess what? Search now has it front and center in marketing plans and budgets." l

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