Thursday, August 05, 2004

Search Engine Strategies San Jose Offers Validation and Recognition for SEM

Search Engine Marketing Industry Thrives in Current Economy
By Kent Lewis

As a search engine marketing (SEM) veteran, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the industry evolve over 8 years. One of the best metrics for overall health of SEM is Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference. As a past speaker, I’ve experienced the conference’s phenomenal growth. Most recently, I attended the San Jose conference August 2nd through the 5th and the numbers speak for themselves: 1,000 attendees and 100 exhibitors.

Yes, SES
The SES Conference is fantastic for a variety of reasons: education, validation, networking and fun. Novices have the most to gain from the sessions, while industry experts have an opportunity to share their experiences via speaking and validate strategies while networking with peers. It’s also an opportunity to see new service providers and technologies first hand. For me, it was more of the latter, and I’ve outlined a few key highlights and takeaways below:

Industry Validation
The SEM industry as a whole is gaining validation on Wall Street with Google’s pending IPO and a rash of recent mergers and acquisitions. In corporate boardrooms, executives are being informed of the visible impact SEM has on bottom line revenues. As such, businesses are no longer able to ignore the impact SEM has beyond basic site promotion. Business models are now directly affected by a multitude of factors including ecommerce, savvy competitors and evolving ROI metrics. Domain name availability influences brand strategies. Web site architecture and databases, along with front-end design elements like Flash, are being tuned from the ground up to be more search engine friendly.

Evolution Breeds Confusion
While growth has been good for service providers and publishers, companies looking for help need additional guidance in evaluating SEM vendors. Standards associations and code of ethics need to evolve to help facilitate commerce. Agencies are evaluating various business models to accommodate client needs. One of the hottest new methods of client billing is via self-funded programs, where clients provide a baseline media budget and reinvest the resulting profits to further grow sales.

Branding In A New World
As larger companies focus more resources on SEM activities, brand and trademark protection becomes a larger issue. What the banner advertising industry experienced back in 1998 with lawsuits for competitive keyword purchases is now taking center stage in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Corporations like GEICO are suing Google and Overture for violating fair use trademark laws by selling their brand names (to competitors). On a related front, click-fraud is also increasing in profile as PPC gains popularity and the tracking technology matures.

The “Duh!” Factor
After sitting through two days of presentations, it was obvious to me that through all the growth and evolution in the SEM industry, building and promoting a site is still elementary: if you create a site that follows best practices and common sense, and conduct search engine compliant SEO and PPC campaigns, you will win in the long run (if not the short run as well). On a related note, advances in tools and techniques have enabled more powerful and detailed competitive benchmarking and analysis.

Search, Evolved
Having the opportunity to listen to the big four (AOL, MSN, Google and Yahoo!) talk about the latest and greatest technologies as well as what to expect down the road was a real treat. While each engine produces slightly different results (paid and unpaid) they all shared a common vision of the future of search. Tools and trends to expect down the road include improved toolbar functionality, desktop application search, mobile search applications and personal archiving and sharing of search results.

Reaching Out
While SEM continues to evolve and mature, advertisers are looking for new markets and opportunities. Among the hottest trends include outreach to minorities (especially the Hispanic community) and vertical markets (consumers and industries). Furthermore, advances in search engine technology have enabled better targeting for both local and international PPC placement. More creative outlets that extend brand and enhance organic listings include optimizing press releases, blogging and RSS feeds. For ecommerce clients, shopping engines and eBay offer additional revenue opportunities.

Overall, SES 2004 offered new ideas, validation and insights into the future. If I were to synthesize my learning into one statement, it would be to follow best practices and common sense when developing and promoting your Web site, and you will win. I’m already looking forward to the next SES in Chicago this fall.