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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - December 2008

Welcome to the final issue of our monthly online and search engine marketing newsletter for 2008.

This month we look at the continued growth of Internet advertising in Australia and the reasons why search marketing will remain a popular form of advertising during the impending economic slowdown. We also look at the Website Optimizer tool provided by Google and how this can be an effective way of improving online sales through the testing of landing pages. Finally this month we review the latest launch from Google with their new SearchWiki tool, which enables search results to be adapted within the personalised search function.

Read more about these stories below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subjects covered.

On to this month's edition...

Search marketing gains from the economic downturn

The latest figures from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) on Internet advertising in Australia continue to show notable growth in the last quarter, despite the growing concerns about the economic slowdown. This is not surprising, however, particularly when it comes to search marketing as this remains a highly targeted and cost effective strategy, even for companies that may be cutting back on their overall marketing budgets.

The IAB figures released in November show that the third quarter of 2008 recorded the highest revenues yet, at $450m, with advertisers spending over $100m (30%) more than the same period in 2007. Using data compiled by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Search & Directories category continues to lead market growth, with a 33% year-on-year growth and a 13% growth on the previous quarter in 2008, accounting for $212m of the total Q3 revenue.

This trend in the growth of search marketing is likely to continue, even as more companies become concerned about the impact of the global economic slowdown into 2009. Those businesses that are making positive plans for a tougher economy will still want to retain or grow market share at the expense of competitors and, in most market sectors, search marketing should be the first choice for the allocation of advertising spend to improve efficiencies and to get the best return on investment (ROI).

That's because search marketing has clear advantages over most other forms of advertising, whether this includes search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Some of the main reasons for this include:

Combined with other advantages in the ways that search marketing can be used and analysed, this advertising technique has regularly demonstrated a higher ROI compared to most other forms of marketing. Even in better economic circumstances, the impressive growth of advertising spend in this sector over recent years has demonstrated the rate of uptake as more businesses realise the advantages of this advanced form of direct marketing.

It's possible that over the coming months, the search marketing sector will become even more competitive as many companies focus their advertising budgets into this technique. However, it's also likely that there are many companies that are not using search marketing effectively enough and will drop out of the market to make the likely costs even more attractive for those who are using search marketing to their advantage and thereby growing market share.

If your business is not yet using search marketing effectively, contact us now to find out how your advertising spend could be put to better use.


Testing landing pages with Google's Website Optimizer

Another way to improve response rates from online advertising is to use Google's Website Optimizer tool. This is designed to enhance the return on investment (ROI) for websites that use some form of 'conversion tracking' to record the number of enquiries or sales generated from a landing page – the point of entry that visitors arrive on a website, either from a search or other form of online advertising – by creating a series of tests to identify the best performing web pages.

The Website Optimizer tool effectively complements Google AdWords or Google Analytics by providing more information beyond just showing how effective a site's content is in currently getting conversions, to indicate how to improve this content to get more. It's a testing tool that allows users to analyse different aspects of a website's landing page content to indicate which alterations may improve or reduce the conversion rate.

This is done through two different types of 'experiments' performed upon either complete pages of the website, or their individual elements. These types of experiments are known as A/B or Multivariate tests. Website Optimizer will not help a website to increase its SEO or PPC ranking positions, but it targets the actions that users may take once they arrive on the website page to result in an eventual outcome.

The Website Optimiser tool provides results on the estimated conversion rate range when comparing the original and revised versions of a web page. It requires advance planning to determine which elements of the website's landing page/s will be tested (such as a headline, an image, or changes to an enquiry form) and it requires changes to the website to add JavaScript code that controls and manages the different test elements.

Depending on the type of testing undertaken, the Website Optimizer tool also needs a good statistical sample of site visits and actions to generate a meaningful percentage likelihood that a new page has to beat the original in this respect. In addition, the report logs the likely improvement, which is a projected percentage of conversions over or below the original web page, which would be generated by implementing the tested variation compared to the original.

Overall, Google's Website Optimizer is a useful addition to their arsenal of website data feedback tools. It fills a niche through its ability to rapidly compare variations of a landing page or series of pages and so it should prove to be effective in allowing website designers or marketers to become pro-active in ongoing site development so as to reduce costly redesigns based upon guesswork, whilst simultaneously succeeding in the goal of increasing a site's conversions.

If you'd like to know more about using the Website Optimizer tool to support your online marketing activity, please contact us now for a discussion.


Google's SearchWiki is launched

The end of November saw the introduction of Google's new SearchWiki service. This is effectively an extension of their personalized search service and allows searchers to customize their results and add or view notes on the listings. It may herald the start of a new phase of adaptable search listings or it may simply be an early reaction to the competitive threat from Wikipedia's planned search results tool.

If you have a Google account and are logged in when using Google's search engine, the new SearchWiki service enables you to modify the Google search results to suit your preferences. You can change the order of the search listings, add or delete listings, and add commentary notes against individual results. The changes are stored in your Google account for future reference so it can be a useful time-saving tool if you search for certain topics repeatedly.

As the changes you make only affect your own searches, it isn't possible to improve your website's ranking by using this service. You can, for example, move a website into the #1 position for a query, but no one else will see it in that position. However, when you vote to increase a page's ranking, or make a comment about a URL, the comment, your username and, in some cases, your search query will be shown to other logged-in users. There's currently no option for private annotation which raises some privacy issues, as people will now be able to see another user's searching habits and there's also no opt-out feature for users logged into Google.

Google say that users do have the option not to use the feature (by not logging into their Google account) and that they will watch usage closely through “user-happiness metrics”. Initial reaction about the service has been mixed, including negative feedback which has prompted some users to create a script that would disable SearchWiki. There is already a third-party solution which uses a script for Firefox browser users to toggle SearchWiki on and off.

Google has stated that their goal in offering this new service is to “empower users” and enables searchers to remember answers to repeat queries. They say that “it lets you add your personal touch to our algorithms.” It is suspected though, that Google's true motivation is to counter any perceived threat from Wikia Search, and potentially to take advantage of users' feedback to adjust its overall ranking algorithms.

Google can now amass an even larger dataset of user behaviour, including how particular users rank certain results, what results they don't find relevant, and even what results should be there that Google's spider hasn't yet discovered. If the service becomes used by large numbers of people it means that users would now be performing much of the crawling, indexing, and ranking functions which also makes the system open to abuses.

Google claims that the changes made in the SearchWiki interface will have no impact on the traditional ranking of web pages. However, it's still a possibility that Google will use the SearchWiki data as a factor for determining organic search rankings in the future. Even Marissa Mayer, Google's VP of search products and user experience, has said "some of these signals might be used to influence algorithms in the future". The debate around this tool will therefore continue for some time to come but it may mark and important stage in the development of search technology for the future.

If you'd like to know more about Google's SearchWiki and to see how this works, please contact us for more information.


Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench

The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:


We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.