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Search Engine Marketing Benchmarks: Latest Research from Marketing Sherpa

MarketingSherpa just released its new search marketing benchmark report ($447) and companion executive summary (free PDF). Some of the key findings and observations from the report.

Despite the economic downturn, paid clicks are increasing.

"U.S. paid click volume (is) up 18% from January 2007 to March 2009...In a sign of industry health, the volume of paid clicks has been steadily increasing over the last two years. Wherever consumers are clicking, search marketers and PPC ad buyers are at work. In fact, as more publishers opt to offer a PPC buying option, the universe of PPC ads will continue to increase."

True, but this is being driven by the consumer side. With a tough economy, people are searching online for good deals. It would have been nice to see a breakout on the b2b side. While I don't have a large data set here, based on the accounts I manage searches are down roughly 25%; that is, with the same set of keywords, impression volume is off by a quarter over the past year.

Why? Because when businesses aren't optimistic about demand, they don't invest in new software and other technologies. And people won't search for what they have no budget to buy. On the plus side, a recent study from Forbes and Gartner suggests that we may have turned the corner, with C-level executives now optimistic about the outlook for 2010.

Search marketers embrace conversion reporting.

"By embracing conversion metrics other than the immediate sale of a product, PPC search marketing is able to maintain the accountability and results-driven approach that makes it so effective, yet avoid the strategic identity crisis that online banner advertising is still going through."

On the b2b side, most campaigns are aimed at generating leads rather than instant sales. What this study indicates, however, is that b2b marketers are starting to measure, and get credit for, secondary "conversions" as well. That is, not every visitor will instantly become a lead, but there is value in other actions, such as subscribing to a newsletter or even simply visiting other areas of the site after hitting the landing page (and of course which pages they visit should be carefully tracked).

Search marketers do more with less.

"Cuts in budgets paired with increased expectations provided an opportunity for search marketers to shine in the first half of 2009. As budgetary fat was trimmed from keyword lists, ROI improved dramatically for the last two months...common tactics were to move away from proven but expensive, high-volume PPC keywords on Google to a greater emphasis on SEO, social media and PPC opportunities outside the high-competition arena of Google."

ROI is increasing because, with reduced competition on the b2b side, keyword costs are declining. I've seen average keyword costs for several clients drop by as much as 30% in the past year. Similar results + lower costs = higher ROI. In this environment, smart businesses are taking advantage of reduced spending by their competitors to maximize their PPC results and increase market share.

Savvy b2b marketers are also investing more in content marketing, social media, interactive PR and SEO to feed the "top of the funnel" as well as investing in PPC advertising to capture prospective buyers further along in their buying cycle.

The lines between display ads, search and social are blurring rapidly.

"New to the list of PPC providers this year is Facebook. While not a search engine, Facebook offers contextually targeted PPC text ads similar to Google‘s content network. Use of the tactic is only slightly less than Yahoo!‘s content network. The somewhat sticky question this provokes is why, in a siloed world of search/display/offline media buying, are search marketers buying display ads? If more media buying moves to performance-based PPC bid models, does it put the search marketer in charge of the larger media buying budget? Maybe."

First, it should be noted that Google search, Google content and Yahoo search are still the top three PPC vehicles. Only 3.6% of respondents in MarketingSherpa's survey said they didn't use Google search advertising at all in the last 12 months; coincidentally, the same percentage of marketers were consistent spenders on Facebook.

Second, the blurring of these lines does indeed mean that you need a resource (whether that's an individual consultant/employee, an internal team or an agency) that understands SEO, SEM, online advertising, PR and social media, and can make all these interconnected pieces work together to optimize your business results from the web.

There's more, so check out the executive summary PDF for additional information on the continuing evolution of search marketing from MarketingSherpa.


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