Search marketing issues grow with opportunities

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Last week's Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo in New York brought back memories of the dot-com heydays, albeit with a difference: This crowd was not just talking eyeballs, but hardcore ploys to make every keyword and click count for the advertiser and consumer.

The interactive marketing business has several shows each year competing to educate, inform and commingle marketers and vendors. But SES stands out for its single-minded focus on education that can be put to use upon return to the office. And it's a marvelous bellwether of the issues cropping up in search marketing or ones that have reached the boiling point.

DM News editors Giselle Abramovich, Dianna Dilworth and Daniel McMahon did an outstanding job covering key sessions and interviewing industry players. Their reports are worth reading in the search marketing section at www.dmnews.com and in this paper.

Search now accounts for almost half of all advertisers dollars spent online. Not surprisingly, the scrutiny of major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL Search and Ask.com is increasing. Give credit to these companies for encouraging their senior executives to participate on panels and also to do booth duty in the midst of 130-plus exhibitors.

Several issues were discussed at this year's SES New York. Content from e-commerce sites should be properly included in shopping search engines. Budgets this year for mobile, video and social networking campaigns are up. Community integration is key for online video campaigns. Marketers should think like video searchers. Mobile optimization should focus on minimizing scrolling - nothing should be more than three clicks away from the home page what with the slow Internet connections on cell phones and PDAs.

In addition, online and offline channel integration is vital to the success of a search campaign. Efforts on social media sites only work if visitors trust the advertiser's brand. Stick to fundamentals if you want a search engine-friendly site. Don't be seduced by quick fixes promising to catapult sites to the top of the search engine results page. Don't forget to target non-click-through consumers. You never know. Both big and small brands must target locally in this user-generated media and marketing environment. Search engine optimization of blog feeds is necessary - and easy.

That said, converting site visitors to buyers is still an issue. Search advertisers have to define goals, demographics and keywords for conversions. Marketers are still looking for an adequate search measurement system. Putting aside their rivalry, Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask.com have united behind a common sitemaps standard for improved index freshness. They are also supporting the Interactive Advertising Bureau's efforts to determine what a click looks like for auditing standards. Yes, click fraud still is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. And for all the talk, search engines have to do better when they walk.

According to Click Forensics, the overall click fraud rate is 14.2 percent. Add the content network and it's 19.2 percent. For terms that cost more than $2 - in the financial services category, for example - the click fraud rate is upwards of 20 percent. Education and networking are important. But so are housekeeping and policing if search is to retain its charm and effectiveness.

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