May 13, 2014, 11:05 AM

Digital marketing firm declares paid media dead

Instead, Conductor advocates going after free web traffic with an idea called “web presence management” and releases a new product to help retailers do it.

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Paid media is dead.

Or that’s what digital marketing firm Conductor says. With the launch today of a new product that helps brands—including e-retailers—manage their reputations across multiple online channels, Conductor hopes to break marketers of their addiction to paid search, co-founder and CEO Seth Besmertnik says.

It may be a tough sell, as the median monthly paid search spend of the 500 leading online retailers in North America is $85,000 according to the newly released Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

However, a Conductor study found only 7% of web traffic is funneled to retail web sites through paid search. Besmertnik says “web presence management,” on the other hand, can help brands capture the other 93% of web traffic. “We want to help brands earn the customers they can’t buy,” he says.

Conductor has integrated tools to help with reputation management and content analytics into its marketing platform, Conductor Searchlight. These tools will help brands capture consumers early in the purchase cycle, Besmertnik says. “I think that retailers have a great opportunity to create personas,” he says.” They can publish content that reaches their customers earlier. You can’t just crowd the register, waiting for somebody to buy and then jumping on them.”

As an example, Besmertnik offers up REI, a retailer involved in the beta testing of the new platform. REI is No. 69 in the Top 500 Guide. If a consumer is interested in stand-up paddle boarding and searches “what is stand up paddle boarding,” one of the first results is a “How to Get Started” page on REI’s web site. Say that consumer then searches, “is stand up paddle boarding safe?” That same REI page is at the top of the results. When the consumer is finally ready to start looking to buy stand-up paddle boards, REI’s brand is already top of mind, Besmertnik says. “They have been educating the consumer at all the stages of the journey,” he says. “That’s been really effective for them.”

REI calls that type of content “Expert Advice” and has created it for several product types, including stan- up paddle boards and rock climbing. REI is using Conductor’s platform to track and measure the success of such campaigns. REI says its customer acquisition rates when using the platform are 300% higher than for control groups. “This content has been tremendously successful, and has brought visitors to our sites and stores that we never would have received if we’d had a product-info-only approach,” says Justin Schoen, natural search program manager at REI. “In fact, consumers who enter into our Expert Advice content convert 16% more than those who enter through an e-commerce-only experience.”

One of the tools in the Conductor suite estimates traffic to such content pages using the brand’s position on a search results page and how many people search for that term. That traffic is then compared to conversions on the brand’s site, Besmertnik says.

In addition to the retail applications—which Besmertnik says account for about 45% of companies using the platform—Conductor hopes to change the paid search and SEO industries. He says several SEO professionals have now changed their titles to “web presence managers,” and he expects that number to increase. “We expect thousands of marketers over the coming 12 months to re-organize their departments around the 'unpaid' media opportunity by forming a web presence team,” he says. “WPM will be the next major category in digital marketing.”

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