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Andrew Goodman is a writer, paid search expert, and SearchManager Advisor to American Express OPEN, the credit card AMEX markets to small businesses. Andrew is the long-time editor of the Traffick blog and the author of Winning Results with Google AdWords. Andrew has long been known as one of the foremost paid search experts in the world, so if you are interested in Microsoft-Yahoo! and other changes in that world, stay tuned. I had the opportunity to recently conduct an e-mail interview with Andrew on the happenings in the paid search business, and he graciously agreed for me to share his answers with all of you.
Me: For aspiring search marketers in the audience, how did you achieve the success you have? Many want to know what advice you have for them.
AG: As with any field, getting into it early is different from getting into it as a late mover or in a professional sense. There are many opportunities for lucrative careers or professional advancement in digital marketing today, but it’s not as easy to stand out doing the same old things.
To be called a success is flattering, but that is probably only the tag you give to people who stay in relentless pursuit of new challenges. I look around me at others (colleagues, family) who are succeeding and the #1 thing I see in them is consistency. They just kept going.
Me. Why should search marketers care about the Microsoft-Yahoo! deal? Most of the ones I talk to don’t buy paid search ads from anyone but Google, anyway.
AG: If nothing else, we need to understand how to buy from multiple platforms. What if Facebook takes off? Will you have the skill set to have studied the automation, reporting, and routines needed to handle that complexity? There is always going to be an ad buying distribution curve (not a complete monopoly) and for now, Google will be the dominant force. But not buying from #2 is a mistake if your online business is big enough. It’s just a matter of how you do that most effectively.
Me: Some are predicting major price rises in paid search in the wake of this deal. Do you see it that way?
AG: The studies compare apples and oranges when they speculate about keyword prices and performance, because different keyword match types perform differently for advertisers. Of course we would want to bid higher on any keywords that behaved more predictably, by showing ads more precisely. More precision warrants higher bids, so it’s really the return on investment (ROI) that advertisers should be looking at. Every advertiser should be looking carefully at their own account, rather than worrying about aggregate studies or predictions.
The Google AdWords platform’s power runs so deep. Its little wonder cost per clicks—on the clicks you really want—have gone up as advertisers continue to measure results.
I do believe we’ll see some short-term spikes in prices on combined Yahoo-Microsoft because many advertisers will be poorly optimized when they join the auction. After they begin adjusting for ROI, the growth in cost per clicks is going to be moderate but where it lands is anyone’s guess. Of course, it’s ROI that matters most.
Me: Do you think this deal makes search marketing easier or harder for search marketers, especially for small businesses?
AG: It makes it slightly easier but frankly, it would have been easier if the two companies had just merged! It is still difficult to manage across multiple platforms but yes, it is helpful to manage one fewer platform. Tools like American Express OPEN SearchManager are vital for small businesses to provide understandable reporting and read-and-react functionality to the average marketer even when there are relatively few platforms to advertise on.
One thing that concerns me the most is getting streamlined support, billing, and advice. Service levels from Microsoft will naturally be much lower for small business than for the biggest ones. A big question mark seems to be continued divisions of labor between the two companies.
Me: How does mobile search play into this Yahoo!-Bing story? Or does it?
AG: The competition here is going to be fierce, and it’s anyone’s guess how effective or how high volume will ultimately be on mobile search ads. Widespread adoption of tablets is something these companies had best hope for, given that more advertising can show up easily in larger screen formats.
For the time being, the nature of the flow of ad dollars seems set to either shift or grow in the direction of more direct local advertising. The advantages seem to flow mainly to Google and Apple, with Microsoft and Yahoo looking to keep their share. The problem for the competition is that most people use Google Maps and Google Search…period.
Mobile apps that operate in-store will no doubt be huge. Mobile will drive a lot of commerce, but it’s hard to describe a lot of it in strict “advertising” terms.
Me: What impact do you see on paid search from Google Instant?
AG: The fact that Google Instant is out at all indicates that user behavior is shifting towards more impatient, more impetuous, and more sophisticated uses than ever. To borrow an idea from Bryan Eisenberg, professional marketing speaker and best selling author of Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, Call to Action and Always Be Testing: different personas will search differently. But it looks like the impatient are winning out over the meticulous nowadays in terms of being a dominant persona, so much so that Google has made a big bet on this. The end result: there is no end to the trend in higher click through rates and more sales are being made out of the top two or three ad slots on a page.
Basically then, there are searches with high commercial intent and everything else. I think that Google Instant will further increase the power of brand exposure for big advertisers but for everything else, it will be the usual mixed bag of informational and early-stage research.
Me: What do you see as the biggest change that has happened in paid search in recent years?
AG: I’d have to say the power of segmentation and reporting and the direct connections with a much more sophisticated and still-free Google Analytics.
Second, increased safety in click fraud detection and the machine learning in content and display networks. Advertisers still need third-party tools to prevent surprise “spikes” in non-converting clicks, but the ROI they’re seeing continues to be strong because the search engines have taken steps to weed out mischief.
Me: Looking into your crystal ball, what should search marketers be looking for in the future?
AG: Like search itself, the answer is granular. Take B2B. There are tons of companies who have yet to budget fully for search, don’t have a white paper strategy, haven’t done any radical forms of research into LinkedIn and Facebook ad targeting, haven’t installed call tracking, do not yet integrate offline events with social media and on-site content, etc.
What they should be looking for is bigger budgets, but strategy is a major issue. How to prioritize? I’d start by looking at two or three companies in my sector that are doing smart things to grow through a combination of direct marketing and more general community and content.
So much of what marketers need in terms of technology and opportunity is available today at low cost. So as boring as this may be, the answer for now is that search marketers should be looking for bigger budgets and better execution.
Me: Thanks so much Andrew for sharing your advice with our readers.