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Friday, August 22, 2003

SES Wrapup: No Masters of Minutiae Here!

As the search technology and search-based marketing industries continue to gain momentum, a conference like this week's well-attended Search Engine Strategies in San Jose seems to generate a fair bit of attention. Perhaps due to the breakneck pace of acquisitions and feature upgrades over the past six months, the conference was by and large not used by companies as a major platform for announcements. In general, though, the business is booming - and the formation of SEMPO, a "marketing board" of sorts that will aim to educate the corporate sector of the benefits of SEM - may be proof that SEM is maturing, as well. As you can tell from the SEMPO site, it already has the backing of leaders in the industry, and (not unlike the napkins at the bar that hosted last-night's post-LookSmart-reception karaoke) has already attracted sponsorship from the likes of Overture.

So anyway, here's Traffick's take on the important, the unimportant, and the merely odd bits of news at this week's SES:

Biggest party: Google Dance 2003

Best karaoke effort by a newlywed: Marshall Simmonds' wonderful Prince stylings

Eeriest symbolism: Danny Sullivan's fireside chat with Sergey Brin. As Brin opined that the whole Internet search business has gotten "a little bit crazy" (especially around acquisitions and interest by the press) in the past little while, the flames from the virtual fireplace behind him seemed to be licking at the side of his face. Possibly a sign that as much as Brin might like to wish for a return to the days of relative anonymity and nascent coolness, things have heated up and there is no looking back. Brin didn't reveal too much in the talk, but was nimble on his feet when Sullivan jokingly asked about the timeline for them someday acquiring a company "such as Microsoft." Brin didn't miss a beat, observing that "in the end, no one ever really acquires anyone else, it's all about ratios." Ratios indeed.

Weirdest sign-of-the-times application of the new technology: Guy in my plane on runway in San Jose whips out his wireless phone, calls his secretary, asks her to bring up Google and look up "Johansen Electronics San Jose," and then asks her to tell him if they have a special offer for a GS-385BA-90 on the home page. He then calls Johansen Electronics and orders the GS-385BA-90. There have been several wild phone-search related ideas tested out in the past few years, so no doubt Phone Google will be coming someday, unless Jeeves beats them to it.

More heat than light The prickly debate amongst the panel debating the effectiveness of "contextual" ads. A provocative and factual presentation by Sausalito-based consultant Brad Byrd showed that Google's content-based ads performed very poorly for a large pharmaceutical company (on a "cost per registration" basis) in comparison with Google AdWords. All three industry panelists (from Overture, Google, and Sprinks) responded defensively, but Sprinks' Lance Podell seemed to direct frustration not only in Byrd's direction, but also towards his competitors, whose recent move towards contextual advertising does not offer the kinds of channel control painstakingly developed by Sprinks. But Podell's own presentation wasn't entirely convincing. Although some aspects of Sprinks are undoubtedly strong from an interface-and-control standpoint, this doesn't matter if the average advertiser sees their account drained quickly with few sales to show for it. Podell made several leaps in logic which couldn't have been overlooked by some unlucky advertisers in the crowd. Podell argued (in point form) that Sprinks "must" show a strong ROI because there has been an increase in the number of advertisers, and later asked rhetorically "it's a free market, isn't it? If advertisers aren't seeing a good return, they will presumably leave." The Sprinks presentation focused mostly on the benefits to publishers like CBS Marketwatch who seek to squeeze more revenue out of each page view. Ultimately, Podell is dead right. If advertisers don't see a strong return, they'll leave. Unless, of course, the publishers and intermediaries are lucky enough to team with agencies who can convince larger advertisers to spend heavily without fully understand what they're getting. Ultimately, it's early days for the push into contextual ads. We'll have much more to say about it in this space, but for now, ponder this: maybe they *aren't* really a "fundamentally different" kind of advertising from search advertising as everyone is now saying. Maybe there is a continuum whereby some contextual ads are more tied to browsing that is "quasi-navigational" in nature. For example, is a context-based ad showing up on epinions, Alexa, site search, a Yahoo! Autos or weather page, etc., entirely "intrusive" as with the usual banner approach, or is it a little bit like search marketing, because in some way, the user is still "searching" in these venues?

Not only does he stand near the registration area looking like a proud poppa, but he also writes! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Alan Meckler. Rumor has it that it was Mr. Meckler's idea to bring Search Engine Strategies to Toronto next May, to be hosted by Chris Sherman. I'm told this decision isn't final yet, so I want all you Canadian marketers and search junkies to put your hands together and MAKE SOME NOISE! As you can imagine, I think this is a great idea. Canada is one of those countries whose broadband adoption was early and swift, and there is an established "larger company" media and advertising industry culture in Toronto and a thriving tech sector. At the same time, my experience has been that marketers and advertisers, and especially small to medium-sized businesses, have been slow to properly budget for search engine optimization and pay-per-click lead generation campaigns, at a time when customer acquisition costs in this medium are tantalizingly low.

Unimportant-but-widely-reported-news-because-it's-Google: Google rolls out two new sizes of contextual ad creative. I mean, I'd blog this, but why are there 38 news stories on this? Google's Mike Mayzel must have a really easy job these days :-)

Better leave it at that, since it's been a long week. But undoubtedly an excellent week for search marketers. Kind of made you proud to be a "searchie."

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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