From technical challenges such as changes in Google algorithms to shifting consumer behaviour around video and mobile, what ranks highly on the list of priorities for search marketers going into 2013? As part of a series on search marketing, The Drum looks at the main challenges for search marketers in the year ahead.
2012 was a year of continuing development for search marketing, with the Yahoo! Bing Search Alliance, numerous Google updates and the rise of social sharing via sites such as Pinterest dominating Search marketers' strategies. James Murray, digital insight manager, Experian Marketing Services, highlights the growth of search in the UK: “By the time 2012 comes to an end the UK will have made over 27 billion visits to search engines, a billion more than they made in 2011.” But with 2013 just around the corner, what's giving the industry room for pause? The Drum asked a cross-section of the industry for their views on the toughest challenge facing search.Convergence and integration have characterised digital marketing across the board this year, so it's no surprise the shift from search as a siloed activity should be ranking highly for marketers operating in the space. Alex Jeffries, head of communications strategy, LBi, says that the biggest issue for search marketing will be the effective transition from a siloed, technical activity to a fully integrated part of the marketing mix.“This challenge will test clients and agencies alike,” says Jeffries. “Clients will need to think about department structures, governance and sign off; for example, how does a financial services company get to a position where four pieces of engaging brand content are going out a month specifically designed to earn social search signals? For agencies the choice is stark: get a strategy and creative department or get out of search.”Adrian Durow, head of SEO and CRO, Thinking Juice, seconds this, saying both in-house and agency search teams “need to integrate more with media, PR, UX and other sales and marketing teams. SEOs and PPCs have been isolated for too long… they now need to be awesome planners.”Engaging brand content is now a necessity, not simply a luxury, as consumers become ever more savvy and connected. For search marketing strategies, this often means returning to basic marketing principles to engage audiences. Paul Huggett, strategic planning director at Stickyeyes, argues that the number one challenge facing the search marketing industry is a reluctance to produce content for content's sake, but “just because of recent algorithm updates.” Huggett says: “The whole search marketing industry has to start approaching client campaigns from a true marketing perspective. We must ask ourselves – what are a client’s objectives? Who are their target customers? Which channels are they active on? By understanding these we can then actually plan and deploy something that actually ‘adds value’ to these potential customers’ lives, and builds brand trust and advocacy – priceless in today’s market.”Taking this one step further, creative communications director Heather Healy, also of Stickyeyes, stresses the importance of awareness of human behaviour in creating search strategies. She observes that “the search industry has, for a long time, managed to get away with not really understanding people.”Healy argues search marketers now need to become acutely aware of the original function of search engines – giving people the information they actually want. “As brands or representatives of brands, we have to discover what people want, give it to them, and ensure that they share it, engage with it and fundamentally link to it (links aren’t dead). It’s not a habit the industry is used to, it’s a way of working which is rooted in public relations, and those who can succeed best are those who understand what people really want. Get a psychologist on your SEO team.”Another challenge faced by brands is the increased fragmentation of the search marketing space, and additional complexities brought about by the multi-device world, as highlighted by Net Media Planet MD and founder, Sri Sharma:“In terms of complexity, firstly, brands are dealing with a fiercely competitive UK market. Secondly, brands are dealing with a truly dynamic search landscape as it connects with social media which means richness of content incorporating text, audio, picture and video. Thirdly, to make search perform at its best, brands need to employ the latest technology innovations such as incorporating stock and inventory levels into paid search marketing.”This complexity is widened further by the multi-device aspect of consumer consumption. From a fragmentation view point, search is now multi-device – desktop, mobile, tablet or devices that straddle tablet and laptop like the new Microsoft Surface. This new multi-device world is changing how consumers engage with digital and within it the search channel.”The increase of display advertising through video affords a wealth of opportunity for search marketing campaigns based on CPC models, but marketers must be aware of the challenges of reporting metrics in relation to ROI, says Chris Rowett, head of PPC at Epiphany: “The ability to report the kind of metrics such as ROI that we are used to being able to work with is very difficult. What is a view worth? It is necessary for us to understand techniques used in traditional display and TV advertising, and apply any digital advantages we can to answer ROI questions.”This feature is part of a wider search marketing supplement published with The Drum's 14 December issue.