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Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Thesis that Was SES Toronto 2008

This'll be my last post about SES Toronto this year - you have to put the cork in something sometime, I guess. :) The team may have one or two more snippets to share on Monday.

I wanted to address two themes in this post; they're interrelated.

  • Without necessarily being conscious of it, as Kevin Ryan and I worked on putting this year's program together, we began with a thesis, or a question we wanted answered. Are a lot of the "core" search marketing tactics old and tired, warranting a new approach or even abandoning of the focus on "search" in favor of a more diversified visibility paradigm, call it Web 2.0 centric, call it social media optimization, or what you will? Session after session proved - without anyone having prejudged the answer - that we are ahead of ourselves in touting some of the apparent engagement metrics, benefits, "attitudinals" (Kevin making fun of some of the obfuscation of 2.0-world), and even good common sense of social media marketing outside of traditional search. And on the flip side, it was proven over and over again that we are underinvesting in and underestimating the immense power of the core search tactics and elements of full-scale professional search marketing:
    1. Linking campaigns & beyond
    2. Content strategies
    3. Relevant analytics
    4. Paid search
    5. Conversion optimization so that traffic isn't just leaking out of the "funnel"
    6. How much we need to know about users, where they're searching, and how
    7. How they behave differently in B2B vs. B2C scenarios
    8. Feeds, from RSS to everything else (including Yahoo's new SearchMonkey)
    9. Kinds of search, from video search to news search to vertical search to....
    10. International dimensions, language, and culture in search
    11. Webmaster tools and lab toys offered by the search engines
    12. Research tools and tactics, including keyword research and competitive intelligence
    13. Needless to say, I could go on.
    14. By contrast, many of the kool-aid-du-jour campaigns and related mushy language - a "viral" YouTube video, a clever Facebook app, an interactive widget, etc. - seemed awfully expensive by comparison with getting all of the above right. Building the marketing sprinkles on top of your meatball sundae won't get customers into the basic navigation towards key objectives. This is not to dismiss the immense influence of social media. But we all need to be reminded to mine the rich ore on the land we already know and own, before raising big sums of money to go off in search of the next big discovery. Both are valid, but that depends on "what type of money you are." If you're hungry, don't get on a ship bound for a place with orange groves: pick the low-hanging apple right next to your hand.
    15. Perhaps the biggest problem I saw with piecemeal attempts to just throw content into the social media channel, as I digested various case studies and comments, is the shocking lack of professional responsibility and continuity in these campaigns. Companies spend years building brands and examining the negative fallouts of different strategies and messages. Then they're supposed to just "throw in" with some ill-planned creative, grainy video, offbeat promotion, etc., without any projection of whether it's actually going to cost the company millions in brand equity, rather than being additive to the overall level of positive noise quotient as social media campaign advocates seem to imply? Wildfires burning out of control sure look pretty from the air, but who among us is really stupid enough to want one in our neck of the woods? A colleague of mine sometimes wisely points out the pitfalls of letting a process or message go "hog wild." Spontaneity and fun are, well, spontaneous and fun, but do companies really know what they're getting into? Me writing this blog is about as hog wild as it gets around here, and sometimes, maybe often, even that is too much. Yet Fortune 500 companies are outsourcing their social media campaigns to shameless promoters with no public relations experience and no qualms about subtracting a few zeroes from market valuations by releasing cheap-looking promotions into the social space.
    16. One delegate approached me nervously about the schedule for late on Day 2. Would the link building session actually focus on link building? Because if he was going to have to hear more general talk about social media, he definitely did not want to attend that session. Fortunately, panelists Mike Grehan, Deborah Mastaler, and Jeff Quipp gave him exactly what he was looking for, with seasoned, real-world advice about link building in today's environment.
    17. Great feedback about Bill Tighe of Google, and the other panelists on the Advanced Paid Search panel.
    18. I received hearty kudos for Mike McDerment of Freshbooks and the other panelists on the "B2B is Different" panel.
    19. You get the idea. The core stuff works. The core stuff has evolved tremendously. It is vitally important and it is still moving the needle.
  • I also wanted to bring Fredrick Marckini's opening keynote into this discussion. You could point to many individual takeaways from Fredrick, but a couple stand out for me. While Fredrick certainly explored the changing landscape of search visibility and the growth of new search features, new tactics, and global growth opportunities, what he kept returning to was his core theme, complete with cheesy Huey Lewis soundtrack: "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll is Still Beating." Hey, maybe we shouldn't be a bunch of dull folks sitting around swapping stories about H1 tags -- no chance of that for Fredrick -- but a lot of the core stuff still works. If you're too cool to listen to Huey, Fredrick's got some news from you (though he is far too modest to say so himself). Huey made him ridiculously rich, and Huey keeps him traveling around the globe as a core part of the marketing strategies of his agency's Fortune 1000 clients.
    • One and only one sub-point from that overall Marckini theme needs to be hammered home, I think. You can catch the rest at his next keynote, somewhere around the globe. That point is: Start Now. Search visibility and awareness don't turn on like a light switch. Someone else spent five years and $500,000+ getting to where they are now in the search engines and related online hotspots. Search success reflects social success, but that doesn't mean you become socially successful in a searchable way by trying a couple of gimmicks next week. You have to begin with a comprehensive strategy, and get going now, since yesterday already passed. There will be a basic 6 month lag time before you see any results to speak of. There will be another 2-3 year lag time before you really come into your own. Putting starting off for another year just isn't an option.

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