Here's a rapid-fire roundup of the most interesting, pressing, and memorable issues, questions, and controversies that arose during the event. It's hardly all-inclusive, but it serves as a snapshot of what's on the mind of some of the most influential search engine marketing practitioners and innovators.
The greatest challenge is giving proper credit to each individual for his and her insights represented below. I've attributed many points to specific speakers. Items lacking attribution were either said during private conversations and thus not necessarily on the record--or they were said by so many people that it's hard to name one source.
And now, the top 20:
1. Search engine marketers must educate or die, according to one marketer. This marketer recently entertained half a dozen firms' pitches--and all barely personalized their presentations. A dark horse then arrived; while the presentation was hardly polished, it won the account by providing actionable intelligence. This led to a happy, profitable relationship.
2. There's a disconnect between consumers' preference toward natural results and marketers' spending on sponsored listings, noted Chris Sherman of Search Engine Watch. Sherman is right, but it's hardly unique to search marketing. Consider the disconnect between major marketers' spending on advertising versus public relations, even though the latter's fruits are more trusted.
3. Sherman noted how Ask.com is integrating with fellow InterActiveCorp company CitySearch. It's about time. Consider this excerpt from a column I wrote in April 2005 (the butler has retired, but the rest holds true): "Almost all of IAC's properties pivot around local angles... The word 'local' isn't in IAC's mission statement, but given IAC's expertise and its dreams for Ask.com, that should change immediately. Jeeves could become the face of local search."
4. One recurring trend is what Sherman referred to as "injecting people into the [search] process." Similarly, Ogilvy PR's Rohit Bhargava ran a lauded breakout session on "The Human Side of Search." The search engines keep opening doors for consumers to influence search results, such as via tagging--which may be the most important development to affect search results for the remainder of the decade.
5. In his keynote address, Sherman insisted that long-tail search terms matter.
6. Target browsers, not just surfers. Bhargava said that by targeting too finely, marketers miss the wide net of searchers who don't know exactly what they're seeking. Who has time to browse? Consider the 50 million members of virtual world Habbo Hotel, the 70 million players of the online game Neopets, or the growing fan base of browser plug-in StumbleUpon. Additionally, a study released earlier this year by the USC Annenberg School found that 71.3 percent of Internet users "sometimes" or "often" go online without a specific destination.
7. TheKnot.com will be acquired within 18 months, according to RBC Capital Markets Managing Director of Equity Research Jordan Rohan.
8. Yahoo and eBay will merge within two or three years, predicted Rohan, noting that's based solely on his industry perspective and not insider information. He also said that following the recent agreement between the two, eBay will increase Yahoo's quality clicks (though not total clicks), helping offset Yahoo's loss of distribution through MSN.
9. International elements are more important to U.S. stocks than any other factor, said Rohan.
10. Search engine marketing agencies should figure out how to add online video marketing to their offerings, said Rohan. Text links won't be Google's bread and butter forever.
11. It's never too early to release swag. Connors Communications distributed well-branded fanny packs with the logo of HitTail, its content recommendation tool still in beta.
12. One way to look at blogs is as new content management systems, according to Mike Levin from Connors.
13. When considering various methods of targeting such as behavioral and demographic, weigh their cost and efficiency, said Eric Eller of Advertising.com.
14. One of my favorite lines from a marketer: while not every session at the event mattered to him, he picked up enough new info that he could go home and give his agency hell by making them educate him more on what he learned.
15. If you have any unused, old, or rejected TV spots, throw them on YouTube, noted Scott Symonds of Agency.com to a marketer over dinner. Normally, marketers should optimize video for their sites first and video sites later, but this is content that marketers may not even want to host, and video portals are a perfect venue.
16. One of the greatest challenges search engine marketing faces is the turnover at all parties--search engines, SEMs, ad agencies, and marketers. Retention rates may predict the winners long-term, as several attendees recounted stories of the calamity that ensued when a trusted contact departed.
17. Internal communication gaps need to be bridged. At search engines, search and display advertising sides often don't mingle. At SEMs, optimization and media teams are in separate rooms. At agencies, both digital and traditional sides make reservations for three-martini lunches using OpenTable, but at different venues. All these gaps hinder the effectiveness and growth of marketers' campaigns.
18. Some panelists noted that C-level marketers are starting to take a close look at search. They are now driving some of the growth, a welcome shift for those on the agency and SEM side.
19. Search engine growth presents an opportunity for the agencies prepared to grow with them into auction-based media channels. Separately, Rohan noted that with Google's growth, no business in the interactive space is safe.
20. This industry's only going to get more complex before it gets simpler. While that can't be controlled, conferences such as the Search Insider Summit at least make it easier to manage, navigate, and prepare for the challenges ahead.