Keynote – The State of The Search Union

March 4, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Good morning, everyone! It’s the final day here at SMX so everyone’s running around just a tad slower than they were the previous days. That means less banter, but perhaps more snarky remarks when the delirium finally takes over my fragile body.  You want to hear something cool? Last night I got to meet George Revutsky, the guy Scoble threw under a bus, and chat with him about what it’s like to be scoble’d.  Neat, right? We shared a moment.

Okay, getting to it! Up on stage we have Chris Sherman moderating Vanessa Fox, Avinash Kaushik, Misty Locke, and David Roth. They’re on really high chairs.  I’m afraid little Vanessa may fall off.  The sound’s a little wonky too where I’m up front and still can’t hear anything. Chris gets us started.

Last year during this time we were in the early stages of an economic meltdown.  How are we doing now? Does search still have a bright future?

David: He thinks we do. He thinks the recession gave search marketers a chance to show their stuff.  It’s showed a shift back to SEO.

[There was some super awesome info here but… my computer closed the tab and it all went away.  Perhaps a moment of silence instead.]

Vanessa, you’ve watched the SuperBowl for Search Engine Land for a few years now. The SuperBowl is obviously the big spend. We’ve seen many advertisers pull out of that this year. Is that a secular shift?

Vanessa: With Pepsi, they decided to spend their money in social media. It’s interesting that some people are deciding to spend their money online. Watching the SuperBowl ads, it showed her that companies are only starting to see that online is important. There’s a lot of work left with large brands.

In terms of branding, there’s an argument that branding and search don’t really mix.

Avinash: One of the greatest things about search is relevancy and accountability. Branding was a great metaphor for wanting to do something without understanding a particular outcome. With search, that’s not the case. He read a post about the 7 ways you can measure branding online and four of the ways were about search. If you can tell me what it is that you want as an outcome, search is a massively effective way to show up for the right kind of people.

The biggest news this year was the deal about Microsoft/Yahoo. We have a new genuine number two, that’s a good option for people.

Dave: Since we have regulatory approval, integration is on. There have been lots of resources put toward it from both companies. The proof will be in the pudding once advertisers start to migrate. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Yahoo’s stance is that we’ll continue to innovate against the user experience.

How is integration going?

Dave: That’s just beginning. There’s a large amount of resources at Yahoo that are going to be moved over and work with the engineers on integration. A lot of it remains to be seen. The clearance was just a couple of weeks ago.

Misty, you have good insight into clients along a broad spectrum. Are they excited?

They are. It allows for a viable number two. It may not change how we upload campaigns but it does let us shift our focus and our strategy. As a whole, her clients are really excited and looking forward to the opportunity?

Is the opportunity potential reach?

Misty: Reach is one of the biggest outcomes. They’re excited about the additional value. Microsoft has always driven the highest ROI, so there’s excitement about that. It’s going to open up some new ways to use Microsoft and Bing.

Now we have two major players. You can look at that consolidation as us shrinking or you can look at it as having two really strong players.

Avinash: Competition is a good thing. It makes everything better. He always found that it’s prudent to have varied strategy. If you step a bit above, people get far too obsessed with the competition between the engines. You should already have had a very effective strategy among all engines. Last month Google brought him 3 visitors for the term [analytics], Bing brought 800+. He loves Bing. You need to have a portfolio strategy because you’ll find new customers and be able to use your dollars more effectively.

Vanessa: She’s waiting to see how things shake out with the integration. She wants to know how SearchMonkey and BOSS play out when Yahoo doesn’t have its own index. Hopefully we won’t lose all the ‘yahooness’ of search once it gets merged into Bing.

Google has this famous culture of reaching out and also being opaque. Google said Caffeine would be rolled out after the holidays… but it’s only on one data center. What impact is the Caffeine impact going to have on SEO? Is Google going to continue in the spirit it always has?

Vanessa: She doesn’t know that Caffeine is going to impact SEO all that much. It’s more a back end change. She thinks their hope is just to do what they always have… but better. It’s not a rankings impact, except in an indirect way. If your site is crawled and indexed more, it will affect rankings. But there’s not more to do from an SEO perspective. She hopes Google will keep its spirit. She doesn’t see a reason that they’ll stop talking to people.

Avinash: Even if every Googler woke up and said they’d spend their days answering questions, it still wouldn’t answer everyone’s question. They try to do it at scale to give people the kind of info and transparency that they need. Google wants to help you make better decisions with search data. He says he’s orgasmic about it. No. Really. That’s what he said.

One of the big themes when listening to people talk is social media – is there a threat that social media could replace search?

Vanessa: People are still searching. They’re searching more and more. You have to think about your audience. If your audience is involved in social media, you need to be there as well, but it’s not an either/or.

Misty: This is a real opportunity to blend the boundaries between search and other marketing vehicles. We’re having so many other opportunities. If she’s looking at a marketing campaign, search is getting most of the ability to drive the discussion. We have to find new ways to be relevant and to drive lift.

David: The rest of the marketing world is coming our way. The marketers are doing the Facebook buys and leading the social strategies. The big companies are looking towards search marketers as the experts in this.

Avinash: The media loves “or” stories. Facebook OR Google. Search OR Social. Video did not kill the radio star. You have to have a portfolio of channels. He speaks as a person who thought Twitter was the dumbest thing on Earth. And now he thinks it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread. It’s very important to realize that as you think of all the elements of your portfolio that you use them for what they are good at. Big brands don’t do well on Twitter because all they do is SHOUT. That’s not how you use the medium. You have to execute your strategy based on the platform that you’re using. Don’t go for an OR strategy. Think of AND.

Conversation is important but if you’re going from mass marketing to personal touch, how do we manage that?

Avinash: He thinks we put on the wrong lens when we ask how we can keep advertising more relevant. What you do today is to try and influence people to do something. There are many ways to do that now that you can influence people. And one emerging way to influence people is to have these conversations. Shouting at people is going away. He thinks that’s why people like Google. Because at the right moment, the right ad shows up. The way that we influence people is changing and we’re going to have to experiment with new ways to do it. Because we don’t get to tell them what works. They tell us.

We’re engaging with people. People are sharing their information, we’re being social, etc. We’re still in the naïve days. What’s gonna happen when we get unethical marketers using this data?

Avinash: If you look at the sides of the Egyptian tombs, there are spam comments in that. Spam has been a problem for a very long time and it will continue to be a problem for a very long time. Try to use intelligent ways to supress it as much as possible and provide incentives for doing the right thing.

Misty: There will always be spam. Marketers will always find a way to use/exploit mediums. What’s different about this is that the users are policing the good and the bad, not the marketers. They can judge authenticity.

We keep hearing mobile is coming. Is it here?

David: It’s here but maybe its not what we thought it was going to be. We’re at 20 percent penetration of smart phones across the US.

Avinash: He has an Android phone and he did a search that went to the Google servers, transcribed what he said, picked up both locations, and gave him driving directions based on where he was.

Misty: It’s here and she has the stats to prove it!

Vanessa: The ubiquity of mobile opens up the door for new search opportunities. Most of the world never had a smart phone before. this is the first time it’s become a mass audience. They dont know they’re searching, they just think their phone does this cool thing.

And we’re out! only 15 minutes between sessions and this is already 17 minutes over.  Girl’s gotta run!

[I’d encourage you to check out both Bruce Clay, Inc. and Search Engine Land’s coverage of this keynote, as they may have gotten a bit more than I did.  Some technical issues plagued me a bit.]

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