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Road Report - Search Engine Strategies Boston, March 4-6 2003

March 15, 2003

Search Engine Marketing is HOT!

Looking for a bright spot in the online advertising and marketing arena? Look no further than search engine marketing. Finally, companies are beginning to wake up to the reality that everybody uses search engines to find and research products and services online. Search ranks second only to email as the most popular online activity for consumers.

With well over 1000 attendees, the most recent Search Engine Strategies conference was a smashing success. It was a throwback to the dot-com daze. Major search engines and search engine marketing companies flooded the trade booth area. The exhibitor area was packed. The trade booths included established search engine marketing companies like PositionTech, GoToast, and iProspect as well as new comers like adMarketplace.net (sells remnant banner as space on search engines) and IMPAQT (a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based search engine marketing company - finally someone in Pittsburgh woke up to the value of search engine marketing!)

Major search sites including Google, YAHOO!, Overture, and Looksmart were out in force as well as up and comers Kanoodle (pay per click search engine), Mamma.com (meta search engine), and SingingFish (multimedia search engine).

Not everyone was there

Notable absentees included the Open Directory Project (ODP), MSN search, and AOL search.

Representatives from the Open Directory (owned by AOL/Netscape) have at times received anything but a warm welcome from past conference attendees due to the fact that ODP is one of the most important listings a site can obtain, yet the focus at ODP is anything but commercial. The time from submission to listing can range from 2 days to 2 years and this uncertainty causes immense frustration in a world where marketers have come to expect to be able to purchase most any placement they choose.

The absence of MSN and AOL was a bit more of a mystery. While both outsource their search results to third parties like Google, Overture, and Looksmart they could undoubtedly benefit from the exposure Search Engine Strategies provides. YAHOO!, arguably the biggest competitor among the portals, has been a fixture at Search Engine Strategies for years.

Search engine marketers, a partying crew?

Everybody was sponsoring networking events (cocktail parties). AdMarketplace.net kicked off the networking sessions on day one with Hors D'oeuvres and drinks in the registration area only to be upstaged by a massive Overture blowout at Todd's English Bonfire that featured free food and drinks from 7-10. Following the Overture bash, many attendees headed over to Whiskey Park, an upscale nightclub also in the Park Plaza. GoToast and FAST search and transfer (recently acquired by Overture) followed suit with offsite networking events following the second day of presentations.

Plenty of search engine marketing expertise to go around

The speaker list featured a who's who in the search engine marketing industry. When you spend a few grand to go to a conference, you want to learn what you can do; you want information you can act on. Search Engine Strategies always delivers and this conference was no different.

The place to pick up actionable information

The "Budget and Overlooked" session featured some of the best hands on, what can I do today, actionable information of any track in the conference. This track skips the strategy and gets down to the details. Noted experts Brett Tabke of WebmasterWorld.com, Adam Jewell of NetPlus Marketing, Anne Kennedy of Beyond Ink, and Jessie Stricchiola of Alchemist Media provided tips and tricks for using search engines to market on a budget.

Brett posed the question, what if there were no search engines, and proceeded to discuss alternative traffic generation methods including forums and guest books, awards, and contests. View the presentation on "What if there were no search engines?" at WebmasterWorld.

Adam's presentation focused on industry expertise, specifically the expertise a business has in its own industry. He suggested that nobody knows your company, your industry, your products and services, and your competitors better than you. While an agency may be able to help you identify keywords, structure your website, provide tracking and conversion analysis, and handle campaign management, you are uniquely qualified to create the content on your site needed to obtain top search engine rankings and keep your visitors coming back.

Increasing sales without increasing marketing expenses

Bryan Eisenberg of Future Now has been a featured speaker at Search Engine Strategies for some time now. Future Now focuses exclusively on increasing conversion rates of client websites. A conversion rate is simply the number of sales (or conversion events) divided by the number of visitors. The higher your conversion rate, the more sales are generated from the same marketing dollars. Bryan's presentation provides a high level overview of things anyone can do to improve website conversion rates. Like many thing in search engine marketing, much of this is, well, common sense but no common practice. We tend to get all wrapped up in the graphics and technology required to build a website, that the end result and the consumers' buying process are completely overlooked.

Shopping search engines

Representatives from the major shopping search engines including DealTime were featured in their own track this time around. Marketers can opt to have a shopping search engine spider their site and create listings automatically or create a custom data feed to precisely control the appearance of listings in the shopping search engines. The primary benefit of shopping search engines is buyer pre-qualification.

The engine enables shoppers to see pictures, prices, and item descriptions before they click through to your website. This pre-qualification process helps to ensure that a visitor coming to your site from one of these shopping search engines is more likely to buy from you. Vendors reported incredible conversion rates (sales/clicks) of up to 40% associated with shopping search engines. 40% is likely to be atypical, however, when compared to conversion rates associated with regular search engines (5% is often considered high) this is an extremely high number.

Search Engine Marketing and Ad Agencies

Ad agencies have been slow to recognize the value of online advertising and search engine marketing in general. It appears they may be starting to smell the coffee now that major brands in a variety of industries are working with online agencies to take full advantage of the potential search engine optimization and marketing. Representatives from Carat, The Karcher Group, SiteLab, and others discussed the adoption of search engine marketing by more traditional ad agencies.

The presentations indicated that traditional agencies know about search engine marketing and offer search engine marketing services, however, agencies that focus exclusively on online advertising or more specifically, search engine marketing would still be superior choices for a company seeking to maximize the return on a search engine optimization and marketing campaign.

And the list goes on

In addition to the above presentations there were sessions on the future of search engine marketing, dealing with directories, introduction to pay for inclusion and Trusted Feed programs, search engine friendly design, and of course meet the crawlers, where representatives from the major search engines answer questions from audience members.

Don't fret if you couldn't make it

The next big search engine marketing conference is the WebmasterWorld PubConference in Boston on Saturday April 26, 2003

The next Search Engine Strategies conference will be held in San Jose, August 18-20, 2003.

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