SES Chicago: Speakers Speak Out

Appeared in ClickZ, Nov 21, quoting RM'er Aaron Goldman:

It's more important time than ever to get out to a Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference, even if you've never attended one before or were thinking of skipping the Chicago show next month. Never before has PPC (define) search marketing seen a systemic economic impact due to macroeconomic changes in the willingness of consumers to shop or transact. So I reached out to a handful of SES speakers to comment on a variety of issues ahead of the conference.

First, Weighing in on Yahoo's Fate

Before going over the speakers' thoughts, I'd like to comment on Jerry Yang's announcement this week that he's stepping down as Yahoo's CEO. Yahoo's had a rollercoaster ride and the has yet to announce Yang's successor. Yahoo is in a bit of a pickle. Wall Street expects Microsoft to return to the table as a buyer. Unless it's in a hurry, Microsoft could wait another three or six months to reopen discussions. Or it might remain completely disinterested. The Google deal to help Yahoo better monetize search is off. And many Yahoo employees are a bit demoralized, making it hard for any successor to marshal resources to get the Yahoo paid search road map back on track by updating and improving Panama so that Yahoo can remain strong as an independent player.

There aren't many who could step up and take charge of Yahoo and bring it back from its current challenges. There's a ton of potential at Yahoo, but extracting that value and building a strong business for the future is not a trivial task. The Yahoo board of directors has quite a task at hand, finding a leader who understands both the finance and operations side of the business and the online marketing world (both display and search), plus the ability to explore paid content models. Many have lost faith in Yahoo's ability to execute in a timely manner, even as new products like APT/AMP are rolled out. Certainly, in the post-Panama era, there haven't been any major updates to the search platform. Is Yahoo going to end up part of Microsoft? We shall see.

Current Search Marketing Issues

The first question I asked was: what major changes or enhancements do you want to see from the PPC search engines next year?

For me, topping the list is for the engines to improve transparency for quality score, click source, click position, and click price by appending this data to each click in real time. (Dream on, I know.)

OK, I'll take CPC (define) search behavioral retargeting as an opt-in at the Ad Groups level. Many respondents have a similar wish for transparency.

Aaron Goldman, VP of marketing and strategic partnerships at Resolution Media, said, "Third-party-served sponsored listings and display/video ads on SERPs. It's about time we leveraged some sight, sound, and motion and tracked post-view activity. To me, this is one of the great promises of Google's DoubleClick acquisition (right behind DART and Google Analytics integration)."

Jeff Molander, author of the forthcoming book "Paying for Performance," and CEO of performance marketing consulting firm Molander & Associates Inc., told me, "Transparency on media (more tools/data to understand where traffic is coming from) and fair pricing based on measurable click quality. The soft economy will force this, yet I'm not holding my breath as this calls for elimination of the black-box business model (secret quality score and placement algorithms) that has proven so lucrative for PPC engines.

"Secondly, CMOs want the ability to demonstrate ROI beyond rudimentary conversion -- not just better campaign measurement tools. The big opportunity here is helping advertisers understand "action" (i.e., purchase) attribution. This involves networks providing information on what campaign worked (prompted user to take action) and how it interacted with other marketing campaigns to create the desired behavior. Actionable information for advertisers."

Interestingly, on the client-side, John Ellis, senior online marketing manager of ResortQuest Vacation Rentals, stated, "I actually don't want any changes. I don't want Quality Score 'improvements.' I don't want our ads to appear on Yahoo's network or any other new partners. I don't want Google to distract me with shiny things. PPC is still the best available ROI in marketing. I want to stay focused on what works."

Nagaraju Bandaru, BooRah cofounder and CTO, understandably had a local search spin. "From a local search perspective -- the bidding on long-tail keywords is not optimized," he said. "With the growth of long-tail searches, I'd presume that advertisers would get a better opportunity to target specific low-volume keywords more effectively. Also, I'd like to see that with all the personalization data that's available with Google, they'd allow provide some interface for advertisers to target more effectively, such as the ability to target consumers by frequency of search of specific keywords."

Kristopher B. Jones, Pepperjam's CEO, shared some concerns with transparency. "I would like to see transparency in pricing," he said. "Google's black-box pricing model makes it too difficult to maximize ad position and ROI. In addition, it would be beneficial to advertisers to see the actual effect of each of Google's Quality Score factors on pricing and ad position. At Pepperjam, we'd like to see transparency in pay per click; we'd like to know the actual effect of landing-page quality, ad quality, and account structure on CPC and ad position."

There are so many great additional responses, that I'm turning this into a two-part column. You'll have an opportunity to read more next time.


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