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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Relationship Management in Search

A few months ago, Gord Hotchkiss wrote an article about how “Search Marketing is Crossing the Chasm”; parlaying how, as an industry, Search Marketing has evolved into more mainstream markets – crossing that chasm or hitting that tipping point from where it goes from an early adopter innovation into a common corporate budgetary line item.

He is entirely right.

I don’t argue that Search Marketing has reached the mainstream, or that its pace of adoption has increased momentum – these are industry accepted mores that make it such an interesting time to be involved in the work. I mean Google has emerged as the X-generations Warren Buffet (not the Margaritaville guy), almost completely replacing the toddler NASDAQ index as a baseline for the marketing/tech sectors economic well-being. Fortune-500 companies are looking for outside expertise as the value in Search is becoming more and more apparent.
What seems particularly interesting to me, is not necessarily the timeline or growth of Search, but the “whys” and the “what’s in store.” I think that as Search becomes more and more readily adopted, the role of user/customer relationships and Search will become more and more prevalent.


Fortune-500 companies were not the innovators that developed the Internet. Garage based mentality created the Web – people without the financial backbone to be restricted by unproven mediums and having to mitigate risk for stockholders; people that were not afraid to be bold and build a Website to market traditional products in new ways.

Some people made money, some people lost their shirts – some did both.

But it took the bigger of the brick-and-mortar operations a little longer to develop a Web presence, and when they did, it was a rush job, a band-aid solution built on a “good enough” strategy pushed by an unprecedented priority.


CEOs were losing their jobs because upstarts that were not even on the competitive horizon a few years earlier were biting off bigger and bigger pieces of all but owned profit margins. This happened because the same guys creating Websites hung out with the guys creating Search Engines, (or at the very least they had a mutually beneficial relationship like barnacles and a blue whale - oh how the roles have changed over the last five years as the barnacle became the whale and vice versa). And people/consumers adopted Search because computers became affordable (it’s no stretch that the two have a correlation) and Search was easier than actually going out and window shopping or having to create requests for tender and reference check the “heck out of ‘em.”

Basically, Search is being adopted because it works.

Google alone gets 61.84% of the total global Search volume (Hitwise data – December 15th-2006) – translate that into a hard number and the financial pie looks pretty appetizing to every and any company in the world. Plus, the Fortune-500 haven’t been able to get their assumed “just share” of the Search pie because realistically, it isn’t enough just to have a Website you really need to optimize that Website; and band-aid mentality doesn’t allow you to do that.

So what is happening now, Fortune-500s are scrambling to redesign their Websites because it has a proven ROI – only, now they want to do it right, because Search has a proven ROI. This creates two problems:

1.) maintaining your SERP presence and visibility through the transition,
and 2.) building that SERP presence and visibility out through the transition.

At its root, it’s been consistently viewed as an issue of traffic – maintaining and building traffic at the expense of competitors and not yourself – but using this as your impetus is tragically flawed.
A lot of firms are very good at this, and for a lot of firms this is all that they do. After all, it is accepted that this is what Search is, and this is how Search will “cross the chasm.” But Search should be so much more…

What’s in Store?

Financial Analysts always say that there are two ways to make more money: get a raise or spend less. Spending less will always make you more money, forever and ever – it is sustainable; however, when you ask for a raise, you inevitable celebrate your cubicle victory with a fancy dinner and a gift. You never notice the new tax bracket until too late.

What am I getting at?

Search needs to focus on retaining traffic and its role in relationship management to give companies real value. You see, it’s not about getting more traffic; it’s about doing more with your traffic. The Search Engines are already laying the groundwork for this. This is why Landing Page quality is becoming so much more important in determining cost/clicks.

If you think of the entire customer relationship as a straight line – the Search engines know they have a toe hold on the point of online purchase phase. They even have a pretty good toe hold on first contact and other touch points through organic listings, but they don’t own the consideration with offline purchase section or the maintaining customer relations section.

Having a successful customer relationship means really connecting with a user throughout brand building and awareness phases (PPC can be effective here, even though that is not a common practice, through ad messaging targeted to a research intent), coaching the consideration and sale, but also maintaining and sustaining that relationship post-sale. Search can have an active role throughout this entire process – through social media, multimedia, sponsorship of blogs, forums, and newsletters – Search does not have to operate in half integrated silos, nor should it.

As companies begin to “cross the chasm” and transition their Websites, this relation management perspective needs to be the overarching goal for all activity. But in addition, this needs to be the only absolute success metric. If you want Search to work for you, you absolutely need to start from the perspective that you are building, nurturing, and rewarding a relationship with your customers – otherwise, all you are really doing is mathematics and meta tags.

If you want to know more about how relationship management works with Search, and innovative techniques to making all the elements of Search work for your website – I strongly suggest the following Blogs:

• Usetube
• Web Analytics World
• SEOSpace
• SearchTank

Each blog is customer centric in its focus – and understands how relationship management will be what defines Search in the near future.

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