Looking Beyond Search & Retargeting: An SEM's Survival Guide

This past week I was fortunate to be able to participate on a panel discussion titled “Moving Beyond Search & Retargeting: What’s Missing from Your Performance Strategy?” The format of the panel was simple: an hour devoted to panelist presentations, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A time. And after I overcame my initial nervousness, I came away with a clear view of what challenges are before us in the near term and what many of us now struggle with daily.

Much of that insight came from the attendee audience itself. The moderator for our session, Quantcast’s Scott Linzer, asked the audience, “Who has seen average cost-per-click (CPC) increases across your search marketing campaigns?”

The room was filled with raised hands. It was apparent that search marketers and agencies are now looking to diversify the channel mix across performance campaigns while maintaining program efficiencies.

Scott then asked our panel, “What’s the one new trend SEMs should focus on next?” The key insights we shared are below, in my subjective order of difficulty to accomplish:



1) Integrating search and display. We’ve been hearing this for years, but the fact remains that many marketers aren’t yet viewing search and display performance data together. It’s intuitive that these channels are interrelated and synergistic, but still cross-channel barriers exist. Why is that? The top responses seem to be silo’d teams and legacy reporting. After all, would you want to be the one to explain to the boss why display conversions bottomed out last month (because branded search was getting the last-click conversion credit)? I wouldn’t, either.

 2) Attribution models are no longer nice-to-haves.”  Integrating search and display is a big first step; operationalizing robust multichannel attribution technology is a gigantic leap. My fellow panelist Tim Underwood from eBay was the real star of this discussion. His firm recently acquired ClearSaleing, a leading multichannel attribution platform.

Though not many organizations (agencies included) are doing this well, optimizing for the entire customer journey is only going to grow in importance. Multichannel optimization and its far more complex cousin, “path to purchase” optimization, are soon to become requisite components to a wholly optimized customer experience.

3) Programmatic ad buying. It’s not really a future trend, but for adventuresome SEMs looking to expand their skill set, the world of programmatic RTB ad buying is the next logical frontier. You could say that through  Google AdWords’ and Bing Ads’ platforms, search marketers have been “doing programmatic” for years. Display ads are an entirely different beast, though, and require a unique mental model. But I believe that buying advertising reach against audiences in a channel-agnostic way is the real future for performance marketing. We won’t call them SEMs or digital media planners; we’ll call them “digital orchestrators.”

4) Optimize for the individual, rather than the channel. I’ve noted before in a previous column that customer data has become the currency of the digital age. It’s the reason for many big ad tech investments, and even agency consolidations. That trend favors whole customer intelligence, rather than Web analytics’ aggregated visit-level data that most digital marketers are accustomed to.

This trend doesn’t just have to be about the rising use of data management platforms (DMPs). Just looking at the obvious intersection of search and display, the key is in understanding audiences and how they interact with varied, and even staggered, messaging across many touch points. The challenge then for old school SEMs is to commit to methodical cross-channel experimentation and optimization.

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