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SIS – Search Insiders Speak

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Every day, MediaPost’s Search Insider columnists illuminate the search landscape. Now it’s time for them to get off their pedestals and face your toughest questions first-hand. They’ll mouth off on all the most pressing search issues and the hot topics discussed at the Search Insider Summit so far.

  • David Berkowitz, Director of Emerging Media & Client Strategy, 360i
  • Aaron Goldman, Director of Client Strategy & Development, Resolution Media
  • Bob Heyman, Chief Search Officer, Mediasmith
  • Gord Hotchkiss, CEO & President, Enquiro

Will there be a Google killer?

Aaron: In the short term, I don’t see that happening. Can someone cobble together assets that they already have? Can somebody potentially put together the pieces to put together the next wave of web monetization? I think so. I don’t see anybody taking away from Google’s core business. But I see Facebook, if they can get their act together, doing that.

Gord
: As long as Google stays good at its core, I don’t see that. But we’re breaking down the silos. Search is going to change in its function as the web becomes richer. But I think it’s misleading to think that search as we know it now will be the same for a long time.

David
: Looking at MySpace with twice the traffic of Ask; YouTube search rivals some search properties’ traffic. With Hakia—I can’t figure out how to use it (and he’s spent a fair amount of time with new search engines). Powerset & Powerlabs—they do their own search of Wikipedia—I could barely tell the difference. To be better than Google at search, you have to be SO much better. Google could just be okay with search for a while and people will still keep using it.

Bob
: I predict that anything that gets labeled a Google killer or an iPod killer won’t kill anything. In video, Google search doesn’t really have a cross-platform search.

David
: YouTube doesn’t want us to think of them as a search.

Greg
: I see it moving more and more to a mobile platform. I was talking to Max Kalvinov (sp?): the incumbency effect. For something to bump us out of our rut, it has to be a quantum leap better.

David
: Look at the number of people still on Hotmail: people’s habits are ingrained (also convenience of not porting data). People will stick with something inferior for a long time.

I was kicked off Google for too much search volume (they thought he must be a bot), so he went to Ask. There are lots of other ways that they can kill their marketshare.

Gord
: Looking at Ask—they don’t want to be a Google killer, they have some relevancy issues, but they’re good for alternate search.

Ideas to take advantage of Wikipedia. A year ago, I used to go in there as an SEO/SEM to maintain links, but now nofollowed, I passed that to the PR team.

Aaron
: It’s a different lens, but they’re still value. Having a presence, having your company in there, as long as you’re represented. Build up your own involvement in Wikipedia, have your own authority. I look at it as this whole notion of ceding control. Being there in Wikipedia is a second chance at the top 10.

David
: We do a lot of work with Comedy Central—Stephen Colbert tries to mess with Wikipedia, and that drives traffic to CC site, Wikipedia gets traffic. Also interesting when other companies try to tap into the Wiki model: Amapedia.

Will SEMs ever ‘get’ display? Will you be able to work with it?

Gord
: I think we already are. We’re all looking at integrating display. Because we do a lot of usability testing with different forms of engagement—the assumption marketers make is the more ‘bandwidth’ the more effective—I’m not so sure that’s the case. I’m not so sure that when we’re looking for information on a search page and we’re starting to see universal results come into that, I don’t know how they react to that. We’ve seen test ads kick as far as performance goes across a lot of channels.

Aaron
: I see too many firms jumping into display just to grow their revenue. It’s just going to cause clutter.

Bob
: We think search is a medium that should be planned with display and interactive.

Aaron
: I think it’s interesting that it’s led by search. I’d like to see that happen with larger holding companies as they acquire more SEMs.

Will we get to a point where people will enter personally identifiable information directly on the SERP (auto insurance)?

Gord
: Search is about satisificing: quickly narrowing down to 4-5 brands to consider. Start building your consideration set, often with a generic search. Unless it’s a totally commoditized product (ie it doesn’t matter where you get it from).

How is the global market impacting your businesses? Effectiveness across campaigns, esp. where search engine marketshare doesn’t mirror US’s.

Aaron
: Makes it a lot harder for us. Depending on the space there’s a lot of differences in savviness. The biggest challenge is who leads that process. If US-led, have people on the ground in the important regions. Standardization is the biggest challenge. It’s a whole different set of realities that you have to plan against. More often than not, it is led here in the US, because we lead SEM.

Bob
: Google dominates more outside the US than in—but in China, you can’t buy into Baidu unless you speak Mandarin and have someone in China, basically.

Gord
: When you talk to Chinese users, they’re using Baidu for different purposes. Baidu is great for MP3 downloads. Looking for facts, go to Google. To get those nuances, you have to be on the ground and understand where you need to get your buy.

Bob
: Don’t underestimate the language challenges, too. Note that in languages like Dutch/German: same words are twice as long, and you have the same character limits.

We’ve heard a lot that organic is 80% of the traffic, but paid search just dominates—everybody is just focused on paid search. What can we do to help get us away from paid search?

Aaron
: Therapy. Paid search is the crack of SEM. We have to tell them that eventually they’ll burn out, but it’s great to see those instant results.

Bob
: SEO is just too slow for some people. PPC gives you time to get your value proposition, etc., in.

Gord
: The hard thing is that it’s tough to fight with the clients like that. There’s not nearly the mismatch of expectations in paid. I agree completely with you on the power of organic. We still do a a lot of organic optimization. But I have yet to have “the dream optimization” project. I would hate to see that advantage die because we’re tired of butting heads.

David
: It’s so easy to define ‘media.’

Gord
: From the pure business perspective, it’s not a great business. There’s a long learning curve, decreasing returns Unless you’re passionate about it as a practice, it’s not an attractive model.

David
: Although PPC has its own challenges, too. The margins aren’t so that people are dying to get into it.

Gord
: But aren’t we failing as an industry into Arron’s analogy. Yeah, it’s hard, it’s micromanaging, but relative to organic, it’s a walk in the park on a sunny day.

Point: I see SEO as a workaround. Telling the CEO that the site that he loves actually sucks isn’t fun (and doesn’t work). You have CEOs that have built up their experience from TV, they see text-based sites and say, “Huh?” You’re going in there changing the business models.

Gord
: Example from yesterday’s site review. You’re going to have to make a decision. How important is organic visibility to you as a business decision? Are you going down this path?

Bob
: Good design and good SEO are still antithetical.

How do you feel about paying to appear inorganic results (ie Yahoo shortcuts)?

Aaron
: we’ll do it as long as they let us.

Bob
: Yahoo wouldn’t sell it to us for a news aggregator because it works too well for news. Overall it’s yesterday’s product

Gord
: It’s a weird anomaly in the space.

Paid versus organic. Is there a different clientèle in paid versus natural—do 80% of clicks = 80% sales, or does 20% of paid clicks = 50% of sales?

Gord
: I personally think the 80/20 thing is because we’re not doing a good job of matching our messages to our customers. They’re in the wrong phase of the funnel. I think that’s why there’s disproportionate organic clicks, but as we match intent better, we’ll see those ratios drop.

Bob
: I’d love to see % of clicks and conversions. Paid search is successful because you can link it back to conversions.

David
: I’ll disagree with Gord here because I think marketers have come a long way with how they’re segmenting intent, etc. As the ads are generally very relevant to them, they’ll still get clicks, but people are training themselves not to look at advertising as much. There has been some research in the past for, say, retail queries get more clicks on ads.

Aaron
: As we’re seeing the move toward universal search—the eye goes right to the image then sniffs around. As that happens more and more, that will get more eyeballs in the organic results. The biggest click factor is image ads in the SERPs could again change the clicking behavior.

Gord: Scanning behavior is going to change a lot as they change formats.

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SIS – Search Insiders Speak
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About Jordan McCollum
Jordan McCollum is a staff writer for the popular marketing blog Marketing Pilgrim. She has worked in search engine optimization with clients including 3M, Little Giant Ladders and ADP. After graduating from Brigham Young University, Jordan joined the SEO copywriting team at the Internet marketing firm 10x Marketing. After 10x closed its doors in December 2006, Jordan became a freelance writer and Internet marketing consultant specializing in SEO. She also has extensive experience with web analytics, conversion rate enhancement and e-mail marketing. WebProNews Writer
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