The Extreme Makeover of Integrated Search Planning

First published September 28, 2005 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

It’s bordering dangerously close to jargon. As you scan a topic list at a conference, it doesn’t really grab you by the throat and drag you into the session room. I wanted to call my session something like “Search: the Shortcut Between You and Your Customer,” or “Search, the Vital Online Intersection.” In the end, we compromised on “Integrated Search Planning: How Organic, Sponsored and Paid can Optimize All Media Spends.” Not really lyrical, but it works.

It’s a shame that Integrated Search Planning doesn’t sound sexier, because when you spend some time thinking about it, it’s a concept that can sneak up and smack you in the side of the head. This is an idea that’s immensely powerful.

Living Online. We spend more and more of our lives online. The Internet is beginning to challenge TV for its share of our time and our attention. Add the fact that you’re actively engaged when you’re online, as opposed to passively absorbing programming and advertising, and the Internet’s role as an influencer becomes tremendously important. So, for any given set of consumers, we can assume that online is a vital factor.

Now consider the fact that our time online is being integrated more and more into our other activities. If we see something on TV that interests us, chances are very good that further research will be done online. The same is true for magazines, newspapers or other media. Increasingly, the Internet is being unlocked from the desktop box in the den, and emerging into our prime living space. At home, our Media Center PC is right next to the TV, given a spot of honor in the room where we spend 80 percent of our time. I’m also the proud owner of a new Pocket PC, and after I recovered from the shock of my first usage bill and learned to use remote Internet connectivity sparingly, I found myself intrigued by this notion of being online, anywhere, anytime.

In a few more years, the integration will be complete. The line between our real world and our online world will have disappeared. The world’s largest depository of information will be ours to have, whenever the mood strikes us.

Connecting the Dots with Search. Now comes search. There are billions of dots out there on the online landscape. Search is the quickest way to connect them. It’s our transporter, getting us from here to almost anywhere instantly. No, it’s not foolproof. Yes, it can be frustrating, but nothing is better. We don’t like typing in urls. We don’t want to figure out where we put the backslash, the hyphen or the tilde. We just pick a few words, jam them into a search tool bar and happily click away. We use search to navigate online. The fact that 97% of us use one of three engines, and close to 60% of us use just one, makes it even easier. The search market is highly consolidated. It’s like the glory days of TV advertising, when there were just 3 networks and cable hadn’t started fragmenting the market.

So, if you’re looking for the online intersection where you’re most likely to intercept a prospective customer, it’s search. I know you’ve heard that before, but really spend a couple of minutes thinking about it.

No matter what activity, what interest, what intention your target customers have, chances are very good that they’re going to use a search engine today. It’s like owning a billboard on the busiest intersection in the world.

So, let’s get back to the riveting topic of integrated search planning. The rest of your marketing has one purpose: generate engaged interest. If it’s successful, where does your prospect turn? Odds are very good that it will be a search engine. While they’re there, you have about six-and-a-half seconds to catch their interest. If you’re successful, you can then direct them to your site, where you have the opportunity to turn them into a lifetime customer.

Let me give you an example. Some years ago, we pitched an idea to a large company. A big part of their marketing push was a major sponsorship of NASCAR racing. Every year, they poured millions into their sponsored team. To support this online, they had a separate section of their site that was devoted to the team, including up-to-date standings, race stats and other information. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the site had no search engine visibility.

At the time, sponsored search was in its infancy. So the company could have owned the entire NASCAR bucket of keywords for a few thousand dollars a month. With a little site optimization, they could have also gained the prime organic space on the major engines. They could have owned all online search traffic interested in NASCAR for less than 0.4% of their sponsorship budget, driving prospects to a heavily branded site, building loyalty and putting their prospective customers one click away from product information. Unfortunately, the company didn’t get it; the executives passed on our proposal. My only hope is that somewhere, someone is still kicking himself for this decision.

How could you not integrate search into the rest of your media planning and creative strategy? Isn’t this a no-brainer? Apparently not, because only a small fraction of companies are doing Integrated Search Planning right now. Maybe we do have to come up with a sexier title for it.

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