SEM: Playing Keep Up
The ever-shifting landscape of search marketing can create unexpected obstacles if marketers don't stay on top of the latest industry developments and consider how these changes can affect their campaigns. The search engines already have announced a number of big changes for 2010. Here are the ones that are sure to affect your campaigns and what you can do now to stay ahead of the competition.
After nearly a year and half of rumored back and forth between Bing and Yahoo, the two finally struck a deal in the summer of 2009, with the aim of leveraging their combined audience and technology to match up against Google. According to the agreement, which recently was given regulatory approval and the companies hope to implement by Q4 2010, Bing's search engine will power Yahoo's site, and Yahoo will manage advertiser sales and support for all paid search services.
Here's how the deal is likely to affect search marketers:
- The deal consolidates search down to "Binghoo" and Google, making it easier for search marketers to develop specific strategies for each.
- With an estimated 28 percent of search to be controlled by Bing/Yahoo, it is increasingly important for marketers to familiarize themselves with Bing's algorithm, which places more emphasis on the age of domain, title tags, text content and outbound linking.
- Bing also acquired Wolfram|Alpha, a "computation knowledge engine," which will be implemented into part of Bing's algorithm. Wolfram|Alpha's technology should help reduce the ambiguity of search inquiries, bettering Bing's ability to infer what users are looking for. Stay up-to-date on Bing's algorithm changes, as this integration could greatly impact organic results.
Last summer, Google launched a beta version of its newest organic search algorithm, code-named "Caffeine." While the official release date isn't expected until later in 2010, Web developers have had access to a beta preview for months, providing them with some insight into how Google's new search engine will affect marketing campaigns.
Caffeine most likely will result in a significant change to quality score calculations. There is speculation that it will place more emphasis on keyword relevance, long-tail keywords, page loading times, inbound linking quality and content.
What can you do to make sure you're prepared:
- Google is going to ramp up indexing, which means newer content will show up sooner. Real-time search results will be included, as well as more frequently updated new stories to provide users with the most current variety of information. Marketers should plan to update their sites even more frequently and create a steady stream of new pages to take advantage.
- Google's Caffeine has been praised for its speed, which some estimate to be twice as fast as the older version. To compete in Google's newly caffeinated world, marketers should make sure their sites' loading times aren't lagging.
- Google's new algorithm relies more heavily on keyword strings, as opposed to single keywords, to produce better results. So search engine optimization content has to be on the dot.
Real-Time Search Results
Both Bing and Google have made steps to index Twitter "tweets" into their search engine results pages and live updates from FriendFeed. And we can expect to see more updates on Google coming from Facebook, MySpace, Jaiku and Identi.ca in the near future. The incorporation of real-time search results into Bing's and Google's organic listings makes it more important than ever for marketers to participate in social media:
• Get involved in social media. Customers are going to talk about your brand, whether or not you are present in the conversation. While this fact was (more) easily ignored before, real-time results in the two leading search engines could transform negative "tweets" or social media updates about your brand into a big problem. While you can't prevent customers from posting about negative experiences online, it's important to have a presence in the conversation and regain some control through participation.
Take the search results for Google's recently launched smartphone "Nexus One," for example. After a tough first week out on the market, unfavorable results dominated the "news" and "latest results" sections, spreading messages like, "Daddy is getting a Nexus one? What the hell for?"
Clearly, Google needs to start tweeting a bit more. While it can't fix the Nexus One immediately, it could make an effort to acknowledge these missteps or explain what it's doing to resolve the situation.
• Bid on brand-related terms. Although the Google marketing team has been largely absent from social media, it was smart to bid on its own brand-related terms. Traditionally, marketers have taken for granted that sites will score well organically on their own brand-related terms. With the inclusion of real-time search, however, the sites' organic results are getting pushed further down the results page, lessening the guarantee of showing up at the top of the page for searches on their brands or company names. In order to stay above all the negative press, it's become an imperative for any company that's making news to bid on their brands.
Uptake of Smartphones
The proportion of adult U.S. subscribers owning smartphones jumped to 17 percent last year from 11 percent in 2008 and 7 percent in 2007, according to new data from Forrester Research. What's more, nearly 50 percent of smartphone owners have bought something not mobile-related over their devices in the last six months, according to the third-quarter smartphone intelligence report from Web analytics firm Compete.
Mobile has become a viable channel for direct marketers. In addition to testing the effectiveness of mobile ad networks and advertising on iPhone applications, marketers should consider mobile versions of all landing pages.
Disney mobile advertising efforts are an excellent example of how to incorporate mobile advertising into a broader direct marketing strategy. Disney's mobile campaign is geared toward all types of cell phones: with free SMS alerts, free and paid applications for the iPhone, and sweepstakes programs. It also has developed a video-enabled Web site, which is viewable in a wireless application protocol version, as well as on Safari with touch screen capabilities.
To optimize on mobile search, marketers should keep in mind that mobile advertising is a distinct and growing channel. Marketers have to recognize that a growing number of customers are searching for their brands while moving through the world with a cup of coffee in one hand and their mobile phone in the other. In order to capture this audience, marketers need to modify their messaging for mobile-specific categories and phrases, keep their messages compact, and remember that their content and presentation will appear differently on a handheld than on a PC.
Google Relaxes the Rules
Google recently made a significant change to its trademark policy, which essentially allowed anyone to begin bidding on trademarked keywords. The rule change represents an obvious plus for Google, which will likely benefit from increased competition on branded terms.
For marketers, it represents both a threat and a new opportunity: Competitors bidding on your brand terms tend to focus on special promotions or comparative benefits in order to attract customers interested in your product.
Creative optimization on brand terms will become increasingly more important. You have to expect that someone searching for your brand will not be tempted by a special offer from your competitor. Test aggressive promotional copy on your brand term ads, along with your standard direct response language in order to neutralize this new threat from your competitors.
For example, a recent search for "Mozy," an online data storage service, revealed that several other competing companies had bid on the name "mozy." Now a potential Mozy customer is confronted with a broader array of additional promotional codes and special offers.
The famous quote "the only constant is change …" applies to search marketing. The search engines are constantly adjusting the rules of the game, and the lines between organic search, paid search and social media are becoming increasingly blurred. By keeping tabs on these new developments and implementing strategies to take advantage right out of the gate, your campaigns will be well-positioned for continued profitability.
Matt Kain is chief revenue officer of Santa Monica, Calif.-based online marketing firm The Search Agency. He can be reached at email@example.com.