Another Year, Another SEMPO Survey

First published December 6, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

As chair of SEMPO, one of the things I’ve seen establish itself is the regular SEMPO state of the market survey. Every year about this time, we field a gargantuan survey (in excess of over 400 questions, including all the possible branches) in which we attempt to capture a relatively complete snapshot of where search is at this given point in time. We use the data captured to analyze year over year trends and attempt to project forward  how these trends might develop over the coming year. This year, in addition to the main survey, which primarily collects North American data, we’ll also be launching a smaller European version, scheduled for the new year.

One of the interesting things about the survey is that it can act as an early warning system for emerging trends. Among the biggest variances last year was the clear signal that many marketers would ideally like to move their search marketing management in-house. Over the course of the year, we’ve certainly seen this start to happen, and my suspicion is that we’ll continue to see this trend play out in 2008 and beyond. In-house marketers are the fastest growing SEMPO membership segment. By digging this point out of the data, we were able to put it on the radar of search agencies, letting them know that perhaps the value provided wasn’t quite up to what clients were looking for. It may not have been good news, but it was vital.

Two years ago, click fraud emerged as a major concern. While the urgency of click fraud seems to have lessened, it’s still a nagging doubt that seems to linger in the background and throw a shadow on the effectiveness of search as a marketing channel.

Other data points worth mentioning: Last year, for the first time, search seemed to pierce the consciousness of C-Level executives. This trend literally appeared out of nowhere, as one year previous these execs were barely aware of search. Heightened awareness on the executive floor might be responsible for some of the directives to bring search in-house. If you want something to capture the attention of executives, make it a budget line-item. For many companies, search broke this threshold in 2007.

Also, while many marketers seemed to feel there was still room to up their keyphrase bid amounts, the ceiling seemed closer than ever before. Pricing fatigue became a reality for more and more search marketers.

That was the backwards look at last year’s survey findings. This time around, it will be interesting to see how what has arguably been the biggest year of change in search has impacted marketers. With the rollout of unified (or universal, or blended, or 3D, or whatever the label du jour is) and personalized search, the interface has undergone some pretty dramatic changes. While the impact on most of our campaigns has been minimal to this point, we’re all thinking about how this might change the game. It will be interesting to see what changes in attitudes towards search as a channel boil out of the data.

So, if you have a few minutes to spare (about 10 to 15 should do the trick) make sure you take this year’s survey. Like any study, its accuracy is totally dependent on how many people volunteer their information. The more who take it, the more we can slice and dice the data and pull more nuggets out of it. And, by taking it, you get the first look at the findings.

Finally, a word of thanks to my SEMPO research co-hort, Kevin Lee from Did-It. He puts a lot of hours into question formulation and testing every year, all of them as a volunteer. This survey is really his baby.

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