Morphing Algorithms Keep Search Marketers Spinning

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NEW YORK -- The constantly changing rules and algorithms of search engines give sleepless nights to many search marketers.


Both advertisers and search agencies told DM News at last week's Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo that keeping abreast of the ever-evolving engines, particularly Google and Yahoo, is a continual, challenging job.


"You constantly have to stay on top of it," said Victoria Brown, search project lead for Geico Insurance's Internet business.


Google's algorithms have been changing lately, Brown said, shifting Geico's ad placements, likely because of an infrastructure and data overhaul at Google dubbed "Big Daddy."


"Message testing is key," said Robert Petty, search marketing manager at LendingTree.com. "What works for Yahoo may not work for Google, may not work for MSN."


Search agencies also have to stay alert.


"The environment is changing so much," said Jean Toomey, sales manager at search marketing firm Did-it.com, New York. "This was a Google and Yahoo show. Now with MSN, it makes it enormously difficult."


Shaun Ryan, president of on-demand search firm SLI Systems, Cupertino, CA, knows the issue is a priority for clients.


"Something can change at search engines, and [your listing] could be kicked out of there," he said.


What comes next after pay-per-click advertising was another hot topic for many, especially given Google's recent move into selling print, radio and, eventually, television advertising.


Pay-per-call pioneer Ingenio, San Francisco, has seen success in categories such as cruises, life insurance, cable and satellite TV and mortgages, according to Ingenio account manager Kathy Nita. The company now is testing the concept, which charges an advertiser only when it receives a telephone call generated from its ad, with local numbers instead of toll-free numbers.


Ingenio is "trying to go beyond online," Nita said. The company has a program with 1-800-Free411 that serves an ad for a competitor to someone calling and asking for the number of a specific company. The ad is prompted while the requested number is being searched for, and the caller has the option to connect directly to the competitor. Ingenio also is testing a similar service with GO2 and Spring on mobile phones.


"Ideally, we'd like to do print and TV ads, but that's way down the line," she said.


Monitoring a brand's reputation online was stressed during conference sessions and among exhibitors.


"Consumer-generated content is seeping into search results to quite an extent," said Scott Delea, senior vice president at DigitalGrit, Boonton, NJ, an interactive agency and search marketing firm that provides a reputation management service linked to brands' search marketing.


Big brands are just now noticing the issue, he said.


Generating leads on Web sites was another buzz phrase. Executives with LendingTree.com said the company's need to develop better leads online has increased tremendously recently as the financial market has shifted in recent months.


"Interest rates are up, so the need for products is down," said Bryan Chupp, vice president of partnership marketing at LendingTree.


As a result, the company is revamping forms that leads fill out, optimizing the Web site to get prospects to the right pages and streamlining the customer experience, he said.


Fraudulent traffic to Web sites is another issue. Traffic from foreign sites and traffic that does not convert are devaluing advertisers' bids. Brian Bickley, director of business development at Searchfeed, New York, said his company has 30 filters and personnel to monitor traffic for clients in an effort to keep out fraudulent traffic.


Companies just starting search marketing were out in full force at the show. Even advertisers with full-blown campaigns have difficulty with the complex world of search advertising and optimization, exhibitors said.


"Ninety percent of fairly astute direct marketers do well in every other medium, but when it comes to search, they're lukewarm or failing," said Irv Brechner, chief marketing officer at search marketing firm SendTec, New York.


Many marketers still don't send customers to the right landing pages, for example. When consumers search on a particular product, they often are sent to the company's main page instead of the exact page for that product.


Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing; Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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