Laziness And Personalization In Phoenix

"We'll even take questions about search engine marketing."

That was Jim Waltz, CEO of Conducive Corporation, giving in to the audience mood at Frost & Sullivan's Internet Marketing Strategies Symposium. For no matter what the workshop topic was, presenters and audience members in Phoenix, Ariz. last week for the conference couldn't stop talking about search.

The speakers at the event were unusually open. Whether it was a marketer sharing aggregate customer data or a search engine optimization expert revealing successful tactics while on stage with competitors, Frost & Sullivan presented the most open and honest environment I've encountered anywhere this side of an episode of Dr. Phil.

In light of all the sharing, I'll share a few search-related highlights from the event.

Lazy Is as Lazy Does: One of the most provocative assertions at the conference came from Avinash Kaushik, Intuit's senior manager of web research & analytics. He called paid search "the lazy man's option."



This is a misconception branching off from some seeds of truth. Paid search can be deceptively simple. A marketer can independently launch a paid search campaign in minutes, whether the budget is $10 or $1 million. It's all a waste if you don't measure through to the conversion, lead or meaningful metric of choice. Kaushik referred to an AdWords campaign he ran where the customer acquisition cost was three times higher than the average order size. Most search marketing advocates in the room bristled, with Fortune Interactive CEO Andy Beal vowing he could turn that into a profitable campaign.

Kaushik, one of my favorite speakers at the conference, discussed using Web site analytics to improve the consumer experience. He urged the audience to enlist analytics to challenge conventional wisdom. As an example, he shared a test that showed how consumers coming via paid search to a generic page with a slew of products converted just as well as consumers coming to a more targeted page. The generic campaign was thus more profitable, since it didn't involve the cost of creating additional landing pages.

That case study has its limitations. Countless other case studies from others show how landing page targeting and optimization can lead to a higher return on investment. However, the big picture takeaway is a powerful one: use available research to test your assumptions, and accept that some of your assumptions may be unfounded.

Taking It Personally: One of the best sessions featured Brian Price, Verizon's executive director of online marketing, discussing personalization and privacy. He reminded attendees, "[Consumers don't] know what we know about them."

To date, personalization discussions about search engine marketing have centered on registered users who are logged in. Such a user may find ads targeted to his or her demographics, interests and behavior, and Google is experimenting with personalized search results. Yet one can argue that a degree of personalization (used in its broadest sense) occurs every time a user enters a search query which returns paid search ads; the set of ads displayed changes based on the individual user's query. It might not be true personalization, but for the user, the experience is extremely personal. I'll return to this in future editions, as consumer education, government pressure, improved technology, and advertiser demand will turn personalization into the most important and nuanced issue affecting online advertising this year.

Perfect Search: The one session where I wish I could have taken more notes was the one I moderated. The panelists, one of the most eloquent search marketing brain trusts assembled on a single stage, included: Katherine Craig, director, online marketing & distribution, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide; Scott Delea, senior vice president and general manager, DigitalGrit; Jeff Hollowell, CIO iCrossing; Aaron Shear, Chief Technology Officer, SEO Inc.; and Andy Beal.

At the end, Brett Crosby, product marketing manager of Google Analytics, asked the panelists for their favorite SEM tips and tricks. Crosby shared one of his own, which he'd heard from SEO-PR co-founder Greg Jarboe. Crosby mentioned how images added to press releases are not only picked up by Google News, but the visuals sometimes appear atop natural search results, adding to the exposure.

Several panelists stressed focusing on building out search engine-friendly content that's keyword rich and still makes sense to the user. Other recommendations: testing content in the Mozilla Firefox browser, planning linking strategies, conducting A/B and multivariate testing with paid search, simplifying domain structures, using domain redirects with caution, and developing a sound pre- and post-click paid search strategy.

The one and only tip I could add after the panelists' sage advice was to use the time at the symposium to learn from one another. Whether you attend an event, scour blogs and message boards, or take a peer out for a cup of coffee, keep the conversations going. Fortunately, when it comes to search engine marketing, there is no shortage of teachers.

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