Q&A With Ron Belanger Vice President of Search Marketing, Carat Interactive

After crafting successful search strategies for clients like Best Buy, Sun Microsystems, and General Electric, Ron Belanger, the vice president of search marketing at Carat Interactive, has developed some strong opinions on the future of search marketing. OMMA’s Lee Hall spoke to him recently regarding this very topic.

OMMA: What are advertisers missing in using search as a marketing tool and how do you help your clients do it right?

Belanger:Why mass marketers don’t treat it like broadcast TV is beyond me. Product launches, branding initiatives, promotions all need to have a search component to effectively reach the desired audience at the most receptive point in the marketing dialogue between the consumer and advertiser. If an advertiser is not there at this critical touch point, the dialogue ends, and the consumer moves on. Where we meet resistance is in the fact that branding and product launch dollars have never been dedicated to search, so it’s a new way of thinking. People, by nature, are resistant to change.

OMMA: What concerns you most about the future of search-related advertising?

Belanger:Click fraud is a problem. We are seeing a huge delta in click fraud detection systems between the two big boys and the rest of the industry. The only solution I can see is that search engines move to a performance-based model, similar to the affiliate marketing world. Because search is so measurable, advertising dollars will migrate towards the engines that do a better job filtering fraud.

OMMA: A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that most people don’t use search engines very often, and two-thirds said that if search engines disappeared tomorrow, it would not affect their lives very much. What do you make of those findings?

Belanger:I don’t need to look beyond our own client roster to see the huge impact that search marketing has on [clients’] bottom line. Volumes of people out there [are] using Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask Jeeves, to not only seek answers, but to find solutions. I can think of no other technology, with the exceptions of the cell phone and the Internet itself, which has transformed the way we live our daily lives; the World Wide Web without search engines isn’t all that wide or worldly.

OMMA: Most of the increases in search activity have come about because of a growing online population, but that growth is leveling off. How is that going to affect how you counsel your clients on using search?

Belanger:Most of our clients, and their competitors, are spending only a fraction of what they should be. So the last thing that concerns me is slowing growth rates of U.S. search users.

Our global clients are excited about the Internet penetration rates in growing markets like China and Europe. When China’s Internet penetration rate reaches the 65 percent mark of the U.S., the size of that market will just dwarf what we see here in the states.

OMMA: How significant is the move toward video search technology to advertisers?

Belanger:Any technology that allows more of the Web to be indexed, sorted, and retrieved has huge potential for advertisers. The Web is more than just text-based Web pages, though. As more of it becomes findable through search, the more advertisers will want to capitalize on that consumer demand. I also think network search is going to be huge and fundamentally change knowledge management. Searching my laptop using Google is a novelty. Searching the laptop of a peer in our Copenhagen office is revolutionary, and could make me work much smarter and more efficiently.

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