Search Marketers Find Clues at icrossing Event

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NEW YORK -- "How people search is how they think."


Those words, from Maura Lewis, director of search intelligence at search engine marketing agency icrossing, hold the clue to devising paid and natural search campaigns that work.


Lewis was a main speaker at icrossing's three-city road show, including Chicago and San Francisco, to educate clients on the complexities of search engine marketing.


Yesterday's event drew icrossing clients and key SEM managers from PR Newswire, Disney, Fairmont Hotels, Global Industrial, Citicards and Standard & Poor's SchoolMatters.com. Also at the Grand Hyatt Hotel were online marketing representatives from Lillian Vernon, Bank of America, American Express, Colgate-Palmolive, Genworth, Rodale, BusinessWeek and Advantage Rent-a-Car.


About 50 executives heard icrossing executives and some of their clients make the case for search as well as discuss search intelligence, natural search engine optimization, paid search, content services, local search and international search.


Speakers included executives from Yahoo, MSN and Business.com who updated the delegates on the advantages and new features of their respective search engines.


"These sessions have helped me understand the different opportunities and then also reinforced that there are multiple options out there," said Blythe Boaz, marketing manager of SchoolMatters.com, a New York-based site for financial and academic information and analysis on public schools nationwide.


"From our standpoint, we use icrossing to improve our natural search results, but we also want to couple that with other strategies, including paid search and local search," she said.


Attendees also learned of three new offerings from icrossing.


The first, linguistic profiles, is a category deep-dive to understand people's behavior to optimize for how people think and not merely for the obvious keywords. Brand search effectiveness is another product, yielding brand and message awareness, brand term analyses and purchase consideration and intent. The third product is search tracker, which tracks the marketer's share of voice.


Here are some other nuggets from the daylong event:


Google remains king of the hill, though "their dominance is not a foregone conclusion," said Ken Cassar, director of strategic analysis at Nielsen//NetRatings, New York.


According to the market researcher's data for January 2005, Google had a 47 percent share of all searches in the United States, Yahoo 21 percent, MSN 13 percent and AOL 5 percent. The rest is divvied up among smaller engines, including the business-to-business Business.com.


Six months later, Google retained its market share, Yahoo was down 1 percentage point while MSN was up 1 point.


"The big guys seem to be consolidating, and the small guys seem to be losing a bit of share," Cassar said.


Nielsen//NetRatings found that total searches grew by 6 percent from January to June while the numbers of searchers grew 3 percent.


"The total number of searchers is beginning to see the top of the curve," he said.


AOL, however, is the dark horse. Cassar noted the brand has enjoyed a growth of more than three times the industry average, building off a small base. AOL grew 22 percent in the first half of this year, he said. New searchers on the site sparked the increase. Perhaps AOL's move in the next few days to place content outside its walled garden will help even more.


A few slides involving Google's user overlap with other search engines were notable. Nielsen//NetRatings' panel-based data -- all data are sourced from a panel of 350,000 -- showed that 29.7 million searchers nationwide used only Google, 13.7 million only Yahoo and 12.2 only MSN.


Looking at the overlap, 18.3 million searchers use both Google and Yahoo, 13.2 million use Google and MSN and 9.7 million use the three engines. Fifty-eight percent of Google searchers also use MSN and/or Yahoo.


Of course, that could change when MSN launches its adCenter solution in the next two weeks, with improved search capabilities.


"You need to allocate more money for MSN's adCenter when it does come out," said Sara Holoubek, chief strategy officer at icrossing.


Cassar was asked for his forecast of the search business.


"When I left Jupiter, one of the things I was happy about was that I didn't have to do projections," he said, adding, "I don't see Yahoo catching up with Google. [But] Yahoo dominates Google and other folks in local search."


Cassar did leave the audience with some implications of the changes ahead. First, expect the search audience to flatten out over time, which means the engines will have to do better at providing more searches per person.


Second, search keyword pricing will rise without growth in the supply of people performing searches. Third, the increase in search pricing puts pressure on advertisers to get smarter about their search investments.


The final one was for Google's ears.


"The fact that so few searchers are loyal to a single search engine implies that Google's dominance should not be taken for granted," Cassar said.


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.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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