SEO SEM Budgets: Define Success Beyond Direct Response

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared in MediaPost's Search Engine Watch

Hold everything! Stop now, before it's too late! The train hasn't left the station! You can still make it!

"What? What happened?" you ask. Well, if you haven't noticed, 2007 is almost over and the 2008 planning process is in full swing. Yet for most organizations, details are yet to be finalized.

How budgets are tactically allocated and what the marketing (or e-commerce) team signs up to achieve isn't written in stone... yet. Does "how budgets are tactically allocated," suggest there's already a defined search budget? I can give you a definitive: maybe!

The ultimate truth: if you're just now starting to think about how search and your organization (or internal search department) impact the 2008 planning process, you're a little late to the game. But as I said, the train probably hasn't left the station. You can still make an impact.

An interesting development I've seen this year is cracks in the silo walls. (See my previous column about search silos.) I've been part of many discussions with marketing (think brand/enterprise wide marketing), e-commerce (think drive transactions online), and business owners (think product/service owners) all represented. Through these conversations, I can confidently say this trend is very positive. But like any other change, it isn't without challenges. With all three groups represented, there are also three distinct sets of opinions -- and potentially -- three sets of goals.

If e-commerce traditionally owned the search budget, transactions were likely the focus. If marketing owned search, it's possible the focus was on campaign integration and message control. Business owners, who don't often own marketing budgets, ultimately focus on units. This is true only because it's easiest for them to plan around. At the end of the day, their necks are on the line.

There's nothing wrong with this picture. In fact, this is the opportunity we've collectively been waiting for. I'm only one of many people who, over time, have written and spoken about the need to expand search beyond its direct marketing roots. These roots form an extremely solid foundation. Our opportunity is to build something powerful (perhaps even cool) on top of it.

The planning process is the key moment in this evolution. If you're like me, you spent the last several months discussing, suggesting, and highlighting all the things search can do. (Maybe even a little whining and begging were mixed in.) The spotlight shines during the planning process, so what do we do now?

The first thing I always want to know is how success is defined. More importantly, I want to impact who's part of the discussion. The best and most likely method for changing how search is utilized is to change how the planning process defines the measurement of search. Transaction goals are likely, but is that it? Why isn't success also measured by the number of clicks garnered for a specific promotion? How about share-of-voice for a defined set of keywords supporting a major launch? How about learning metrics like tracking the overall sales volume (on- and offline) for a niche product where search was the primary marketing tool?

The planning process is the time to win buy-in for marketing goals. It's much easier to gain consistent buy-in when those goals are part of the plan versus an "oh, by the way" suggestion between you and your client/boss.

Now's also the time to suggest (in order of priority) all the new things the organization "must" do next year. This is the year to get your search campaign beyond the basics. You'll integrate shopping comparison engines, test local (is this the year local hype is matched by local demand?), try Yahoo!'s ad targeting tools, test Google's gadget ads, etc. Of course, not everything will make the final cut. However, when you build a solid business case instead of throwing out random ideas to see what sticks, one of the many constituents is likely to sign off on a few of these ideas.

Evolution is the name of the game. Not too long ago, the battle was getting enough search budget to capture the most obvious of transactions. Today, the money is there, and results prove it should be. In 2008, I expect to see a growing number of organizations expanding their definition of search success. Will yours be on that list?


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