What Comes After Search?

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Now that search has become a successfully measurable marketing tactic, it’s inevitable that professionals are looking ahead and asking “what’s next?” on the search engine marketing (SEM) landscape. Yet most companies today are still significantly under-leveraging search as a means of capturing interested customers and driving maximum financial returns.

For these marketers, the first step should be to confirm that they are actually capturing the demand which they have worked diligently to acquire via brand development and promotional programs. Capturing all demand in the marketplace for their products should be their top priority.

So why is search marketing more effective than other marketing models at capturing this demand?

The SEM model differs in that it puts the customer in control and leverages technology to capture demand, while reducing expendable time. This approach requires a company to operate almost like a data-warehouse (something new for most marketers) where actionable responses can be executed based upon the massive amounts of data being collected and analyzed. While this model seems challenging to some, the achievable benefits far exceed any perceived difficulties.

Most importantly, a significant competitive and financial advantage is gained by those companies that embrace this new approach.

Q. How can marketers set up for future success?
A. By identifying and testing the most promising emerging opportunities growing out of the search and consumer-centric marketing space.

Following is my review of few of those emerging search opportunities and what they offer forward thinking marketers:

Contextual Marketing
This vehicle is a proven success after several years of tinkering. Two newer models have emerged that are also promising: Contextual vertical networks and image contextual networks. The vertical approach was pioneered by Kanoodle and involves targeting contextual ads to vertical content sites within a broader network. Success rates have been promising, and this model — which is familiar to advertisers — will certainly spread.

Image ads in a contextual medium have strong promise — as some product offerings really need a visual queue to communicate the benefit. Google has rolled out Image Ads with two pricing models to date, and is still refining the product to allow more concise targeting based on initial marketer feedback.

RSS Feeds
Real Simple Syndication (RSS) is receiving significant buzz in the marketplace for a number of reasons. First, it provides consumers with a new level of control over the web-based content they consume. For example, users can add RSS links to their current Yahoo! or MSN home pages, or can create their own website containing frequently updated content to their preference. Second, the industry has taken a strong interest in the potential of RSS.

Search engines believe that RSS is a natural extension of their existing offerings and are enabling syndication to their user bases (Yahoo! and MSN) or are piping ads to searches on RSS search engines (i.e. Overture on Feedster). The main challenge for marketers today is that there are few advertising opportunities for sending ads along with RSS feeds — but this may change in the near future as the search engines continue to look for new revenue streams. One rumor has it that Google (which is testing RSS within Gmail) might consider serving contextual ads relevant to these RSS feeds in the future.

Behavioral Targeting
This emerging field is not a new concept (remember Engage?). In layman’s terms, behavioral targeting focuses on altering the media targeting approach, regardless of the media property being used, to target the consumer instead. It is an extension of the contextual model — but one that is based on user habits and presenting relevant ads based upon those habits. The main difference with today’s approach is that there are more opportunities for consumer reach and the improved technology behind the endeavor is creating a promising new advertising space.

Mobile Marketing
A long-promised platform that has really failed to take off. Promotional messages via the phone are quite intrusive and this is going to be offsetting to consumers that are now getting used to being in control. My belief is that local search will pave the way for marketing via cell phones that is consumer-initiated.

“Consumer-created” websites
Media and websites have historically been treated as separate entities, but these walls are deteriorating as marketers realize that the consumer does not differentiate the same way we do. Forward thinking marketers are aware of how powerful it is to enable user control over their website. The main incentive today is to increase conversion optimization and engage new visitors to the site via consumer-driven optimization of specific pages. It is important to realize that the consumer is part of one continuous ecosystem, and optimizing the entire interaction—from start to finish to re-marketing—will be critical to maintaining a competitive advantage today and in the future.

What’s next is starting to take shape today, and smart marketers are laying the foundations for taking advantage of these changes that will affect their digital marketing efforts in the coming years.

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