The Economic Challenge: Search success in a tough economy

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Because search marketing's greatest strengths are accountability and measurability, experts warn that search efforts should not be among the casualties left lying on the cutting room floor after marketers crunch their budgets during these trying times.

“Search marketing isn't about speculative ad spending, it's about getting a return on ad spending,” says Michael McVeigh, associate director of strategic analysis at Zeta Interactive. “So why would you cut down on a channel that seriously drives sales?”

Robert Murray, president of iProspect, agrees. “The economy will impact search, but it will impact it measurably less than other media. Nothing is recession-proof, but search is the most recession-proof,” he says.

Below, experts offer their tips for optimizing search initiatives in a down market.

Keep search integrated

Using search in conjunction with other types of marketing is important when trying to reach new customers. “Search doesn't occur in a vacuum,” McVeigh notes. “Offline advertising and other online advertising, like banner or e-mail outreach to new lists, also drive search. It would be foolhardy for an advertiser not to try to capture that demand they're generating when consumers go to the search engine at a later date.”

Don't overreact

While many marketers are scaling back on their total ad and marketing dollars, take a step back and be smart — not hasty — about where to make cuts. “Some clients are just cutting 10 to 15 percent across the board including TV, print, radio, display and search,” says iCrossing EVP and SEMPO president Jeffrey Pruitt. “It's not very scientific, it's just a knee-jerk reaction. Marketers need to now put those [remaining] dollars into search and other trackable media to still get the volume of sales they're looking for.”

Go after lower auction prices

As companies go under, there are fewer advertisers going after certain keywords, which could benefit the companies left standing, Murray says. “Search operates on a pretty efficient online auction model,” McVeigh explains. “So if you pull back on search, you'll leave behind more market share for competitors to capture that [keyword] volume at a lower incremental price.”

Be realistic about ‘09

“We've got a rise in CPCs [cost-per-clicks], and with more people out of work we assumingly have fewer buyers,” Murray says. “You shouldn't have the idea in your head that your search program next year will yield the same as it did this year.” If a company is able to maintain the same search results in '09 that it did in '08, they're doing well, he explains.

Stay positive

While search is slowing, “it's not all doomsday,” Murray insists. The sector will continue to grow, just not at the pace it has been for the past few years. “It's a natural evolution of a fantastic category,” he continues. “We're talking about an industry that's been growing at a rate of 20% [per year] just slowing down. The larger and more mature you get, you're going to start to experience a slowdown, so you just need to be smarter next year and think a little bit outside the box.”

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