SEMPO’s Snapshot of Search

First published November 30, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

If you haven’t heard, or received your invite, the annual SEMPO State of the Market survey is currently looking for search marketers to give us this year’s snapshot of the industry. You can find a link to the survey at the SEMPO site. Now in its third year, this survey has become the definitive year-over-year look at search marketing.

Knowing that we’re in Chicago next week for Search Engine Strategies, we paused long enough to take some on the fly data points which we’ll be sharing at a special SEMPO meeting on Monday night. I can share one of them with you in this column.

Why the Survey?

First, why do we do this? Simple. In something as dynamic as search, it’s tough to keep your bearings. Obviously, year-over-year sizing of the markets is one yardstick, but there are a lot of other factors that we like to keep an eye on. We track advertiser’s acceptance of different strategies, including paid placement (or sponsored search), paid inclusion and organic optimization. Late- breaking info on this in a moment. This year, we’ll also be asking more questions about local search and what other marketing channels advertisers use.

We also check in with advertisers on issues like click fraud and how prevalent they feel it is, as well as use of search marketing technology and contextually targeted ads. Of course, we’re very interested in where those search engine budgets are being placed and where those budgets are coming from. Is search poaching from other budgets, or has it established itself as its own line item?

We try to determine the maturity of search by asking how much executive participation there is in search marketing decisions. We can also look at the different groups that answer the survey (advertisers, agencies and affiliate marketers) to see if there are variations in attitudes toward search amongst them.

Wake-Up Call for SEM Agencies

Last year, a key finding was the attitude of advertisers toward search marketing agencies. It was clear that there was a trust disconnect, with a full 65% looking to bring both paid and organic search capabilities in-house. For SEM agencies, it was a clear signal to up the ante in terms of measurable results.

We spend a fair amount of time in the survey digging into how companies conduct their search campaigns, the percentage that’s done in-house versus outsourced, whether this is a growth strategy for them, and trying to determine some of the hidden costs, such as the expense of internal staff to conduct the campaigns.

And of Course, There are Those Click Costs

One of the hottest data points from the survey tends to be around acceptance of current bid prices. Again, we get quite granular in determining the extent of price elasticity on paid placement. Last year, we saw a flattening out, with 21% of advertisers saying they were maxed out on bid prices, and another 37% saying they could go as high as 10 to 20% more.

If you want to find out more about the 2005 findings, make sure you visit the Learning Center at http://www.SEMPO.org.

Hot Off the Spreadsheet

So, how is the data shaping up this year? Well, I just pinged our number crunchers–and based on the results in so far, it looks like organic optimization is holding the lead as the most popular strategy when it comes to search. Last year, it barely edged out paid placement, with 80% of respondents saying they were using it, compared to 76% of respondents using paid placement. This year, adoption of both strategies increased, with 83% of respondents using organic optimization, and 80% using paid placement. Remember, this is very preliminary data, and will likely change a bit as we get more survey completions. We have a few other preliminary data points that we’ll be sharing in Chicago next week at Search Engine Strategies. Look for the SEMPO event, Monday, Dec. 4t at 6 p.m.

Call to Action

If you’re working in search, we need your participation. The more respondents, the better the data. Everyone will have access to a summary of the report, and SEMPO members can download the full report. Once again, you can take the survey at http://www.sempo.org/learning_center/research/sempo_research/sempo_2006_state.

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