If you haven't heard, or received your invite, the annual SEMPO State of the Market survey is currently looking for search marketers to give us this years snapshot of the industry. You can find a link to the survey at the SEMPO site. Now in its 3rd year, this Survey has become the definitive year over year look at search marketing.

Knowing that we're in Chicago next week for Search Engine Strategies, we paused long enough to take some on the fly data points which we'll be sharing at a special SEMPO meeting on Monday night. I can share one of them with you in this column.

Why the Survey?

First, why do we do this? Simple. In something as dynamic as Search, it's tough to keep your bearings. Obviously, year over year sizing of the markets is one yardstick, but there are a lot of other factors that we like to keep an eye on. We track advertiser's acceptance of different strategies, including paid placement (or sponsored search), paid inclusion and organic optimization. Late breaking info on this in a moment. This year, we'll also be asking more questions about local search and what other marketing channels advertisers use.

We also check in with advertisers on issues like click fraud and how prevalent they feel it is, as well as use of search marketing technology and contextually targeted ads. Of course, we're very interested in where those search engine budgets are being placed and where those budgets are coming from. Is Search poaching from other budgets, or has it established itself as its own line item?

We try to determine the maturity of search, by asking how much executive participation there is in search marketing decisions. We can also look at the different groups that answer the survey (advertisers, agencies and affiliate marketers) to see if there are variations in attitudes towards search amongst them.

Wake Up Call for SEM Agencies

Last year, a key finding was the attitude of advertisers towards search marketing agencies. It was clear that there was a trust disconnect, with a full 65% looking to bring both paid and organic search capabilities in house. For SEM Agencies, it was a clear signal to up the ante in terms of measurable results.

We spend a fair amount of time in the survey digging into how they conduct their search campaigns, the percentage that's done in house versus outsourced, whether this is a growth strategy for them, and trying to determine some of the hidden costs, such as the expense of internal staff to conduct the campaigns.

And of Course, There are Those Click Costs

One of the hottest data points from the survey tends to be around acceptance of current bid prices. Again, we get quite granular in determining the extent of price elasticity on paid placement. Last year, we saw a flattening out, with 21% of advertisers saying they were maxed out on bid prices, and another 37% saying they could go as high as 10 - 20% more.

If you want to find out more about the 2005 findings, make sure you visit the Learning Center at www.SEMPO.org.

Hot Off the Spreadsheet

So, how is the data shaping up this year? Well, I just pinged our number crunchers and based on the results in so far, it looks like Organic Optimization is holding the lead as the most popular strategy when it comes to search. Last year, it barely edged out Paid Placement, with 80% of respondents saying they were doing it, compared to 76% of respondents doing Paid Placement. This year, adoption of both strategies increased, with Organic Optimization being done by 83% of respondents, and Paid Placement being done by 80%. Remember, this is very preliminary data, and will likely change a bit as we get more survey completions. We have a few other preliminary data points that we'll be sharing in Chicago next week at Search Engine Strategies. Look for the SEMPO event, Monday, December 4th at 6 pm.

Call to Action

If you're working in Search, we need your participation. The more respondents, the better the data. Everyone will have access to a summary of the report, and SEMPO members can download the full report. Once again, you can take the survey here.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

December 5, 2006

Gord Hotchkiss is President and CEO of Enquiro, Canada's leading search engine marketing firm and one of the top firms in North America. His articles are regularly published in both on and off line newsletters, including Marketing Monitor, SEOToday, Marketing and many other trade journals. Enquiro's own information portal is www.searchengineposition.com.

With an extensive 20 year background in the marketing and advertising business, Gord has been working to increase client's search engine visibility since 1996 and has specialized in search engine marketing since 1999.

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