Media: Double Standards - Smart agencies can unlock the secrets of search

The search market continues to account for an ever greater proportion of online adspend. Two digital experts offer their views of the future.

GRANT MACFARLANE - HEAD OF SEARCH, MEDIA CONTACTS

- How important is search to the overall digital market?

Critical. But we must not overlook the importance of display and emerging platforms. There has been much debate and research on this topic, and the figures and stats don't lie. Search delivers the best ROI and is the most flexible medium of all time, but it cannot exist alone; integration is key.

- Search represents 58 per cent of total online advertising spend. Can the market continue to grow?

Without a doubt, yes. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Search and new channels such as social media are merging, and search is no longer just about flat content and algorithms. Witness the rise of video search and the success of Yahoo!'s community search product, Yahoo! Answers. The answer to this question really comes down to what we classify as "search" in the future. All the big players are launching single platforms, which bring search and display together with increased targeting options. And this is before we start talking about mobile search.

- Will search continue to attract the lion's share of online adspend?

Search will continue to dominate as long as it delivers audience and ROI. This is being challenged by rising bid prices (witness finance!), but there is still quite some daylight. Consumers will always need search to navigate through content and, as TV and radio options explode, search will also emerge in traditional channels.

- What are some of the new search channels and products available to advertisers?

Mobile will be huge once 3G takes off at the end of the decade. There are more phones than people, and once mobiles can work as fast as a broadband connection, mobile search will take off. Video is just starting in the UK, but the potential is huge.

- What effect are new channels having on the market?

Most agencies struggle to fully grasp the AdWords concept and have little understanding of these new products and how search engines are evolving. The opportunity is huge and now is the time for education and testing.

- Which search engines do you use?

Errrrr ... Google?

- What's your favourite search tool?

Not that I am biased ... but I'd have to say Google's personalised home page. [MacFarlane was previously the head of client services for agency at Google] It allows me to combine my favourite tools and daily fixes in one place.

- Will Google be knocked off the top spot this year?

Not a chance. Google accounts for 75 per cent-plus of searches today and up to 95 per cent in Europe. Microsoft's challenge has failed to materialise as of yet, but keep an eye on Vista. Yahoo!'s new platform promises much, but will not bring better market share without new distribution. Google has the big deals wrapped up and it is hard to see how this will be compromised any time soon.

- How can advertisers best use search?

Search is part of the fabric of the web and affects how brands are viewed. If you are not in the places that consumers expect you to be, you get forgotten. If you don't offer something relevant, you get ignored. Advertisers need to strive to be as ubiquitous and relevant as possible.

PAUL MEAD - MANAGING DIRECTOR, VCCP SEARCH

- How important is search to the overall digital market?

Search has been the driving force behind the growth of online advertising so far. I think paid search is what gave digital its credibility as a medium when you consider that it really came into its own after the dotcom bubble burst, offering genuine ROI at a time when online advertising was largely about paying ridiculous CPM rates or tenancies on so-called premium sites for pretty poor returns.

- Search represents 58 per cent of total online advertising spend. Can the market continue to grow?

Yes. The market will see more budgets moving in at the bottom from small and medium enterprises and more moving in at the top from brands in sectors such as FMCG. Undoubtedly there are areas in finance and travel, for example, where advertisers have plateaued. Clients are now focusing on better technology, on natural search and on looking at the powerful effect of a fully integrated campaign where their traditional above-the-line activity enhances their search and vice versa.

- Will search continue to attract the lion's share of online adspend?

The reach of the three main search engines is so huge and their range of products for advertisers is continually expanding, so this will keep search in pole position, especially if you factor in the increasing spend and the fact we are seeing search budgets coming for brand and communications work in addition to direct response.

- What are some of the new search channels and products available to advertisers?

I like the new Google video product, currently in beta. This could develop into something which really challenges the concept of the 30-second TV slot online. Outside of this, we have the long-awaited Panama product from Yahoo! coming up soon, and it will be interesting to see what moves MSN makes to increase the volume in adCenter.

- What effect are new channels having on the market?

I think Panama will allow the better search marketers to get more out of Yahoo!, which, despite Google's dominance, has good volume and a quality audience. We haven't yet seen the best of MSN adCenter, which converts really well, but doesn't yet have the volume to command a significant budget, so I expect to see improvements here.

- Which search engines do you use?

I'll just give a clue - it starts with G.

- What's your favourite search tool?

My favourite search tool is an ROI bid management technology we have been using at VCCP. It just goes to show that using bid management tools can still deliver dramatic improvements with the right technology.

- Will Google be knocked off the top spot this year?

Yes - and pigs might fly! Google will be number one this year, next year and for some time to come unless something remarkable happens on the mergers and acquisitions front.

- How can advertisers best use search?

Have an integrated natural and paid search strategy (which is also fully integrated with your overall marketing and communications strategy), realise the impact that the best technology can make on ROI, use the data that search provides to underpin your overall communications mix.

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).