August 28, 2003, 12:00 AM

Supersizing Search

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Resources and scale dictate that Allen handles search marketing activity on his own, but that doesn’t work for larger companies that must drive higher volume to show any results, so they turn to more complex search initiatives. As such, they must look beyond simple search strategies that may be helpful to smaller concerns toward something more sophisticated.

Not like direct marketing

Take the strategy of starting with a broad keyword list and then cutting out those that don’t convert. Though it’s proved useful to companies just getting their feet wet in search, companies that need to produce sales on a larger scale must look beyond that. Marckini notes that by starting broad and then refining keyword buys based solely on what converts, marketers may be missing a significant part of their market. “When you first got a MasterCard, did you sign up for it the day you got the first piece of direct mail on it, or did you see TV ads, hear radio ads, and watch a lot of friends and family members pull out a card to pay for dinner first? People search in all stages of the buying cycle, and treating search engine marketing like pure direct response marketing is fatal,” he says.

It’s such complexities of the search engine marketplace that have retailers looking around for outside help, but where to turn? Companies with roots in specialties as diverse as algorithmic optimization, web site design, affiliate marketing and analytics, and media-buying outlets such as advertising agencies and even public relations firms now offer search marketing services, not without some overlap.

Like many other providers who started out in algorithmic search optimization before the advent of paid search, OneUpWeb now offers management of paid search programs and direct feeds of client’s page content into major search engines. “As the technology changes, you’d better be changing with it,” says Lisa Wehr, president. “There are no longer search engine optimization companies, there are search engine marketing companies.” followed the same path, focusing on optimization when it launched four years ago. It then expanded into paid search and paid inclusion management services as those markets developed, forming partnerships with various search engines and portals. Today, it’s a search engine marketing company that offers a full spectrum of services. MoreVisibility’s offering doesn’t include conversion analytics that track past click-through to completed transactions, leaving that to other providers that specialize in it. “That is a whole different arena, and there are companies that have spent many millions to develop that software,” says MoreVisibility president Andrew Wetzler.

Other search marketing providers bundle the analytics into their offering as resellers. iProspect, for example, distributes a customized version of NetIQ Corp.’s WebTrends Live as the analytics reporting piece of a broad search marketing offering. Analytics provider Coremetrics Inc. has agreements covering search engine results reporting with search marketing service provider Performics Inc., among other search-focused relationships.

And the dotted lines leading to search from an increasing variety of companies that do business on the Internet don’t stop there. Traditional media buying outlets such as advertising agencies, seeing online banners supplanted by more accountable search marketing, are looking to get in on the act as well.

PR agencies, too

“Increasingly, agencies are acquiring or partnering with folks who provide any of the search engine optimization or search engine marketing services,” says Berk, adding that he’s also been approached by a public relations agency arguing that it is in the best position to provide search marketing services. A San Francisco- and Boston-based PR firm that launched in March, SEO-PR, already does that, taking search into a new realm. It charges corporate clients to algorithmically optimize marketing communications posted on the web, such as press releases, to boost their rankings in informational search queries, thus expanding their reach.

Affiliate marketing has gotten in on search as well, with providers that started out in affiliate services stretching themselves to add search marketing. Performics launched in 1998 as an affiliate marketing services provider but it wasn’t long before it expanded into keyword management. In investigating some network affiliates to determine whether unusually large sales volumes they were generating were legitimate, Performics discovered that the sales were coming from keywords purchased on engines by the affiliates.

“We decided to get directly into that business ourselves on behalf of our clients,” says Performics vice president of marketing Stuart Larkin. “There was an opportunity to drive sales for our clients and also, to protect the client’s brand by having control over where the keywords were purchased, and which ones.” Performics built its technology to submit keywords to engines and manage bidding on the backbone of its affiliate marketing technology. Today, the company positions itself as a direct marketing services organization with search, now a core competency, representing about 35% of its business and slated to hit 40% this year.

One-step shopping

One Performics client, for example, a high-end audio retailer, has expanded from affiliate marketing into search services from Performics right along with Performics’ expansion into the search market. “Algorithmic optimization didn’t seem to be doing anything for us, and though we contracted with Performics as an affiliate provider, we’ve been open to any new opportunities they bring us,” says the retailer’s online program manager. Over the past 18 months, paid search has become such a productive part of the retailer’s online marketing mix that search was recently pulled out of the affiliate program budget where it had started and given its own strategy and budget.

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