How the Hallway Conversations Have Changed

One of the benefits I enjoy as a columnist and as the president of a search engine-marketing firm is that I am invited to speak at a lot of conferences around the country each year. Some of these events are search-marketing specific, while others encompass a broader "interactive marketing" focus, and some even feature topics as diverse as traditional advertising channels and the latest in the interactive space.

As those of you who regularly attend these types of events can attest, most are much the same in look, feel, and format. After a while, these shows and the venues in which they are held, begin to blur and become indistinguishable from each other. Let's see, if this is Monday, it must be Ad:Tech.

But one thing that never fails to delight me at these events are the conversations I have with people in the hallways, beside the stage, in elevators, and in the lines to pick up my box lunches. And boy, have those conversations changed over the years - or should I say, the people with whom those conversations take place have changed.



I am approached by senior-level marketing folks at these events, all of whom invariably want to discuss search marketing and different, successful employment strategies. While each conversation starts differently, they all end up at the same place: "How can I improve my search marketing results?"

Isn't it amazing how far the search marketing industry has come in the past 10 years? Since that time, search marketing has evolved from a technical issue that only webmasters worried about to something that is now discussed in the boardroom.

What caused the shift? Why am I now approached by men and women in suits who control millions in marketing budget dollars, when it seems like just yesterday I was chatting with ponytailed geeks with pocket protectors?

Because search marketing has proven its value as a highly effective marketing channel. As a result, search marketing has become a strategic consideration with serious implications for the bottom line, rather than merely a tactic. Face it, success breeds attention.

Despite all the success and all the attention that's been paid to search marketing in the last couple of years, search marketing is still one of the most fiercely debated topics within most marketing organizations. And why is that?

While search marketing can be a very productive channel for many, it is an incredibly difficult channel in which to net superior results. This is because to do it right -- to squeeze the most out of search marketing (like twisting a wet towel to get every drop of water out of it) -- an organization has to focus on quite a number of factors.

Organizations need to effectively integrate natural search engine optimization, paid search advertising, and paid inclusion. They need to implement a Web analytics solution that tracks every visitor and conversion and distinguish their source by keyword, by engine, and by natural, PPC, or PI program. They need to integrate their overall search efforts with both their other online initiatives (such as e-mail and banners), as well as with their offline efforts (such as direct mail, print ads, and TV).

Further still, organizations need to develop a methodology for measuring the impact of their search marketing efforts on business results (ROI, sales, etc.) that convert offline. They need to close every loop, measure and analyze everything, and make constant adjustments to optimize the results of their efforts. Meanwhile, the search engines themselves remain constantly moving targets; their algorithms change, their paid program models change, and they launch new programs for marketers to learn and master.

So with these challenges in mind, it's easy to understand why internal debate over priorities, funding, outsourcing, and human resources abounds within organizations.

Search marketing, at its core, is a strategic endeavor. Both its complexity and potential impact underscore the need for a search marketing strategy that is interwoven within an organization's overall marketing strategy. Organizations' senior management has begun to respond accordingly by giving search marketing the attention and resources it deserves.

Though the need for the implementation of the nuts and bolts of search marketing within every organization still exists much as it did 10 years ago, these activities are now typically part of a much larger, more complex, more integrated, and interdependent process that is managed by people much higher in their organizations than was once the case. As with many important aspects of business, a blueprint for successful search marketing is difficult to boil down to a digestible sound bite. I'll continue to work on my elevator response for those who would like to talk. See you in the hallways.

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