Commentary

What's The Score With Search?

The huge influence of search engines and search engine marketing cannot be underestimated. Targeting consumers via online marketing now accounts for around 60 per cent of most marketing budgets. Web giant Google is the bellwether of the industry. The company's recent financial results underscore the enduring strength of the search engine advertising business model. Google's gross revenues are up 70%, with an astounding 99% coming via advertising based on Google's search technology.


Benefits of search The strength of search is the fact it is the only digital marketing medium that can immediately tap into an active, inquiring audience, which is something of a marketing holy grail. It deals in a pull rather than push approach, because people proactively use search facilities to do as it says "on the tin"--in other words, to search!

A successful search engine marketing campaign will enhance brand perception, raise awareness and drive sales, reaching people who are looking for a service in real time. Its audience is purchase-motivated. No other marketing campaign, online or offline, has this power.

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Another key benefit is the measurement of a campaign, as marketers can find out information both about their audience and their campaign. Elements such as timing of Web site hits, how many pages consumers view during the purchase process, and what does--and does not--work, are vital to really understanding an audience.


But can we really integrate search? The nature of communications and marketing means that search is intrinsically linked to offline campaigns, with many people touting integrated media campaigns as the key to success.

But can search really be integrated? The key to this factor is being aware of the different types of users. Advertising campaigns are very much focused on engaging passive users, whereas search is a medium of response to active users, or searchers, a very different group indeed.

To give an example, television advertising habitually results in people going online to look for further information on the advertised product. This is because the television commercial has changed the viewer's outlook, from the passive viewer watching the ad, to an active researcher looking for more information on the Web.

Yes, search needs to be fully integrated into the planning of campaigns. And yes, it should sit right alongside media planning and buying and be addressed at the beginning of the process, just like any other marketing channel. Simply bolting search onto your campaign at the last minute will not make the most of it.

But in terms of viewing search as an "integrated" part of the media mix, we must be careful and ensure that the differences between the media are respected. What works on television, for example, will not always work on the Web. Use search properly, and the round-the-clock potential to reach audiences is enormous.


Industry developments The three giants of the Web--the unstoppable Google, Yahoo and Microsoft-- continue to fight daily to gain the hearts and minds with their online audiences, and ensure search remains on the daily news agenda.

And we have seen use of every tactic under the sun to win the war. Google's shopping list in 2006 has been immense--YouTube and a partnership with eBay, for example. Yahoo supported the launch of its latest product, Yahoo Answers, with a high-profile poster campaign in central London, a tactic that would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago. MSN is talking about its relaunch, complete with a new search engine offering that has the potential to be integrated into each of its applications such as Word or Excel.

This maneuvering is likely to continue for a while yet, although Google does seem to be powering ahead as Yahoo dawdles behind.

The fact is that search is here to stay, and will remain an intrinsic part of the media mix for many years to come. And those who will gain the most out of it are those marketers who respect it both for its differences and its potential.

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