Just like a US President gives Congress information on the "state of our union", Forrester has just released a state of the union on the search marketing world. But instead of constant interruptions for applause or the opposition's response to the state of the union, let's cut to the chase.
The state of search marketing is strong. But there are cracks forming in its foundation. That's not to say that search marketing is under immediate seige from foreign adversaries, but it is to say that there will be challenges and opportunities for agencies, vendors, and marketers that are tasked with owning SEO and/or paid search.
Change is nothing new in the search world -- especially when you consider how often Google updates it's ranking algorithm. And 2016 was no different. There were a few major highlights in my eyes:
Google nixed right-hand rail ads. Back in February, Google confirmed that all ads (except PLAs and some knowledge graph ads) would no longer appear on the right hand side of desktop search results. The reason Google did this was to provide a more consistent experience across devices, which it did. The good news for marketers though? The decrease in total inventory didn't increase CPCs. In fact, CPCs on Google declined 5% since Q3 2015.
Organic search is still top of mind for marketers...and customers. Let's face it: SEO is not the sexiest digital marketing topic. But it works: according to Forrester's Consumer Technographics data, natural search engine results are the top way customers find websites. So it should be no surprise that my top inquiry topic in 2016 was on all things SEO.
I had breakfast yesterday with John Nicoletti, head of agency operations, and Dave Tan, head of SEM development for Google. They manage Google's relationships with search marketing agencies — updating them on what Google is working on and supporting the paid search business they manage with on behalf of marketers.
We chatted a bit about the findings from my recent Search Marketing Agency Wave, and John and Dave shared with me trends and differentiators they observe from their work with agencies. Here are our collective observations:
Technology doesn't differentiate agencies; how agencies use technology does. My wave does include automation as a point of differentiation in a lot of critiera. But to be clear, I don't think automation for the sake of automation is what makes an agency good. Nor does the technology enabling the automation need to be a proprietary tool developed by the agency. I'm agnostic when it comes to what tools an agency uses. What I care about is if the agency uses technology to improve processes, scalability, efficiency, and effectiveness of marketer search programs.
John and Dave pointed out — and I agree — that the features and functionality of search management technologies are universally very similar. The value to the marketer comes in how these tools are used to improve their overall performance and visibility.
I met yesterday with Preston Carey, the head of business development for Russian search engine Yandex. Full disclosure: Carey and Yandex originator John Boynton are both Forrester alumni, but that’s not the only reason I think Yandex is smart.
Yandex has tapped into two forces that yet elude the larger US-based search engines (ahem, Google and Yahoo!):
Today Google announced that it had generated $54 billion worth of economic activity in the US in 2009. The report, which shows state by state economic contribution, bases Google's total value on three factors: 1) Sales driven through AdSense and AdWords; 2) Ad revenue generated for publishers through AdSense; and 3) Google grants. As a research analyst, I'll admit that you can make numbers tell any story you want to, and my gut here is that this report is principally a PR effort to: 1) Communicate some altruism about the Google brand that has been getting some bad press of late; 2) Simplify the complex transformation Google has brought to advertising into a simple, single number; 3) Shift the focus away from questionable strategic decisions that Google has recently made. I wholeheartedly believe that Google has transformed advertising and is almost singularly responsible for the phenomenon of biddable media buying which I think will ultimately replace relationship-facilitated media buys across channels. But I don't believe that Google stimulated $54 billion worth of business. I think what Google did do is provide a new revenue stream to small businesses and site owners, catalyze some new sales, and take a share of commerce and media expenditures that would have happened anyway.
Efficient Frontier announced last week its official entry into display advertising with a platform that integrates biddable display with search marketing, real-time bidding capabilities, and the Efficient Frontier trademark portfolio approach to optimization that uses predictive modeling to forecast performance outcomes.
I think this certainly indicates further momentum into the world of biddable display media, and eventually biddable media in all formats. See more about Forrester's thoughts on dynamic media buying and what it will mean for media buying on and offline in the report, Demystifying the DSP.
I think the platform from Efficient Frontier addresses a much needed combination -- that of paid search and biddable display media. But I also think that this platform, competing ones -- like those developed by Vivaki -- and demand-side platforms are in “version 1.” Not a bad place to be at the early stage of an emerging opportunity. But I do expect that all of these tools will refine over the next two years. I think they will continue to add data sources, more inventory, additional and easier to use functionality, better metrics, and better reporting. But v.2 will develop only after advertisers begin testing dynamic media buying and can show technology players what additional depth and breadth they need.
Top rail navigation will go tabular – in response to positive use of the category navigation along the left hand side of Bing, MS is also going to adjust the top rail of the search results to include tabs that will allow for drill down into categories of content related to the user’s search. Left rail and top rail categories will vary according to the search. See below for an example: