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My Holiday Search Marketing Wish List

Ah, the holiday season. Creative refreshes, keyword expansions, bidding up to capture all those credit card-wielding customers. As yet another action-packed holiday season descends upon us, while we light the menorah again and again, exchange gifts and happily hang delicate decorations on the tree, as we make lists and check them twice, I want to reflect on my own wishes for the industry I’ve grown to love over the past decade.

Here is my search marketing wish list for the holidays this year, in no particular order:

Better SEM planning tools. I know, I know. SEM planning is tricky—inventory changes, markets shift, competition escalates, blah blah blah. While there are some crude public tools out there for planning, I wouldn’t want to take any of their data to the bank in Q4. Then again, perhaps the problem lies not in planning tools, but rather in planning cycles. The fact that right now I’m in the middle of the 2010 shopping season and I’m putting together a plan for the 2011 shopping season means that I’ll never get it right. I’ve written in the past (and talk all the time) about how to put processes in place to account for the inherent uncertainty of paid search, but let’s face it, in large companies there is a premium on certainty, a rare commodity in search marketing. Santa, baby, bring me some planning tools!

Actionable attribution management. I’ve spent a good deal of time writing about attribution management and the related challenges and opportunities. I still believe this is one of the Next Big Things for online marketers and I know that we, as an industry, will figure out how to make it work and integrate it into our marketing workflow. In the meantime, however, I will continue to shout about how we’re still in the dark on attribution management. We don’t even have a hint at the standards and conventions that will allow us to speak a common language when it comes to this up-and-coming marketing discipline, and until we do we’re pretty much just spinning our wheels. Come on, people—take the plunge and let’s get going!

Holiday bidding algorithms. Last year was the first holiday season where we used automated bidding algorithms on some of our in-house retail-focused paid search campaigns. Boy, was that ever exciting! We learned a lot about how to (and how not to) build an algorithm that could react to a rapidly-shifting market like Q4 retail, and I think we’re a lot better off this year as a result—but we’ll know much better in a couple of weeks. One of the keys we found, not surprisingly, is that a much shorter time horizon needs to be used in making bidding decisions in a rapidly shifting marketplace. Also, historical (year over year) data can come into play to help predict when marketplace shifts will happen. Above all, bidding automatons, make sure you have methods in place to measure the success of your bidding strategy.

More Bing traffic. I love the quality of traffic I get in the new Unified Marketplace (Bing + Yahoo!, managed through adCenter). My feeling is that as advertisers get more adept at using adCenter, we’ll get better at optimizing the combined Bing and Yahoo traffic to get the most value out of the Unified Marketplace.

Standards, standards, standards. OK, we’ve been doing this search marketing thing for a while now, and we still don’t have any real standards in our industry. Am I the only one who is bothered by that? Big ups to Google for their AdWords certification program, but outside of that it’s still like the wild west out here. On the technical side of the house, the search engines give us API access but there is no formal training, nor is there a blueprint for success on how to use them. Every new large advertiser or tools provider has to reinvent the wheel to figure out how to execute on efficient API management. We could really use an open source or pre-defined set of standards or best practices on how to optimize API calls or data storage for different types of web server or firmware configurations. And what about the marketing side of the house? I’d love to have some consensus around benchmarks for metrics like CTR by position, conversion rates for different kinds of businesses, CTRs and CPCs for brand keywords, etc.

More innovative ad products. I simply adore retargeting and behavioral targeting. But with the rapid ascent of search marketing over the past five or six years, the display advertising industry has taken a back seat, relatively speaking. The fact that inventory supply now generally exceeds advertiser demand hasn’t helped. And now that search marketing has matured so incredibly quickly and competition has reached feeding-frenzy levels, there is a renewed focus on display inventory and how to make it more valuable for advertisers. Ad networks and exchanges have pushed this evolution along by offering CPA and CPC buys, and it helps that more publishers are offering retargeting. So, what’s next? I’ve run into a few companies that are doing some super smart work around automating display optimization at the placement- and creative-level on specific networks. There’s lots of opportunity here, as efficiency makes a big difference. I think the next step will be taking such ideas and optimizing across networks, and soon, hopefully, across search and display.

That should just about cover everything I want this holiday season. Oh, and if somehow the San Diego Chargers can miraculously make the playoffs this year, that’d be just swell. Hey, a guy can wish, can’t he? Happy Holidays!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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