By:Andy Beal, Published:2003-8-23

Inside Search Engine Strategies, San Jose 2003 Day 1

Day One

Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Strategies rolled into San Jose this week, bringing an unprecedented four days of search engine marketing advice (SEM) and news to more than 1700 attendees. If you still had reservations about the legitimacy of search engine marketing, one look at the impressive roster of exhibitors, sponsors and attendees would quickly dispel any doubts.

More than 48 companies, including Google and Yahoo, decided to exhibit at the event (the highest number of exhibitors ever for SES) and speakers included representatives from all of the main search engines as well as the top SEM companies.

At the immensely busy registration desk, a buzz was developing with attendees enthused about recent developments in the search engine industry. With Overture, Google and Lycos, just a few of the search engines expected to make some big announcements during the proceedings, the conference was expected to provide a lot more than just “how-to” information.

Day One of the conference had been designated as a “pre-conference” day with the sessions taking on two distinct tracts. Danny had decided to move all the beginners SEM sessions to this day and additionally take the opportunity to provide an annual update on the economics of the search engine industry.

As part of this exclusive insight to the world’s largest SEO conference, I decided to take a seat in many of the search engine economic sessions. A notable exception being my own presentation on “Search Term Research” (which I provided as part of the beginners itinerary).

One of the most interesting sessions of the day was unquestionably the Search Monetization Strategies. While none of the panelists could agree on what “monetization” meant, they all had some interesting information to share.

Sheryl Sandberg, VP of Global Online Sales & Operations for Google, was the first to speak. She explained that not only is Google the largest search engine property, it’s also the fastest growing. With more than 100,000 advertisers, 88 different interfaces and products in 11 languages, Google has taken great steps to secure its position and become profitable.

Sandberg also shared with the audience the great success Google had seen with the Google Search Appliance product, which allows any business to purchase an easy and effective search tool for their own Website. The list of customers for the tool includes Boeing, Cisco, and Xerox, confirming that this is another growing market for Google.

Sandberg also took the time to showcase the recently launched AdSense service, which allows the average Website to display Google’s AdWords campaigns and receive a commission on the click-throughs. The success of AdSense is in part due to the fact that Google is able to spider the Website of the proposed partner and use an algorithm to determine which ads would be most relevant to the pages the site displays. This format has proven to be far more accurate than simply asking the site owner which terms they thought were relevant to the page.

Finishing, Sandberg offered answers to audience questions which confirmed the following:

  1. Google has no plans to introduce a “paid inclusion” or trusted feed service at anytime in the future.
  2. While Google’s AdWords campaign does track the click-thru rates of an ad, they do not track how long a visitor remains on the advertiser’s website.
  3. Commenting on eBay’s request to remove any ads that infringe on their copyright, Sandberg confirmed that these requests could be made by any company concerned about trademark or copyright infringement.

While Google is still the darling of the search engine industry, Yahoo has caused quite a stir with their recent acquisitions. Tim Cadogan, VP of Search for Yahoo explained some of the initiatives Yahoo had taken to improve their search offerings. One of the most interesting Yahoo developments has to be their new Product search. While still in beta-testing, this service strikes an uncanny resemblance to Google’s new Froogle service. Perhaps its no surprise that the new service from Yahoo will also include sponsored listings from Overture.

Cadogan also describe some other steps Yahoo has taken to improve user access to search. These included:

  1. Showing Yahoo Yellow Pages listings in search results for products or services that also include a zip code. E.g. Pizza delivery 95110
  2. Search for Weather or Maps for a location will bring up relevant information not just search results.
  3. Including a search box in Yahoo Mail accounts so that a user receiving an email on a product or service can search without leaving their mailbox.

With the addition of Tony Mamone of LookSmart and Jim Diaz from Ask Jeeves, a lot of information was shared. Look for more details in a future round-up of the session.

Another session of interest was the Advertiser Roundtable. This was an opportunity for respected experts in the search engine marketing industry to discuss future developments of the search engine technology, in particular PPC and Paid Inclusion.

Most of the panelists agreed that there needed to be a lot of improvements made to PPC or paid inclusion if the search engines wish to see marketers continue to use these mediums. Dana Todd of SiteLab International made a valid point when she complained that with all PPC solutions an advertiser must pay the same click-thru rate whether their ad was shown on one of the top search engine partners or on some lowly unknown search engine. She suggested that a model would need to be developed which would provide for different costs per click depending on the quality of traffic.

Kevin Lee of Did-It.com offered that there are two types of company that place high bids for search terms. Those that are very smart and those that are incredibly dumb. The smart bidders are the ones that track traffic and understand the value of their visitors, while the dumb ones simply keep increasing their bids without knowing if the high bid brings a ROI.

Asked whether PPC and paid inclusion would overtake Organic SEM, Frederick Markini of iProspect suggested that there would always be a need for a balance in online marketing. With PPC there is always a risk that a company will run out of money or no longer be able to keep up with escalating bids, he argued that organic SEM did not suffer from these factors.

The Industry Analyst Roundtable session brought together some of the industry’s best know analysts. Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman of Search Engine Watch were joined by Brett Tabke of WebmasterWorld.com and Greg Notess of Search Engine Showdown.

This open forum took on a simple format with audience members interacting with the panelists. Some topics discussed, of which I will bring further details of after the conference, included:

  1. Anecdotal evidence that simple paid inclusions did offer some assistance with obtaining better search engine ranking despite claims to the contrary by the search engines themselves.
  2. The limitations of PPC; advertisers are limited to only being displayed for search requests that they have identified and bid on. Many search terms have no PPC bids on them.
  3. The constant evolution of search engines. Google replaced AltaVista, will Nutch replace Google?
  4. Should XML Trusted feeds be labeled as such, clearly identifying their placement in search results?

Day Two of the conference will revert to the normal format expected from SES and with three distinct tracts being offered, there should be lots of varied information to report back. In the meantime, please excuse me while I prepare for tonight’s “Google Dance” a soiree taken place at the Googleplex where I hope to track down a Google employee and find out exactly what is happening with their PageRank these days.

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