Keynote – The State Of The Search Union

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Executive Editor, Search Engine Land


Vanessa Fox, Contributing Editor, Search Engine Land
Avinash Kaushik, Analytics Evangelist, Google Inc.
Misty Locke, President, Range Online Media & Chief Strategy Officer, iProspect, Range Online Media / iProspect
David Roth, Director of Search Engine Marketing, Yahoo! Inc.

Keynote, Day Three SMX

Hi everyone! It’s the final day of the SMX West conference and I’m leaving it all here. Blog ’til you drop, baby! There’s a good-sized crowd for today’s keynote, a roundtable convo between some heavy hitters of search.

Chris welcomes everyone. When they’ve done panels like this in the past, he’s usually saying Google, Google, Google. But in the past year we’ve seen more radical change than he’s observed in the last 15 years since he’s covered the search engines. It’s really exciting, and that’s why they’ve assembled this stellar panel.

Last year this time we were in the early stages of an economic meltdown and everyone was uncertain about how the recovery would take place and what it meant for a new industry like search marketing. So does search still have a bright future?

Dave: As a search marketer, it allowed him to show their stuff and gave them a reason to shift strategies. In his experience they were able to support business goals in a shifting landscape through search marketing. Also, he’s seen a shift back to SEO and not just in paid.

Misty: Some businesses as a whole saw pain points, but e-commerce areas performed well. In some areas, e-commerce business grew when they weren’t expecting it to. Some record-breaking months and quarters were seen thanks to search. Both customer acquisition and customer loyalty were both affected positively.

Chris: The Super Bowl is the big spend event for TV advertiser. We’ve seen several advertisers pull out of it this year. Is that a shift online?

Vanessa: With Pepsi, they decided to shift their money to social media. But what struck her when watching Super Bowl ads was that many large brands were just starting to recognize search was important. It seemed better than last year, but slowly edging up and there’s still a lot of work left for large brands.

Chris: In terms of branding, there seems to be an argument that branding and search don’t mix. Do you believe that?

Avinash: What’s great about search is that relevancy and accountability are there. Branding was a great metaphor for wanting to do something without understanding the outcome. But in search, the case is that you can use it effectively for many desired outcomes. When people say, “I want to run a branding campaign,” his first question is what do you want out of it? A one time thing, a long-term relationship, and so on. Search is an effective way to show relevance for many goals.

Chris: It seems there’s finally a good number two in Microsoft and Yahoo!

Dave: It’s a huge project and a lot of resources are being put in the partnership. The proof will be in the pudding as advertisers start to migrate. When things like this happen, he’s usually the one being the guinea pig.

Chris: There was a lot of animosity early on in the media around the partnership.

Dave: Yahoo! search and engineer resources will move to Microsoft but a lot remains to be seen. Everyone on this project understands that this is a must-work project so he thinks they’ll figure out a way to make this happen.

Chris: What’s the reaction of clients across the spectrum?

Misty: They’re excited, not only clients but also the search managers at her agency. It allows her to shift strategy, so instead of 70/20/10 it’ll be 60/40. The opportunity is big around reach and the additional volume this will bring. One question will be will Microsoft still bring us some of the highest conversion rates once Yahoo! comes in. Bing Cashback has been a big opportunity for her clients.

Avinash: Competition is a good thing. It gets people to innovate and do better and not get stale. The way each engine works and the kind of people that use each engine is very different. You should have a strategy for SEO for each engine, a portfolio strategy because you will find more customers and find your dollars more effectively.

Vanessa: She’s waiting to see how the partnership shakes out. She doesn’t know how Searchmonkey and BOSS will work when Yahoo! doesn’t have its own index. Yahoo! did have a play for innovation and for startups, so she’s reserving judgment until the partnership settles in.

Chris: Google has a culture of being open and yet opaque. With Caffeine we’ve heard it’s on one data center. What impact is the Caffeine update going to have on SEO? And is Google going to continue in it’s sprit of tools and openness?

Vanessa: Once she looked at all the changes by Google in the last year, normally she tells people not to think much about SEO besides the foundation, but now it’s really important because there have been so many changes to Google search. With Caffeine, she doesn’t think it will have an SEO impact, because there’s no rankings change, other than indirectly, for instance being able to crawl a site quickly.

Avinash: If every Googler woke up and decided they would answer questions from webmasters, he doesn’t think we’d ever be able to answer all the questions. One part of the tool strategy is trying to help people at scale and give you the transparency and info you need to make better decisions. Also, the tool strategy is to help you make better decisions with search better. He’s been “orgasmic” about the amount of data Google has made available, like Insights for Search, geo and trends organic search data all there.

Chris: There’s a little confusion of who’s doing what regarding Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Dave: Yahoo!’s committed to search, and one way is on the sales side. They’ll be managing both display and search for their network, and maintain the high-touch with big customers. A lot of smaller and self-service customers will be managed on the Microsoft side. With the platform, he thinks the goal is to make the adCenter platform the platform of choice for both Bing and Yahoo!

The question is what can we do given the data and assets we have to serve ads better for the consumer. Buying behavioral and demographic targets, there are teams focused on creating better ad products and technologies for consumers and advertisers.

Chris: People say we’re seeing social media replacing search for interactions online. What can search marketers do, not just to be social, but to anticipate what’s going to happen in the next 12 or 18 months?

Vanessa: Someone was interviewing her and said that search is old news, so why are trying to get people to optimize for search? People aren’t done searching. She doesn’t think there’s an either or thing for search and social.

Misty: She thinks social elevates the opportunity for search marketing, breaking down the boundaries between marketing departments. If she’s looking at a marketing campaign, search is being given the responsibility to drive campaigns. Lift campaigns, branding campaigns, and so on, marketers have that ability at their fingertips through social and real-time info to drive search volume.

Dave: He’s always said, sit tight, the rest of the marketing community is coming your way, search marketers. Search engines are pulling social into search, which is great. All the discipline and accountability that search has grown up with is going to be a huge advantage for companies.

Avinash: The media loves “or” stories even though we’re in an “and” world. There’s no either or, and that brings me back to my point about having a search marketing portfolio and that each channel is used for what it’s good at. You wouldn’t want to use the shouting from TV ads within a social media campaign. If you execute each strategy optimally, the bottom line impact you’ll have is much broader than you’d have imagined.

Chris: If you’re going all of sudden from mass market messaging to individual touch, how do you manage that info overload? And will we see siloing, with search absorbed in a silo of an organization?

Avinash: We put on the wrong lens when we say, “How do we make advertising more relevant?” Instead, what we do today is try to influence people, and one emerging way to influence people is to have these conversations. What is sure is shouting at people is going away. He believes the single greatest reason for Google’s success is relevance. Marketers have to accept that the way we influence people is changing, because marketers don’t decide what works, the customers do. With question two, he doesn’t see search going into a silo, because it’s used for a broad spectrum of goals.

Dave: If you look at social media managed in an organization, you see it’s the first channel that’s delivered on the promise of customer engagement. Q: Who should own social media in an organization? A: Well, who owns the paper in an organization?
That puts it succinctly. Social is breaking down the barriers because it has to be implemented across an organization.

Vanessa: With data, if all the areas of marketing can share the data there’s going to be much more understanding and it benefits them all.

Chris: What happens when unethical marketers get a hold of all that data?

Avinash: If you look at the sides of the Egyptian tombs, there are spam comments in that. Spam will continue to be a problem for a very long time. The best advertising channels can do is do what they can to suppress it and to provide incentives to doing things the right way.

Misty: There will always be spam. The trick for ethical marketers is overdoing our efforts for authenticity Consumers can sniff it out and sometimes be judged too harshly.

Dave: There’s the potential to do unethical things as well as criminal things. There’s not enough awareness and understanding of advertising mediums by the public and by the government. The risk of regulation is that there’s a big lack of understanding and it’s scary to think what regulation can do to marketing. Legislators aren’t up to speed on technologies like these.

Chris: Let’s shift to global. What’s the opportunity for search marketers? And with regulation, how do you work with restrictions and censorship of certain countries? Opportunity or keep watching?

Vanessa: You should always understand your audience. It’s not enough to just localize your content. Understanding the culture and government, you’ll see audiences are very different. I think the government stuff is a whole other issue, but start by understanding the audience.

Avinash: Search marketers outside the U.S. tend to be sophisticated marketers, though there is still a reliance on shout channels. But they’re getting up to speed fast and there’s an opportunity to come up with something very creative in the global market.

Chris: Outside the U.S. we see a big mobile internet population. Is mobile here?

Dave: It’s here but it may not be what we thought it would be. We’ve seen 20 percent smartphone penetration hit, and that could be a sign of big things.

Avinash: On vacation he was looking for something to do with the family and he picked up his Nexus phone and did a voice search. Six seconds later he had driving directions from where he was. In that six seconds the query went to the Google servers, translated the text, found what he was looking for and delivered him an answer. All that is search. It made him think that he has to rethink his search strategy for that kind of a use case, and he doesn’t think people are thinking of that as search. It’s not just a WAP version of a Web page.

Misty: When a client comes to them and says they want to optimize for mobile, she starts by asking lots of questions about the usability of a site. After that, then the client can think of advertising.

Vanessa: The ubiquity of mobile opens up the door for new search opportunities. Users don’t even know if they’re searching when they do things like Urbanspoon or Google Goggles. Most of the world has never had a smartphone before the iPhone, the first time smartphone had a mass audience. Mobile is here.

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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