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Search Engine Marketing and eCommerce

Internet marketing has changed and it’s not looking back. While the term “Search Engine Marketing” (SEM) may be broad, there’s no denying catering to search engines has become one of the key building blocks for retailers in creating successful internet marketing strategies. While the concept of SEM has existed for over a decade now, there is a fundamental shift taking place in the SEM industry much like in the eCommerce sector. Paid search advertising was once the unchallenged king, but according to a recent study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau web display ads are now outpacing paid search in Europe. This is just one of the many small indicators that the SEM landscape is truly changing.

While the change in landscape may not be a surprise to some as search engines are getting smarter, it certainly reflects that ventures such as Google Instant (which shows popular search phrases as you type your search) are changing the way people search online. To put it succinctly, search is easier than ever for the end-user. Retailers are certainly taking note of such changes and understand with ease of use and efficiency come popularity – and the numbers don’t lie – search volume has increased by 4 billion searches over the past year alone. Retailers are going where the people are, as shown by the 24% increase in paid search spending by retailers compared to 2010 and a 52% projected increase in online video ads for 2011.

With these changes in consumer behavior, I took a moment and asked our in-house search engine marketing expert Neil Lemons about some of the trends and changes he is seeing with retailers and search engine marketing…


Why do you think retailers are looking more and more toward the search engine marketing industry and away from traditional marketing tactics?

The fact is, consumers are tired of one way messages being shoved down their throats. They have become numb and blind to all the superlative marketing messages that they have been exposed to daily for their entire lives. It’s information overload, and it simply doesn’t work as well as it did before. Retailers are moving toward search marketing because search engines are where their buyers are hanging out and spending time; researching products, chatting with friends on social media sites, emailing. Google is only a click or smartphone app away.


Author, blogger, and ex-Yahoo! Executive Seth Godin coined a term around a decade ago that sums it up for me: permission based marketing. Consumers are fine with retailers communicating with them when he/she has agreed to the terms.


Search engine marketing is a form a permission based marketing. It’s not meant to be intrusive, but as relevant and contextually targeted to the end-user as possible. Opt-in email communications are also permission based marketing.


A second reason retailers are looking more and more toward search engine marketing and away from traditional marketing tactics is that they have less channels than they did before. Over the last fifteen years, many forms of marketing have been subdued and averted with technology & government legislation. In a world that now has caller ID, no call lists, unsolicited “do not mail” lists, TiVo & DVR, it’s becoming more difficult to reach the end buyer.


The bottom line is retailers are finding that shifting dollars toward search marketing goes further.

The percentage of retailers purchasing video ads continues to increase year over year. What in particular is drawing retailers to this type of advertising?

Since many retailers are selling physical products, not services, visual demonstrations and actively showing the products will always be more persuasive. Major retailers are very familiar with TV and it makes sense for them. With the technology advances in video streaming and faster connection speeds from ISPs, video websites that provide retailers with advertising opportunities (YouTube, DailyMotion, Vimeo) have become increasingly popular. At this point, these types of ads online are still intriguing, because they break through the noise and are more likely to be actively watched (since they cannot be skipped using a DVR or TiVo).

How has social media marketing (SMM) affected search engine marketing and how do you foresee the two interacting over the next few years?

SMM has changed the game. Now that Facebook “likes” and Twitter retweets count in the over 200 variables Google factors for organic rankings, traditional search engine marketers and firms have had to adjust their strategies to incorporate a more holistic approach for content, rankings and engagement.


I’ve seen firsthand how these “social signals” can contribute to high rankings, and be seen as a vote for your website in the eyes of the search engines.  For the future, I see more social signals being weighed and counted, and the websites that do well in the social sphere being rewarded with higher rankings and more traffic from search engines.

According to AddThis, Facebook’s grip on the social sharing space really tightened when in 2010 almost half of all social shares on the web were on Facebook. Although, with the growth of Facebook slowing and even declining in North America it remains to be seen what will happen in the social sharing space for years to come.

Remarketing, or showing ads based on a consumer’s browsing history, has been a somewhat controversial topic relating to consumer privacy. What are your thoughts on the future of remarketing and how will it affect the consumer’s perception of search engine marketing?

I think remarketing will get smarter. Right now, it seems obvious to the consumer when he/she has just visited a website and then starts seeing banners from prior sites on future visits. I’ve heard of a few new services popping up that now do remarketing based on keywords used on search engines before any website is visited. Then the websites visited will show ads based on the previous searches, not just on previously visited websites. It’s almost a “pre-marketing” of sorts.

What do you think will be the “next big thing” in search engine marketing?

Local search. Although local has been around for a long time, Google made a bold move in late November of last year by fully integrating Google Places into the natural results. Although, the “seven pack” has been there for years, never before has it taken up so much real estate. (For those of you unfamiliar with the “seven pack” and how Google Places has improved upon it, Greg Sterling does a nice job differentiating the two)

Some really great insight from Neil above. I think he is right on the money in the sense that it’s become increasingly more difficult as technology has evolved to get product messages across to consumers. As mobile continues to grow and wireless infrastructure improves, it certainly makes video ads even more appealing to retailers. Video is becoming one of the more effective ways to get products in front of consumers and utilizing a service to enhance the interactivity of the video content could increase social sharing and more importantly, site conversions.

How has search engine marketing affected the way you (or your consumers) shop online? Feel free to leave a comment below…