> The rough draft of a Q&A I did for a publication
1. What advice would you give a marketer just getting into search?
I would suggest that the marketer in question become familiar with all aspects of search engine marketing: optimization, pay-per-click, and paid inclusion. The best place to find those definitions would be at www.searchenginewatch.com. Second, I would recommend reading the case studies and articles at the SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization) website (www.sempo.org). These would give the marketer knowledge about the value proposition of search marketing as well as an idea of the diversity of clients they could approach with SEM services. Third, I would recommend attending the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose at the beginning of August. With 4 days and 4 tracks of sessions/per day (http://www.jupiterevents.com/sew/summer04/index.html) you can learn the business, even if you are a beginner.
> 2. What are some interesting ways marketers are integrating search with other online tactics?
I have always believed that you need to hit a potential customer at least three times over the head if you want them to take action. This is true with online marketing and search as well; you want to be visible in many places on the same site or on the same resulting search page. Banners, especially those that are keyword-based, help establish visual memories of a vendor. Teaming those banners with textual keyword buys under your relevant keywords would double your chances of getting a surfer to click. If the banner shows up on one page of the site and the text ad later in the journey of the surfer - they may be more inclined to click because of their experience of the visual banner. [Thanks for Dana Todd of SiteLab for this tactic.]
Contextual (or content-based) advertising, while not search, is being offered by the same media vendors as search driven advertising. This new type of advertising places ads on pages whose creatives and keywords match the content of the page. For example, an online newspaper's technology section may be talking about the latest advances in PCs and an ad for HP's laptop computers appears. This type of advertising is perfect for sites that are not search portals, and a whole new opportunity for search engine marketing companies to offer more lead generation and branding opportunities to their clients.
> 3. What is the biggest challenge now facing search marketers?
Search Marketers are moving at any incredible pace; the whole search industry is riding the Google wave and the success of Yahoo. Keeping up is a challenge. But the two biggest situations that search marketers are facing are scaling your business with the industry and budgeting for your clients.
With success comes the need to scale your business to meet customer expectations. The industry of SEM is growing up; becoming a mainstream lead generation and advertising tool. SEM companies need to grow, partner or be acquired to keep up with the success.
And budgeting for clients is near impossible. Predicting visitor traffic and sales/leads generated by Search Engine Marketing campaigns is a challenge for even the most experienced SEM company. You don't know how many people will search for your words, you don't know how much each click-trhough will cost, and you don't know who the media players will be in 3 months let alone in 1 year. For clients that are used to seeing advertising budgets provided by their agencies, and media plans that show 1 year out, search marketing companies have challenges to providing those plans.
Let's remember that the Search industry is only 8 years old, and that is being generous. 8 years ago some of us were looking at driving traffic to websites through achieving high rankings on search engines. There wasn't any paid search marketing at that time. Paid Search Marketing has only been around for 4 years. Now compare that to the age of Yellow Pages or Newspaper advertising. We are in the infancy of this industry. The tools aren't there yet, the media vendors aren't there yet and the agencies aren't there yet. We have a bright and long future ahead of us.
> 4. What innovations or changes can we expect in the coming year in search marketing?
Innovations will come from the traditional search portals and the new up and coming ones. Microsoft has made it very clear that they are investing resources in search technology. This move should add excellent advertising opportunities for SEM companies and their clients. Yahoo continues to refine their relevancy of search results and will be offering more and more integration of online advertising within the Yahoo network. Google continues to add more modules to its portal, innovating with new advertising products for multiple destinations. I only see Google continuing on this path of innovation. But don't ignore the new companies in the search and contextual space. Companies like IndustryBrains, Quigo, Revenue Science and many others.
The second opportunity will be tools that help search marketers manage SEM campaigns more effectively. Tools that provide the means for keyword management and measuring the return on investment. These tools will mature, come down in price and be consolidated into more comprehensive packages.
As a last comment, internet penetration in the US for English speaking households is nearing saturation. Marketers would be wise to turn some of their attention and budget on reaching the fastest growing group of online buyers - Hispanics. Always make sure your lead generation programs and marketing communication budgets are spending all money possible on Search marketing - there just isn't a better way to make money.