Google’s recent announcement that search spend growth rates are slowing represents that search marketing as we all know (and love) it is changing. Advertisers still use search engines to market much the same way they did five years ago. But as consumer behavior expands to include searching through apps or communities or via non-PC devices, marketers will need to think about search marketing as more than just SEM and SEO. At Forrester, we expect search marketing to evolve into an umbrella term which means using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.
What changes are afoot to provoke such a redefinition of search marketing?
First off, there is more content and more ways to search for it. Images, pdfs, Twitter feeds, video files, ratings and reviews—not just web pages—are all now online and want to be catalogued. And searchers go beyond Google to find this content; they search through review sites like Yelp, social networks like Facebook and also across multiple devices like smartphones, iPads or digital video recorders.
Search engines too are (at last) transforming from lists of web links into content curators that can read images, flash files and tailor results to searcher location or prior behavior. Microsoft’s Bing determines what content to serve searchers based on search terms, user profiles and social media trends. And Yahoo and Google both now offer richer search ad formats to support images and video. Marketers today have access to better and broader tools to manage and measure paid search and SEO.
As search marketing becomes less about keyword bid management and more about being found online, search marketers will have to adjust. Jon Armstrong, the CEO, of Adlucent, a search marketing agency focused on predictive analytics, summed up the change at hand this way. He told me: “The search marketer needs to become a business strategist, working with pricing, procurement and inventory management.” I agree.
Here are a few ways you can strengthen your search marketing efforts to take advantage of these trends.
Know how your customers find you. Consumer “finding ways” will evolve as the splinternet fragments content access. And the way to place your brand in their path will depend on how they engage with preferred search engines and devices. Since there’s no way (yet) to track consumers across devices, make use of options such as purchase path mapping and linguistic profiling.
Identify the searcher’s need. When I ask most search marketers what their goals are for their search program they respond, “to drive leads” or “to drive online sales.” But I challenge with “why search, specifically?” What is it about search that makes it invaluable over another media option for your goals? And might the goals search suits be something beyond just driving traffic and response volume? A great example of creating search-friendly content that doesn’t have conversion as a specific goal: Carnival cruise lines launched a video library specifically to showcase the experience of being on a cruise to people who had never taken a cruise before. Carnival’s business reasons for using search marketing were to distribute these rich videos across the web.
Optimize across a customer’s conversion process. Today, most search marketers focus on the top of the funnel by optimizing bid placements or customer acquisition. But potential customers can’t convert if their post click experience isn’t relevant. You can fix this by tuning in to searcher intent, not just keyword use.
Support a strategic use of search marketing with practice. As search becomes a part of all brand interactions, everyone working in an organization—not just the site and search teams—should understand search marketing and its value to the business. And the best way to learn what works is by trying new approaches.
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