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Search and discover new opportunities

Search marketing continues to dominate the online marketing landscape even as other digital strategies gain traction. For marketers, the ability to accurately test and measure the role of search in a customer’s purchase decision is more important than ever as they diversify their online marketing efforts in response to the growing popularity of Twitter, Facebook and other online channels.

“With the economy, more people are searching for discount-related terms” and fewer for product terms, says Tessa Fraser, senior marketing manager at American Greetings.

To address these shifting search habits, American Greetings, which markets e-card brands online, began diversifying its online marketing spend last fall to include social networking sites and affiliates to generate demand.

“We knew that we needed to create awareness around the benefits of e-cards,” says Fraser, adding that the company continues to count on search to close the deal. American Greetings hasn’t decreased its search budget, she adds, but has added those other channels, increasing its overall digital spend: “The more we diversify the marketing spend, the more important it is to tie the attribution back to a purchase path.”

While many consumers use search when they are ready to make a purchase, it is necessary to understand how a company’s other online efforts have influenced their arrival to properly allocate the budget, she explains. Using ClearSaleing, a measurement tool, American Greetings assesses its efforts in various channels and measures its impact on purchases that come in through search.

“The networks keep a lot of their data very close, and we couldn’t get an exact return on what we were paying for,” she says. “Now that we’re able to see more of how our efforts translate to site orders, it gives us confidence to spend.”

Marketers are always trying to figure out the right mix of media for influencing consumers, says Adam Goldberg, co-founder of ClearSaleing. With search marketing, however, the focus had traditionally been on the last click because it could tie a sale directly to the keyword clicked on before conversion.

Recently, technology that allows marketers to dig further has become more readily available, and a series of factors influencing the purchase decision, whether non-branded keywords or social media, can be identified.

“Marketers can now accurately value the ads that lead people down the path to purchase,” Goldberg says.

Marketers are also now comparing search to other tactics and channels, says Rob Garner, search strategy director at iCrossing. “One of the biggest areas of focus is to drive more value out of the clicks that are already coming to a marketer’s Web site,” he explains.

American Greetings has shifted its focus from optimizing keywords to optimizing landing pages. “More weight is on the landing page to engage these consumers and take them to the point where they are ready to close,” says Fraser.

In the past, its landing pages restated what was in its paid search ads. These pages now incorporate video and flash in order “to make sure consumers understand the value of the product compared to the competition,” explains Fraser.

That’s not the only evolution in search. Marketers also are extending video to paid search ad formats as the content networks and marketers look for ways to optimize the brand experience. Google is working with several marketers to test search ad formats that incorporate video, as well as the ability to use a series of links to specific landing pages.

“Search formats are catching up to the brand experience that advertisers want,” says Jon Kaplan, Google’s financial services industry director. This is being driven in part by better use of analytics tools.

1-800-Flowers.com is testing the use of video in paid search “to drive different behavior” for online shoppers searching on branded and non-branded keywords, says Vincent Raguseo, VP of interactive marketing at 1-800-Flowers.com.

The company’s search efforts are more efficient, driving more revenue with better ROI, thanks to better analytics, Raguseo adds. 1-800-Flowers.com works with Coremetrics, Google analytics and a proprietary analysis tool from search agency The Rimm-Kaufman Group.

“We do a lot more back-end analysis to determine the quality of the traffic we are driving in” through branded and non-branded search terms on various networks, says Raguseo. The company tries to gain an understanding of the lifetime value of a customer who comes in through search to determine how to encourage customers into purchasing more often. The company is also cross-promoting to customers who come in through search via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

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