As you shift your focus from frantically optimizing holiday campaigns to methodically (hah!) executing 2011 plans, here are ten areas worth thinking about:
1. Local. With all the buzz over Google’s near-acquisition of Groupon, it’s clear the Big G is ready to make a big move in the local space. While it may not be a pure SEM play, finding ways to customize offers to niche audiences and tap the long tail should be on every marketer’s to-do list.
2. Social ads. As Facebook beefs up its Marketplace Ads offering and ads API, social advertising campaigns will begin to look an awful lot like search. From precise audience segmentation to dynamic creative customization to real-time bidding, social ads are taking on core attributes of SEM. Keep in mind, however, that social ads will not perform as well as search from a pure dollar-in, dollar-out standpoint as social networkers are not in the same commercial mindset that searchers are. Be sure to measure the impact social ads have on search activity to capture the full return on your investment.
3. The social graph. With Bing incorporating Facebook connections into its algorithm, it becomes imperative for SEO practitioners to generate likes along with links. While it’s unclear just how much emphasis likes will have as a ranking factor, what is clear is that, to paraphrase Lou Kerner of Wedbush, it’s cheaper to get likes today than it will be tomorrow.
4. Mobile. More and more search queries are originating from mobile devices. And more and more content providers and app developers are creating rich, engaging experiences for mobile consumption. It remains to be see if the core navigation for mobile will be search and, if so, via text or voice. However, you can be sure Google will do what it can to bake search throughout the mobile experience and, the more penetration Google gets with Android, the more likely search will prevail. But don’t treat mobile search like the desktop variety. Consider different keywords, copy, landing pages, and bids to capture the opportunity presented by searchers on the go.
5. Attribution. As consumers continue to multitask across screens and companies like Apple continue to create more screens and activate more portable content, it’s becoming more important than ever for marketers to track interaction across channels. The days of managing search in a silo are over. Search is a net for demand generated by other marketing activities. As much as you’d like to take credit for all those conversions coming from the last click, you’re doing a disservice to your brand… and your customers. Reward each marketing touch-point appropriately to match the consumer experience and influence of each channel on bottom-line sales. Oh, and if you come up with the magic formula for this, will you please let me know?
7. Display. Display, as we’ve known it, is dead. Taking its place is a format that looks like display but smells like search. I’m referring to image and rich media ads that are bought and sold via real-time bid auctions with creative messages that are customized on the fly and targeting options that are granular down to the individual and placement level. No-one is better equipped to handle this new flavor of display than search marketers. Fluid campaign optimization is in our blood so go tell whoever is currently handling your display to take a flying leap (much like their clickthrough rates have) and make way for search-ification.
8. Video. While I’m declaring things dead, let’s add TV to the list. It’s time to start referring to the format rather than the screen. Yes, TV sets will live on but the format or channel that matters is video. Companies like Apple and Google are delivering video content seamlessly through TV sets. And Google, in particular, is bringing everything we know and love about search (read: self-expressed intent and one-to-one addressability) to video. When it comes to branding and engagement, nothing packs a stronger punch than video (certainly not those piddly text ads) so it’s essential to develop a video strategy for 2011 that’s inclusive of all screens.
9. Search. You didn’t think I’d include this one, right? Despite the trends pushing search marketers to consider other channels and marketing tactics, we must still remain focused on maximizing SEM itself. What will 2011 bring for search? Expect continued market share gains for Bing (already up 40% since launch) but mostly at the expense of Yahoo, making the Search Alliance a wash (although still a critical venue for SEM ads). Expect Google to continue to tweak search results pages to increase advertising revenue—um, I mean, user experience. And expect SEM technology platforms to come up with more innovative ways to automate campaign management and give savvy search marketers a leg up.
10. Apps. In the coming year, look for apps like Siri (recently bought by Apple) to emerge as bona fide alternatives to search engines. Bing was on the right track when it launched with its “decision engine” positioning but hasn’t yet lived up to that promise. What we need are true “virtual personal assistants” (a term coined by Siri) that can help accomplish tasks like planning trips or outings without strings of search queries but, rather, one single instruction. Apps like Siri boast algorithms that learn personal preferences and have API connections with a variety of merchants to execute transactions. Imagine telling an app to plan you a trip to New York for business and then having a full itinerary come back with airfare, hotel, dinner reservations and taxi transportation. Now stop imagining. And start thinking about how you can get your brands into the considered set of these “app-assistants.”
Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2011. I can’t help you with health and happiness but focus on these ten areas and give yourself the best chance to prosper, indeed.