The past, the present and the future Search

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When HGTV announced the premiere of "Living with Ed," a series related to living a "green" lifestyle in Los Angeles, starring actor Ed Begley Jr. and his wife, Rachelle Carson, the marketing plan for the show was set months in advance.

HGTV wanted to generate buzz and dominate brand shelf space with the show. But HGTV realized it could not do so without using search.

HGTV faced one problem: When Googling "Living with Ed," the results were in-depth listings for how men deal with erectile dysfunction. There was not even one result linking to HGTV's main page or the "Living with Ed" MySpace profile.

"We turned to search marketing firm 360i for recommendations on how to fix this situation quickly," said Mike Boyd, senior vice president of marketing at HGTV. "360i recommended a rapid off-site SEO strategy built on encouraging bloggers to create their own reviews and recommendations of the show.

"This was designed to stimulate more relevant content and links back to HGTV's flagship site, driving online buzz to inspire tune-in, increase site traffic and raise overall awareness for the show," he said.

The new content would result in more relevant listings in the search results, thereby pushing down erectile dysfunction results. The incremental number of links back to HGTV.com through the blog posts would catapult the official Web site to the top of the search listings as well.

360i developed a list of bloggers that wrote either about television shows or the environment. Each blog was screened to ensure it was highly regarded by other bloggers.

360i's communications team engaged bloggers to inform them of the show. Each message was tailored to the subject matter of the specific blog and included a link to HGTV's "Living with Ed" site.

After the show's premiere, 360i assessed the episode guide for future programs as well as the publicity schedule for Ed Begley Jr. to determine other salient topics that were linked to the show. Some examples included hybrid cars, organic/vegan cooking and gardening.

360i reached out to influential blogs relating to those topics. Additionally, 360i reconnected with certain bloggers who expressed interest in the series to alert them to developments in upcoming episodes.

"Within just a couple of weeks, HGTV.com was the top result on the search engines for searches on core terms," Mr. Boyd said.

In fact, on searches for the term "Living with Ed," the result for erectile dysfunction was on page 5 of the search results. The strong increase of blog posts and online buzz built momentum with core audiences and protected the show's brand online.

This is not the traditional search campaign. However, search is rapidly changing; and marketers need to understand that in order to do well, they need to change with it.

Past and present

Early search engines were all about answering people's questions.

Google had no advertising results on its page, and organic results were used for research and purchase queries, said Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Did-it Search Marketing, New York.

Organic results were listed in a conventional auction style, and users were not as Internet savvy as most are today. Slowly, but surely, advertising has taken more prominence as advertisers are finally realizing the importance of this measurable channel of marketing.

In 2004, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization reported that advertisers spent $4.1 billion on search. What marketers did not know is that this number would grow at an unbelievable rate in the years to follow.

Search is on the rise today as marketers are increasingly adding search to the marketing mix. In fact, SEMPO reported that search spend hit $9.4 billion in 2006. Not surprisingly, the scrutiny of major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL Search and Ask.com, is increasing.

One reason it is so attractive is the accuracy it offers in terms of keeping count of click through and precision in targeting.

"The days of 12 percent to 18 percent inaccuracy in the technology used to manage search are over," said Marc Steinhart, senior product marketing manager of search at DoubleClick, New York.

These days search marketers are armed with campaign management tools, bid management tools, ad management tools and reporting tools allowing for more control.

Search engines today are not just there to answer questions. Now, they are in the advertising business, said Mr. Lee.

The Google/DoubleClick, Yahoo/RightMedia and Microsoft/aQuantive deals are evidence of this. The more search engines get involved in advertising, the more they will work to drive traffic to their paid search ads.

"The result is a growing split within the engines between the way that they deal with consumers and researchers," Mr. Lee said.

Today, search results are displayed through score-based search advertising resulting in more relevant advertising systems.

"All signs are pointing to more personalization, consolidation and heavy emphasis on both localization and globalization," said Chris Copeland, senior partner and managing director at Outrider North America, St. Louis. "Google is leading the way, as usual, with both its acquisition of DoubleClick and the testing of its new personalized search experience, iGoogle.

Search is a global undertaking. Search engine marketing company iProspect, for example, recently has opened offices in Norway, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The industry has moved from a direct response mechanism to a more strategically planned interaction point with consumers, according to Misty Locke, president/founder of Range Online Media, Fort Worth, TX.

Social search, though currently in its infancy, is starting to appeal to some marketers.

There is a growing trend of using pay-per-click beyond acquisition, with marketers viewing PPC as an effective tool for building brand presence online.

"[Marketers] have begun to integrate PPC with offline campaigns," said Chrysi Philalithes, vice president of global marketing and communications at Miva, New York.

In fact, it could be argued that search is the centerpiece of every online effort today.

"Companies understand how they need to manage customers, brand reputation and their overall Web presence by harnessing search," Mr. Rowan said. "They're finally starting to build Web sites and online marketing campaigns from a search-centric point of view."

What to expect in the future

SEMPO forecasts search spend will hit $18.6 billion in 2011. This growth would only further cement the channel's importance.

Executives predict that the rise and renaissance of cost per acquisition and behaviorally targeted media will help bring more accountability to the industry.

In addition, search engines will get smarter at identifying commercial Internet searches through the use of behavioral tools like Google Web History. This will help marketers further segment an audience based on their location in the buying cycle.

Another trend is the increase of graphical results. Many search leaders predict that graphics are going to become a large component of search. This should lead to a rise in conversion rates, due to the increased emotional connection and branding elements made possible with images.

The industry is likely to become increasingly regulated. Organic search optimization will continue to be important for reaching research-based searchers. However, the future of search will focus a lot on relevancy and personalization. Therefore, social search is likely to become a more important marketing tool - worthy of ad spend dollars.

This article was taken from DM News Essential Guide To Search Engine Marketing. To access the entire guide, click on the link or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://www.dmnews.com/cms/lib/8090.pdf

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