Search Mixes it Up

SearchAs marketers move to integrate media and combine data, engagement mapping and attribution models take center stage

The integration of mapping systems and mobile phones will become the single most important search advancement in 2012. It will promote consumer loyalty for nearby businesses, and generate long-term advertising revenue and profits. As marketers continue to sign on to mobile advertising, companies in the U.S. will spend $2.61 billion on mobile advertising in 2012, up from $1.45 billion last year, according to eMarketer estimates. Search will own about $1.28 billion, up from roughly $653 million, respectively.

And eMarketer isn’t the only research firm forecasting mobile growth. The Adobe Systems Global Digital Advertising Q1 2012 report released in April reveals U.S. marketers continue to increase mobile advertising budgets. In the first quarter this year, U.S. marketers allocated 8 percent, and in the UK, 11 percent. Of this, tablets accounted for 4.25 percent of search spend. Tablet advertising investments will become more appealing to advertisers in the short term, because the cost per click (CPC) is lower compared to desktops, despite comparable conversion rates.

What did the search industry get right? For starters, mapping services and directories tied to mobile Web sites and applications — not only for retail stores, but down-the-street mom-and-pop grocery stores, towing services, dentists and insurance agents. Microsoft moved on its mobile strategy tying mapping apps to business directories. About half of smartphone and tablet owners use mobile apps to find information about local businesses, according to comScore.

Google latched on to mobile with GoMo, a service helping companies set up a mobile Web site and business plan, and set wheels in motion to acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. It launched click-to-call phone numbers in mobile ads, and video and image search. Some believe Microsoft did a better job at building image search, and forced the hand of Google to develop Google Goggles, a downloadable mobile image-recognition application for Android-operated devices.

Video and images have become an important piece of mobile, maps and directories for marketers. Rob Griffin, executive vice president and global director of product development at marketing agency Havas Digital, gives Bing a big nod for its image search. Google, he says, created the better algorithm, though the search experience is subpar.

Randy Wootton, senior vice president of sales and marketing at AdReady, left Microsoft in 2011, where he served as the vice president of global search and online marketplace. He calls the ability for marketers to own their brands’ online presence “big.” When asked for input on technology and strategies advancing search marketing, he points to pulling branded search terms into display ad campaigns.

The move to integrate marketing media combines silos of data, which led to engagement mapping and attribution models, as well as marketers owning the online presence of their companies’ brands, and pulling branded search terms into display ad campaigns.

Engagement mapping lets marketers track click paths and conversion rates to determine the importance and success of each media tied to an advertising campaign. Marketers have reached a point where they must identify the sum of the parts and their contribution, not just individual media.

While the underbelly of search engines remains complex, the action of moving search to a smaller screen taught engines to become simplistic. Thomas Mueller, a global director of branding firm Siegel+Gale, believes Google offers a better user interface and experience on tablets. And it may just be the Web code is one-generation behind, he says, because the query results page appears cleaner and simpler.

Simplicity will become the buzz word this year. The trend became obvious after considering recent missteps, as well as closures and new services introduced recently by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others.

The Misses

On June 1, Microsoft will shut down Bing 411, a search directory for businesses. It was created to compete with Google’s GOOG-411 service. Both companies failed to monetize their free listing service with advertisements. Google shut its service last year. Microsoft admits the service was designed at a time when few people had the option to access  Bing  through smartphones and other connected devices. Since then, the world has changed considerably.

Since early last year, Google closed several products to focus on social and mobile apps and advertising. Among them: Aardvark, Desktop, Fast Flip, Maps API for Flash, Google Pack, Google Web Security, Image Labeler, Sidewiki, Buzz, Code Search, iGoogle social features and Jaiku.

Early in May, Yahoo released a dashboard for small-and-medium-size businesses. As part of the offerings, a new directory service allows SMBs to monitor information about their company across the Web. It relies on the Yahoo directory as a template for information. A tab in the dashboard monitors local business listings based on the description. It ties in with Yelp and Yahoo Local, but it’s not clear whether it connects with Yahoo Maps.

Search engine marketing remains difficult for SMBs. The high failure rate based on complex platforms, and large debt and small margin for error keeps companies from investing. In May, Microsoft released a redesign of its search engine Bing. It also rebranded Microsoft Advertising for SMBs to — Bing, powered by Bing and Yahoo — in an attempt to make it less confusing for proprietors or marketers at small businesses who typically go to Bing’s home page and click on the “Advertise here” button to sign up.

The adoption of mobile phones and local search tools brought a heightened awareness for the need to better support SMBs. It took years for Microsoft execs to simplify the ad-buying process in adCenter. They had to “dumb-down the process and put all the complexities behind the curtain,” according to a former Microsoft exec. Not until then will the ad platform gain substantial adoption and come closer to reducing the gap with Google.

Without failure, success seems impossible. Google’s digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik once told MediaPost the Internet creates an experimental platform for online advertising, because failure can quickly turn into success through near real-time optimization techniques. Few technology platform providers have successfully combined search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search campaigns, but integrating search queries and social content has been doubly challenging.

Google’s “Search Plus Your World” has not met expectations, the search experience on Facebook remains clumsy and awful, and Bing’s integration of Facebook’s social graph seems shallow and not yet valuable, according to Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer at Kenshoo. And while industry tech geeks continue to try to combine search and social campaigns, brands and publishers still struggle with the strategy, says Goldman.

Consumers continually turn toward social connections to search for recommended brands, products, locations and more. A panel of Florida Gulf Coast University seniors took the stage at the MediaPost Search Insider Summit in April to explain how they use social media, search and mobile devices. Edelman account supervisor Michelle Prieb explored with the students how the next-generation consumer and professional makes social media part of their everyday lives.

Ironically, the Florida Gulf Coast University students asked for one dashboard to connect social and search platforms. Microsoft has been experimenting with the integration of social and search, rethinking tools and rebuilding platforms. A proof-of-concept social-search engine called so.cl, designed from the ground up, tests the integration of search results in a social engine. It supports real-time social data and videos that integrate with search engine commands to automatically populate pages and allow users to share information.

All this technology becomes meaningless unless companies get it right. Until platform and technology companies can better combine the search and social experience in the user interface for site visitors, all the back-end tools in the world will deliver substandard results.

The Challenges

Challenges run the gamut, from Google’s decision to limit referring keyword data to site analytics tools while remaining committed to SEO transparency, to connecting silos of data and attributing the influence of media to the conversion or the final sale of the product or service.

Google’s policy makes sense when it comes to protecting consumer privacy, but others believe it could present a conflict of interest. After all, the search company is appending query data to URLs sent to several Web sites. A savvy data aggregator can collect search-term information and sell the associated cookies to retarget consumers based on searches.

It also makes sense that Google would want to hold on to the valuable data, so they can do the targeting, rather than a third party. Marin Software vice president of marketing Matt Lawson says the question becomes how big will limits grow for logged-in users? Between 10 percent and 15 percent isn’t a big deal, but if it becomes 30 percent, 40 percent or 50 percent, SEO marketers will lose a lot of visibility to activity across the Internet.

The same holds true for Facebook, Lawson says. Advertisers complain about the lack of tracking visitors from the click all the way through other actions on and off Facebook.

Visibility into data becomes paramount for attribution modeling. Drawing a solid white line connecting media will become one of this year’s biggest challenges. It means developing methods, technologies and organizational strategies. Marketers will experiment with the amount of credit given to lower-funnel activities, such as search, to understand how offline activities, such as billboards or television and radio commercials, contribute to the sale.

At many companies, the practice of attribution begins with the need to understand the relationship between natural and paid search campaigns. But think of all the marketing channels driving consumers to the final goal, whether downloading a white paper or making a purchase. Often times the ones assisting in the process become more important than the final click getting all the credit.

There’s also no shortage of emerging technologies and strategies. Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, an online data management marketing firm for marketers, ad networks and publishers, thinks about assigning attribution to behavioral data connected to paid search ads.

Marketers have begun to understand the benefits from integrating media, such as search and social. They realize consumers jump from search engines to social sites to product recommendations when researching products and services, continually toggling between social networks and search engines. For example, research from digital marketing agency Kenshoo reveals 22.5 percent of all online retail sales prompted by Facebook ad clicks in the conversion path include at least one click on a search advertisement.

Companies adopting attribution admit it offers the accountability that Internet marketing has promised for years, but not delivered. Indeed, 72 percent of marketers and agencies surveyed agree that attribution models enable better budget allocation across channels and better returns on investments, but findings from a study by Econsultancy and Google suggest the majority of marketers worldwide fail to use attribution models correctly — or even at all.

The study found that for most companies using attribution the strategy remains in the early stages, both from technology and organizational structure. Some 83 percent of the survey respondents have been engaged in the practice for less than two years, and 28 percent began in just the last six months. The technology is being used to determine what media attributed to the conversion, as well as policies and procedures within the company. Attribution is more than technology. It requires marketers to combine data collected from display, search, video, social and mobile ads. So, companies need to build or find through a third-party the databases and platforms that support this integration. Typically, within a company, these campaigns are managed by different people. The same person who manages a display ad campaign doesn’t manage a search ad campaign. The two who do must learn how to share the data and work together to determine budgets. It means c-level execs need to rethink the organizational structure of the company.

Redefining organizational structures will become difficult for those at companies with rigid budget policies. At many organizations, attribution gets political. It requires marketers to redistribute budgets, if necessary, to understand the interplay of media channels. Changing the status quo is difficult, especially at organizations where compensation is tied to the size of budgets and bonuses.

Silos between channels also make it difficult to gain a cross-media perspective in digital. As companies deal with these complexities, their ability to customize channel weights within attribution methods becomes vital, so it is not surprising the study identifies a high percentage of marketers and agencies citing customization as an important attribution method. In fact, 41 percent of agencies cited customization by channel as important, compared to 25 percent of clients.

Although marketers continue to do their best to integrate digital and traditional channels, a significant measurement gap remains. The model requires data to get a good view into attribution and how the channels work together, such as an online digital and an offline branding campaign. Of those marketers with multichannel marketing and advertising programs, only 41 percent cite being able to better understand the interactions between digital and offline media, according to the Econsultancy and Google report.

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1 comment about "Search Mixes it Up".
  1. Aaron Goldman from Kenshoo , June 6, 2012 at 10:50 p.m.
    What a difference a month makes! I'm a huge fan of the recent Bing integration with Facebook that launched in early May, shortly after I shared my thoughts for this piece. In fact, in my last Search Insider column, I said,"The new Bing is the best integration of social that I’ve ever seen on any search engine -- even Microsoft Research’s so.cl." (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/175770/10-reasons-why-i-wouldnt-bet-against-bing.html) Meanwhile, Google has made great strides to make the local search experience on Google+ richer. Gotta love the pace of our industry!