Category Archives: Inside SEM

Inside SEM

5 Things no one will tell you about SEM – SES

This in-depth SEM session tried to debunk some of the myths floating around the industry (and many of the halls around SES). I found this one of the most interesting sessions and it did actually cover interesting points that fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Chris Zacharias, VP Search Sales, Omniture

David Rodnitzky, VP, Strategy,
Terry Whalen, SEM & Internet Marketing Expert, Founder, TDW Consulting
Chris Knoch, Principal Consultant, Best Practices Group, Omniture
Vinny Lingham, CEO, Synthasite

Chris Z:

Myth 1: The long tail keeps growing
Data from OneStat shows that over the last year, shorter queries (ie. 1-2 words in length) are becoming more common. This is a departure from trends over the last few years where the word-length of queries had been growing.

Why is this happening? According to data from Hitwise (Apr 2008), growth in navigational (branded) search has been growing. In the UK this now represents 88% of all searches (it was only 68% in 2005). Search is becoming more about direct navigation, and this is being seen in SEM campaigns, so don’t fixate on the long-tail terms – think of the head terms too.


Myth 2: Optimize every campaign
Focus on what will give you the best profit – ie. don’t spread the net too wide.

Work out what kind of costs you are saving for the work you put in. You can potentially get a lot more benefit by optimizing a $200K campaign vs. a $20K campaign. If you are a small advertiser, focus on fewer engines. Start with the head words before going after the tail.


Myth 3: SEM works for everything
For some businesses, SEM just doesn’t work.

SEM is not good for mindshare marketing (eg. not good for products with a latent demand), that is where you want to get your idea out to the world at large. John Battelle has said that search is the database of intentions. So if the intention doesn’t exist, you are not going to reach your audience through search. Image ads can be more compelling in this instance.

Chris K:

Myth 4: All PPC Search traffic is equal
For PPC advertisers, the search network represents permission marketing. Searchers are actively seeking information and are looking for sites like yours. The content network is quite different. Your ads are competing with the content from the site publisher. Therefore there is a vast difference in quality between search and content.

Sometimes what Google calls the search network is not even strictly the search engines you might expect. So it makes sense when you organize your Google Adwords campaigns to keep the content separate – even to the degree of separating out the accounts for search and content.

When it comes to the content network, there are ways to keep out of the made-for-Adsense (MFA) domains – that is the domains that just exist to drive traffic through the ads by offering spurious, low-quality content). Use the search query report to analyze your kewords. Beyond finding out what keywords are working for you, you can also figure out which are the red herring terms that you don’t want to be found for and add these to your negative keyword lists.

Google also pushes Youtube and Myspace advertising onto its advertisers. Both of these sites may not perform as well as you expect and need to be treated carefully.


Myth 5: Search is opaque
There is a lot you can learn about what is happening in your industry.

Take a look at what your compeitors are doing. If big advertisers are bidding on head terms, they are probably profitable: look at what they are doing – their keywords, ad text, landing pages. Find out where in the flow you can make the biggest benefits. Look at microconversions (each click along the conversion path).

Useful tools for competitive analysis include Compete, Quantcast and Hitwise.

Storyteller Marketing – SES

Subtitle: How The Art of Storytelling Matches Up With the Business of Marketing

Stories have been around since the beginning of communication, and there’s a reason: it’s a form of communication that beats all others when it comes to delivering a memorable, motivating, and meaningful message.

This is another session that deals with the popular (and someone thorny) issue of how to handle visitors once they get to your site. In addition, this session also covered how to attract more people through inclusion in Google News (the most popular online news service).

Rebecca Lieb, Contributing Editor, ClickZ

Gary Stein, Director of Strategy, Ammo Marketing
Sally Falkow, President, Expansion Plus Inc.
Larry Lawfer, Founder/President,


People listen to a story and act inefficiently, however there is no denying that stories shape behavior. The best brand marketing builds a story around your brand – it doesn’t just pump out brand messages. (I’m thinking of the story around how Krishna Bharat built Google News after wanting balanced news accounts following the September 11New York bombings).

Apparently, there are only five stories that can be told:

Origin: where did we come from?
Purpose: why are we here? / Vision: where are we going?
Education: teach the crowd, show them something
Ethics: walk the walk
Connection: eg. CEO reaching out to disgruntled blogger


In every business there is a story. If you don’t tell it, others will tell your story for you. (I’m not sure this is always such a good thing, given there are always two sides to every tale).

You need to monitor onlline conversations and know what people are saying about you. Listen for the story. It can come from employees, customers, suppliers – anyone within your business’s ecosystem.
But beware: insincerity or fake stories will backfire. You can use tools like BrandsEye or Radian 6 to monitor online reputation.

All creative should be tied to the story and you can amplify the story online.

Spreading the word
Optimized press releases with images will show up in results (news and web now we have more universal search). Multimedia is a useful aid in transmitting your story.

Sally gives the example of Intercontinental Hotels, who have produced low-fi videos talking to most concierges across the road. Concierges have lots of stories and these unscripted videos were produced for around $4k per video.

Think of blogs: these are often picked up by search. As with age-old PR, you have to be consistent. Make sure you carry the story across all channels. However, regardless of the story, product performance and service is the final word. If these are in place, then you can work out your story and let others tell it for you.


Starts off presentation with this adage:
Advertising: you say you’re a good date
PR: your mother says you’re a good date
Engagement marketing: your date says you’re a good date

So, how do we move towards engagement marketing?

Words and pictures are a great way to build a story.

The basic rule is to be real:

  • Be authentic
  • Invite involvement
  • Listen, respond, repeat

Pay Per Conversation – SES

What you do with visitors after you get them to your site was a common topic this year.  By improving the site conversation rate for traffic delivered by search can make or break a campaign. In this session, ‘persuation architect’ Bryan Eisenberg teamed up with Brett Crosby, one of the founders of Urchin (now Google Analytics) to explain what you can monitor, tools that can help, and how to act to improve campaign performance.

Bryan Eisenberg, Co-founder, Future Now Inc.
Brett Crosby, Group Manager, Google


Pay per conversation
You can think of this as searcher behaviour optimization. The best way to do this is to think of your customer as a toddler, that is someone who is always asking ‘why?’. Your job is to answer this question quickly – unlike a toddler, your audience will only ask this question a few times. The attention span is less than that of your average toddler!

Scent is very important – aside from being like a toddler, searchers are also like beagles. If a searcher scents the right path, then they will continue. If the scent is dropped, they move on. As analytics guru Jared Spool puts it, either you present relevant content or you present links to relevant content.

Think about the relevancy: every hyperlink is a contract. You present the value (by describing the link and what comes next) and the searcher will give up their time to follow the link. But how do we know we are providing what is most relevant? We need to understand the intent – this goes beyond the few keywords used to conduct the search.

Content needs to be optimized for different possibility types (eg. spontaneous people’s interest: top sellers, new releases; humanistics: care about reviews; methodicals: find by genre, competitives: search by actor/title). At this point Bryan showed a few examples using the matrix of different users.


You should concentrate on the pages with the most business need. Google Analytics (GA) can help you work out what these are: you can look at which pages get the most visitors and which pages most people enter through.

Landing page analysis
Look at the bounce rate on top landing pages (change the default view to compare metrics against site average)

Leaky funnels: use the funnel analysis to see where people are exiting through the funnel

Site overlay: this report is particularly useful to see which elements are well-positioned/badly-positioned
Internal site search: useful to see what people are searching on, especially when they are lost or ‘off-scent’

Google Website Optimiser: useful for fixing broken pages (this tool was pushed heavily throughout this conference).

For more information, check out Google’s Conversion University

Universal and Blended Search – SES

In this session, representatives from all the major search engines explained what has been happening in the universal (blended) search space over the last year. You’ve probably noticed that more and more other media are showing up in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Think video clips, images, blogs. These and other verticals are now given increased prominence through universal search. What does that mean for the marketing folk?

John Tawadros, Chief Operating Officer, iProspect
Shashi Seth, Chief Revenue Officer, Cooliris
Johanna Wright, Director of Product Management, Google
Chris Pierry, Senior Director of Product Management, Yahoo! Search
Erik Collier, VP, Product Management,
Todd Schwartz, Group Product Manager, Live Search

All speakers roundly agreed that it’s all about relevance. That is the key reason why the engines have been adding extra content into the search results. It also explains the slow rollout of these features. All engines claim that they are testing user interaction to ensure that they provide the most useful experience.

The process is as follows:

  • Search against all indexes (web, images, video, etc.)
  • Decide what to show only AFTER you have all the data
  • Coverage – decide where to place this content on the page

Take advantage of the prominent new verticals:

  • Publish high-quality, well-captioned images
  • Make video sitemap
  • Create high quality blogs

Blended search is a way to offer semantic content, that is content that more aptly reflects the searcher’s intention.
Yahoo has developed a platform called SearchMonkey that allows publishers, site owners and developers to leverage structured data to enhance the functionality, appearance and usefulness of search results. With SearchMonkey, you have the ability to alter the way certain search engine results pages (SERPs) appear.

We use business rules and editorial judgement to work out which sites rank. There are notable instances where it is still difficult to isolate exact searcher intent. Think of a search for trigonometry. There are numerous great images using trig, but how relevant are these? We use A/B testing in these cases to figure out whether or not to display blended results.

Further coverage on Universal Search by Search Engine Roundtable.

Enterprise software marketing research

If you are a marketer working in the B2B tech field, you’ve probably noticed there’s a dearth of marketing studies in this area. eCommerce reports are ten to penny but precious few researchers seem interested in this area.

For that reason I was particularly happy when I came across this report by Enquiro entitled ‘Marketing to a B2B Technical Buyer’. There are some great stats including research such as this into top online influences:

Enquiro Top Online Influences

So if you are interested in more figures in this area, go ahead and download the report now!

(Just to be clear, I’m in no way associated with Enquiro)

But who will read my blog?

Being one of the evangelists of our corporate blogs, I still occasionally come up against the question of whether anyone actually still reads blogs. This seems bizarre to me on two grounds.

First is my background in search. A good blog has frequently updated content and an in-built linking structure. Two facets that Google and the other search biggies really love and hence the high search rankings (and oodles of traffic) for blogs.

The second reason is the quality of insight on top blogs. The cream of writers seem to be swarming to the medium and it’s hard to find an (offline) newspaper that doesn’t have a ‘visit our blogs’ section somewhere within the first couple of pages. This seems to have realigned the debate around whether blogs would kill off traditional news publishing. The relationship between the two media seems to be growing.

How about some empirical evidence to back up my ramblings? I’ve been struggling to find decent stats around this area. However I did come across some figures on the Federated Media site for the blogs within their advertising network. AltSearchEngines gets around 40,000 page views a month whereas Mashable attract over 2 million visitors a month and TechCrunch 5 million. Find the full list here. I can’t vouch for the veracity of these figures (given they are for advertising purposes), but even if you inject a healthy pinch of salt that’s a lot of eyeballs looking at tech blogs. If you are blogging in this area, be encouraged, young Padawans.
I’d be interested to know of any other figures anyone may have in this area.

Passion vs pop: when the middle way doesn’t work

God knows Seth Godin doesn’t need any more press. however, i would like to highlight the double bell curve he threw as a crumb to his adoring masses recently (OK, I know I’m one of them):

Seth's Passion vs Pop

The thrust of the post? When you’re creating an advert or a marketing campaign, don’t go for the double-whammy of pop and passion… stick to one or the other for the overall theme. What happens if you don’t? See that trough in the graph? That’s where you will end up. There are precious few consumers in that space (and, although he doesn’t go into it, I’m thinking a fair few producers). Realise your precious polarity and stick with that.

As the advertising/marketing/PR triumvirate moves in the direction of online media (think of the proliferation of podcasts, video ads, multimedia press releases) an implication is this graph is only going to become more important. As we move away from brochureware to real content we must ensure we get the tone right. Look at the big ad agencies – they have been playing with this formula since the birth of broadcast media. One type of campaign for a bank, yet a completely different one for a music label. Well, talking of music labels, Seth ties this theory to the music world, and I have to say it does strike a chord with my attempts to win two dancefloor crowds as a DJ. In this context I need to figure whether I’m after the hard core bass heads or your casual listener. You can’t serve two masters.

So, although I’m broadly in agreement, there are a couple of things that aren’t clear to me.

First up is whether it could ever be worth attacking that trough between pop and passion? As with any theory, buck the trend and you might find something there. As noted above, there’s probably a tonne of other folk in that space too, but if you can stand out from the crowd, welcome to the big-time.

The second point is whether this graph remains static when you hit your ‘passion’ sweet spot. Take cartoons. I’d say both The Simpsons and South Park began life way on the left. The feature-lengths from both of them are ample proof that somehow they’ve definitely drifted into the ‘Pop’ bell curve, but where exactly has that left them? Somehow they seem to have brought their passion into the pop curve. As an alien in New York (well, almost), I’d say that’s something Americans tend to do with aplomb. Don’t believe me? Travel to the depths of Africa and watch kids get down to NWA or Biggie. There are definitely the shared experiences that only pop can bring, but they are mixed with dollops of passion. Or am I missing the point?

Clarifications, anybody?