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Search Channel Widens to Include Alternatives

Search became a must-have in the marketing mix last year. Advertisers did not need to be sold on whether they should do it, but rather requested guidance on spend, keywords and engine mix. Further, there were concerns about managing channel conflict and brand while leveraging the power of integrating search, affiliate and other online channels.

Budgets increased, new advertiser verticals emerged and new players entered the arena. Search transcended the traditional direct online sellers and entered new verticals including automotive, pharmaceutical, business to business and consumer packaged goods. Here are some thoughts on where search is headed this year:

Paid search: Better, stronger, faster. This year will see more advertisers bidding for more keywords and trying to achieve better performance. As demand climbs, so do click costs, and advertisers will need more sophisticated strategies, tools and services to maintain ROI. Advertisers recognize the power of search and will find ways to justify spend or allocate search investment across other marketing objectives including branding, market research and promotional budgets. Execution of search campaigns will get better as tighter integration with the engines comes to fruition.

Alternative search: The channel widens to include content, meta, local and personalized. Search engines are working fast to introduce new, highly specialized channels, and we see meta search engines, dedicated to verticals like travel, increasing in importance. Innovations in local and personalization, while still trailing meta, will fuel interest in paid search from new advertisers. Personalization is the hot term for relevancy, with the goal being to intertwine search with a consumer’s daily activity. As clients become more sophisticated with increased demands, the marketplace will yield more efficient results. Technology will continue to be created to facilitate the massive amounts of data currently sorted by the engines.

Datafeeds: Product data supplements keywords in paid placement. Throughout the year, datafeeds will play a more prominent role in paid placement programs. This development will let marketers more easily tap into the vast number of unique queries performed daily by searchers. Advertisers are looking for ways to optimize datafeeds and harness the power of information captured in search.

Content: Search marketing reaches beyond search engines. Content distribution will begin to exceed search in total impressions delivered. Those impressions will become increasingly better targeted, in some cases resulting in campaigns receiving nearly as many clicks from content distribution as from search distribution. Google is the key player to watch in the continuing evolution of its advertiser product “Adwords for Content” and “Adsense,” its publisher product.

Local search: A lot of buzz, little bite. We are curious about whether the buzz will translate to business, specifically local business. Local search appears to be performing well for national advertisers seeking to segment markets. The local dry cleaner, however, doesn’t have (or probably need) a Web site, so the lead is not accurately tracked, and the value not properly captured. Innovations in pay-per-call pricing and mobile advertising are further out. It remains to be seen how it will function for local vendors and whether it ultimately will take significant share away from directories.

Personalized search: An up and comer? These verticals will continue to be the more futuristic aspect of search marketing. However, Google’s desktop search is a practical development in the personalization effort. When installed, it adds a user’s personal documents to the Google search results page and reaches further into the end user’s daily activity. Google’s desktop search, as well as an expected offering from MSN, provides data that might be the key to unlocking the long-term potential for personalization.

Share of voice: Search gets a seat at the branding table. Beyond direct response, marketers and analysts have validated the value of branding and exposure in search. Increasingly, search will be used to support promotions, product launches and ad campaigns. Marketers will increase budgets to ensure association of brand with likely key queries by the target market.

Shop till you drop: Comparison shopping engines and portals rank high in results. Many search queries end at a shopping comparison site, and this trend is likely to continue. Many synergies exist between shopping comparison and other search developments, particularly the use of datafeeds and keywords in meta data.

Additionally, Google, Yahoo and MSN all having their own shopping portals complement this effort. The increasing importance of shopping comparison is another example of advertisers providing customers with information throughout the buying cycle.

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