More Ways to Search

Search powerhouse Google has ascended not only to the No. 1 starting place for most Web searches, but the name has become part of the popular consciousness, even spawning the use of its name as a verb. To Google is to discover the globe.

That’s all about to change and the world of search is about to bust wide open.

Not to say that the top three search engines – Google, Yahoo and MSN – will topple. Far from it. But there are search technologies that have recently launched and some just on the horizon that aim to give searchers new ways to find what they want, especially in niche areas.

The recent growing popularity of video search and search via mobile phones are just the beginning of innovations to come. Some predict that search by image, natural language search and search by speech are the next improvements to the search experience.

As sophisticated as Google is at what they do, it is still an engine that relies on text – text is matched with text and results come from weighing the quality of the potential matches with the text you submitted. And there is slowly growing dissatisfaction with the relevancy of search results. A survey by Outsell stated that “search failure due to irrelevant results” of Google users grew from 28 to 30 percent in the last two years.

Start-up companies have perceived an opportunity to look beyond text search. And some companies believe they have novel methods for using text search to get more specific results.

Beyond Text

Moving completely away from text, Riya – based in San Mateo, Calif. – recently launched Like.com, what it calls a visual shopping search engine. The engine recognizes likenesses – in faces and in clothes, shoes and jewelry – based solely on visual cues. “In some cases words work just fine for search,” says Riya CEO and co-founder Munjal Shah. “But take a tie or jewelry pattern. There are things [for which] words fail us. We introduce the photo as your search start.”

Riya isn’t just going to help you shop for clothes. Using their technology will help families with Flickr accounts organize their vast digital photo albums by allowing users to “train” the Riya system to get better at recognizing people photos and to know when similar faces do not belong with your albums.

Perhaps most importantly, Shah says they now have a business model to go along with the cool technology. “Look inside the photo search paradigm,” he says. “The way it makes money is questionable. Face recognition software isn’t going to make much money. But now we have CPA from some merchants and CPC from some merchants.”

Part of their push is to get merchants to upload high-resolution images since better-quality pictures allow Riya to better differentiate the details of a belt buckle taken from a full-body shot.

With this model, Shah says that he isn’t in the business of competing with Google, but rather any other visual search engine to come. “Our belief is that it is too hard to win [with text],” he says. “We want to think off the map. That big of a paradigm shift is needed.”

Right now Riya is sticking with soft goods – a $30 billion sector – but Shah doesn’t rule out furniture, garden or china patterns eventually. He’s decided soft goods are the “beachhead.” They also have a mobile application that is coming soon and right now people can search Flickr photos of people using Riya’s technology.

Shah is thrilled that the technology is regarded as cool, but is continuing to look for revenue streams. “I’ve changed strategies once; I’ll change it again,” he says.

No Searching in Tongues

Still in extreme beta but looking to launch a public beta in 2007, Powerset, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is a natural language search engine. Barney Pell, CEO, sets it up like this: If you put a stream of text into a search engine, the engine will only find the same characters, he says. “It forces people to do their work on the computer’s terms. You have to figure out what the right terms are for your search.” He says that you are out of luck if you use the words in the wrong way.

Pell says, “Natural search is a complete mess.” You spend a lot of time just trying not to be a spammer, he notes. “The sites that are winning are not the ones that have the best message or solution.” He says the Powerset engine reads all Web pages and matches all words for context, not just keywords. “It can tell the difference between optimized search engine babble and content,” he says. He adds that a ranking on Powerset will rise by focusing on the quality of your site.

Marketers, he says, will love it because advertisers won’t have to anticipate the words people will use. Pell says that for Hawaiian handbags, for example, a user may type in “Hawaiian bags” or “tropical bags” and still not find what they want. “There’s a whole industry around trying to guess the right words and at what price,” he says, adding that with Powerset, marketers won’t have to get up every morning and decide which words to buy that day.

Early adopters will get dramatically better results, he says, because the public beta will probably involve a tool where you can submit according to organized categories and submit to the engine in advance. This way, users can help define the context before the engine officially launches.

Making Search a Snap

While some technologies are focused on the back end, others want to change how the users view search results. Launched in the middle of 2006, Snap.com wants to take advantage of the pervasiveness of broadband to bring the user a more detailed search experience. The Snap.com search engine essentially gives users home page preview panes for the text results when they plug in a search term. Users can rate the relevancy of each result so that the engine gets to know how to better serve keyword results.

“Our search isn’t for everybody,” says Snap CEO Tom McGovern. “We’re not trying to out-Google Google or out-Yahoo Yahoo. Savvy users like the preview feature and it gives us recognition.”

The visual results are meant to make it easier and faster to get to the right information. McGovern says Snap offers a different kind of advertiser experience as well, with a “risk free” CPA pricing model. Advertisers pay only for a predetermined action such as a sale, a lead, a download or other user engagement. The advertiser dictates the desired action and agrees to pay either a fixed rate or a variable percentage. Advertisers also choose the landing page or creative so that they pay only when they get the action and not on clicks. Click fraud is reduced this way. McGovern says their CPA model will be the standard in five years.

When users enter a search word in the field, a list of popular search phrases using your term is already populated in a drop-down window. The preview home page images are not screenshots from last week, but fairly up-to-the-minute captures, which comes in handy when cruising for news sites or video sites (the images are about a quarter of your monitor’s screen – big enough to read larger newspaper-headline- style type but not much else).

Snap – owned by Idealab – has an image search function as well, which still relies on title tags and not visual similarity, but the results are presented in nice thumbnail sizes that scroll horizontally. The site has also launched its Preview Anywhere function that offers blog visitors a preview of hyperlinks.

Other interesting features include the ability to type “movies” with a colon and a search term and it finds that term on the Internet Movie Database. Also, “fact” plus colon and search term brings up Wikipedia, and “define” plus colon plus search term brings up the Dictionary. com definition. With slight variation these features are also in Google except for the Wikipedia element.

“We want to win with the end users,” McGovern says. “They come to us because they like the technology.” He says they know they are not going to displace Google. “We want to be the secondary search engine of choice.”

The Human Touch

Helping users find exactly the right thing from their search is what motivates all these start-ups. ChaCha.com, currently in beta, is no different, but it approaches the problem from a less-technological angle.

ChaCha.com uses human guides to help users find results. Search queries are sent to “a staff of experts” who then chat with the user to help narrow the search. Users do not have to use a guide. They can use the search field just like Google, but the results are custom- culled based on the index of questions that have been asked thus far, so the more questions the guides receive and the longer the search engine exists, the better it gets.

“The vast majority of people do not go past the third page of results,” says Scott Jones, founder and CEO of ChaCha.com. That means, “people never look past the top 30 results even though the top search engines are theoretically returning thousands or millions of results. Therefore ChaCha’s model of returning the very best results on the first page is vital. Users don’t really want millions of results in a split second. They want the answer as quickly as possible.”

There is still plenty of technology at work on the back end. In its first year, ChaCha.com filed 18 patents. Jones was also the brains behind Boston Technology, where he invented a voice mail system that is basically the telecommunications standard, and built Escient, now known as Gracenote, the music recognition software that is used by nearly every music-ripping program and MP3 player on the market.

ChaCha.com has grown its workforce to 25,000 in its first four months of operations, signaling that the company plans to play it big. “Obviously,” Jones says, “when a search company achieves a $100-plus billion market cap in less than a decade, it creates a lure for all those who think they can do it better,” referring to Google. However, he notes, competing with Google is probably not a smart move. “Actually, we consider ourselves a collaborator with Google,” he says. “We are happy to have them around. And we’re happy to have all the other thousands of deep repositories of information that Google doesn’t even know about.”

ChaCha is free and gets its advertising dollars no differently from first-generation search engines. Because of the “very targeted keyword handling,” advertisers, Jones says, can get much better bang for their buck. The site also has its ChaCha Underground, a kind of social site where users and guides can gather together. Targeted display ads go there. Also, it can show targeted video advertisements when searching with a guide.

A Slice of Google’s Pie

While every new search engine touts its originality, many seem to be trading in on the text search market that Google pretty much has cornered.

Some other interesting search variations include Trexy.com, which is a browser toolbar that saves a trail of where users searched and what they found along the way. Users can save the information found so that next time they plug the search term in to the toolbar, it goes right to the page set as the preferred destination – kind of like favorites.

Indeed.com is an engine for job seekers that culls listings from all over, adding more than a million new jobs each week. Users fill in the fields for job title and location and the direct links to the jobs on the hirer’s websites are displayed. And Eurekster.com is built kind of like a wiki, called Swickis, which are search engines generated by individuals and used by groups. The groups then learn from users how to deliver more targeted results.

On the horizon is Jimmy Wales, who started Wikipedia, and his announced venture into a wiki-inspired search engine, but details are scarce at this early stage in Wales’ project.

Everyone is coming after Google, but the search behemoth is not standing still. John Battelle, search guru who wrote the book, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, thinks a voice-driven search engine is the next innovation. He says that Google is working on search based on the engine’s understanding of a user’s previous search history “in a way that makes sense.” And while not Internet search, Battelle would like to see a desktop search capability that is intelligent.

What all these new search engines are really offering is a multiple search engine world, where users choose the engine based on what kind of information they need. And observers say that finding an engine that works for each user is about to get easier and easier.

Overcoming Your SEO Fears

Ask nearly everyone and they’ll say that search engine optimization is intimidating. Search engine optimization – SEO for short – should be a familiar term and practice for anyone or any commercial company with a website. SEO is what you do to your website to get a higher ranking on search engines,particularly Google,Yahoo and MSN.The higher you rank the more likely someone will click through to your site and buy your stuff. Lately, information and tips on just how to do that can fill a library.

“I don’t think you can be in business without realizing that search is a big part of the tool you need – you need to have a strategy to be found,” says John Battelle, search guru and author of the book The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture.

And yet being found is still perceived as some sort of magic formula. “SEO is not sorcery or deception; just something that requires diligent research and staying on top of changes to the way search engines do things,” says Joe Balestrino, who runs the Mr. SEO website.

If someone enters the term pizza into Google, for example, the first results are most likely the product of SEO. Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s have all made an effort to rank in the top three spots on Google. Whether they remain there is something search engine marketers will need to stay on top of. Search engine marketing – SEM – are the tactics employed in order to rank higher, be they through paid search or other nonpaid methods. It could be by transforming a website’s look and feel to gain higher ranking.

Many Search Marketers Fail to Measure Results Take the term iPod and plug it into Google. What you get is a sponsored (or paid) search result for Apple. The first nonpaid result is also Apple. Not a coincidence. The Apple brand is so strong that it ranks very high on unpaid results, and paying for a sponsored result is just bet hedging.

People who are new to selling on the Web can get very confused by the “science” behind SEO. Talk of relevant keywords, algorithms and cost per click can terrorize Web sales newcomers. It’s an issue that continues to frighten brand-name companies as well. Since the concept of SEO is only about eight or nine years old, most companies have typically hired a chief marketing officer with as little as two years’ experience in matters of SEO.

Companies are also realizing that search engine marketing is a full-time job and have created executive positions just to monitor and enact SEM strategies. Companies that will do your SEO for you are growing as well. Books and conferences continue to provide advice whether you are a newbie or have been practicing SEO for awhile.

While trying to demystify SEO for people who have gone to a few dozen websites and have not been able to understand it, we can’t ignore the advancements in SEO and how big the market has become. Search still finished first in online ad spend in 2006, to the tune of 40 percent of total online advertising revenue, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. This trend of 40 percent is predicted to continue through 2010, according to eMarketer.

Back when there wasn’t a name for SEO, the tried-and-true way to rank high on search engine results pages was using as many keywords as you could in your content. If you sold cigars, putting the word cigar in your articles and written materials as many times as humanly possible would probably get you a pretty high ranking. With the ascension of Google and its algorithmic rankings, that doesn’t work so much anymore. Not to look too far under the hood, but the Google algorithm that ranks pages basically looks at who is linking to whom on the Internet and the quality of those pages. The more high-quality pages linking to you, the higher you get.

Most marketers employ a combination of SEO and paid search, also called pay per click, which results in a sponsored ad when someone searches for certain keywords. For example, that’s why searching for iPod brings up Apple’s URL in the sponsored position and as the first search result – or the “natural” search result.

Getting there has been considered by some as rocket science. And there is a current debate in the industry over whether SEO is too hard for the average Joe to execute effectively. Some consultants who do SEO say, of course, it’s a very difficult science. Critics claim that search gurus want to keep SEO sounding complicated so that they will continue to get your business.

“SEO is a new-school-of-marketing thought – switching someone’s beliefs is nearly as difficult as converting someone’s religion,” says Todd Malicoat, who consults on SEO from his StuntDubl.com site.

“I think that there’s a complete misnomer that SEO equals top position on the search engines,” says Dave Taylor, tech blogger at AskDaveTaylor.com. “In fact, smart SEO is much more about being findable for the specific keywords and phrases that will drive customers to your site, rather than just a more simplistic popularity contest.”

Job Functions Performed by Search Engine Marketers in the U.S. - 2006 That said, there is no denying that SEM efforts continue to grow. Forty-two percent of advertisers say that their SEM budgets are new, says the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), in its recent annual survey of marketing executives. The survey also found that 83 percent of advertisers prefer organic (or natural, nonpaid) search, while 80 percent put paid search at second place. Respondents stated that sales was their primary goal for SEM – 59 percent said this. Fifty-three percent said brand awareness was the primary objective and 48 percent said lead generation was the goal. SEMPO’s 2005 survey stated that the North American search engine marketing industry grew to $5.75 billion. That’s a 44 percent jump over 2004.

“Search engine marketing is growing at a faster rate than television, than radio, than print media,” pepperjamSEARCH.com CEO Kristopher B. Jones said at a press conference in August 2006.

While brands are becoming more adept at SEO, a battle is still ongoing behind the scenes between traditional advertising and search marketing. “I think the big brands are starting to get it, but yes, at a snail’s pace,” says Mr. SEO’s Balestrino. He says that while a few of the “heavy hitters” have been looking for SEO people to get them started, most still rely on the word of their SEM. “As you might imagine, few SEMs are into SEO because it can greatly reduce the need for PPC over the long haul.”

Balestrino adds that some companies are starting to see PPC “for the losing battle it can become,” especially among highly competitive retailers and service providers. “The company who is willing to spend the most can rank the highest, but the ROI is dwindling because PPC costs are rising faster than inflation,” he says.

StuntDubl’s Malicoat says that “I no longer try to claim that ‘branding is dead,’ but that certainly won’t keep me from kicking it while it’s down. It’s amazing how often I see a big brand completely blow top search rankings that could have been achieved with a little understanding, some initial planning and very little additional budget.”

Keywords are Key

The camp that believes SEO is not an intricate science say the first thing any SEO beginner needs to do is figure out what your relevant keywords are. Since the major search engines are organizing results based on the word or words people type into the engine, knowing how to organize your keywords is step one. Plus, coming up with all the applicable keywords for your site helps you understand much more clearly what it is you sell.

You can find these keywords by writing down as many as you can think of, or you can survey your core audience. You can also buy software to help you come up with words. There are sites and software to help you find the value in the keywords you have come up with, such as Overture.com (now known as Yahoo Search Marketing) and WordTracker.com.

Statistics associated with your keywords will help you decide what words get more traffic than others. Companies such as Trellian offer SEO software tool kits that help manage keywords, check your rankings, edit your meta tags and create PPC bid comparisons, among other things. For your cigar site, for example, “Dominican cigars” may get far more traffic than “Mexican cigars.” In fact, the latter may do so poorly as to warrant omission when it comes to keyword bidding.

What you are shooting for is a site that can be easily indexed by a search engine. Search engines send out automatic programs that look for new content and create an index based on the words on each website page. That means that attention to Web design and quality writing will boost your site’s chances of getting high rankings. For example, try to keep each Web page small in size, have no broken links, use correct HTML, a server that is up all the time, no identical Web pages on your site and good, clear navigation. All these elements help the site get indexed by search engines.

Some believe that little things such as title tags can make a difference in your site’s rankings as well. Title tags are the one-sentence descriptions coded into the HTML that are displayed at the top of the browser when you visit a page. Organizing your site in URLs that make sense also may contribute to rankings (URLs that show the structure of the site in words as opposed to a series of numbers). Something as simple as a sitemap page helps when you are being indexed.

Especially in Google the more sites that link to your pages the higher your ranking will be. This is called backlinking and is very effective when “high quality” sites link to you – and is even more effective if the link text itself contains one of your keywords. This may mean you will need to put on a public relations hat and send information or press releases to other sites. Joining industry Web forums can help get the word out as well.

This is how SEO has operated over the last few years. There have been many nuances along the way and those degrees of execution are what make SEO seem very impenetrable. In recent years, companies and website owners have opted to buy SEO from firms that do it for you – pepperjamSEARCH.com, Prominent Placement, Fathom SEO, SEOInc.com, EngineReady.com, Adoofa.com and iProspect, just to name a few.

SEMPO’s annual survey indicates that more companies are interested in outsourcing their SEO, but the overall numbers are still small. Only 26 percent of advertisers plan to outsource half or more of their paid-placement budgets for 2007. About two-thirds said they plan to do all of their organic SEO in-house. Only 10 percent said they would outsource all of their SEO needs. The high tech sector is also not immune to the difficulties of search. Among top software firms surveyed by marketing research firm MarketingSherpa, 25 percent were not “sufficiently optimized for search engine visibility.”

Brand Awareness

Some search pundits and bloggers continue to believe that big companies are slowly awakening to the power search brings to their brands. “Big companies are doing too little, and many small companies are too focused on SEO at the price of good content production. The magic bullet is just to produce lots of good, fresh unique content; not to play SEO games and trick people into linking to you,” says Taylor.

Having everyone on the same side of the fence would solidify search as a must-have for all companies. Currently the jury is still out about what constitutes the best approach to search. Some critics have written that SEO is a “one-time fix” – that once a site is optimized, you won’t have to touch it again. Counterarguments are that sites have to change as search engine algorithms change. “I think there are more than a few [SEO firms] that give companies the indication that over-thinking an SEO strategy is necessary, when in reality, it isn’t,” says Mr. SEO’s Balestrino. He says that most companies budget SEO expenditures pretty low, but not necessarily too low to be effective. He says to be wary of the “overly grandiose implementation.”

Others predict that the future of SEO is specialization – broad-category specialists who see SEO as “just plain marketing” and people who will specialize in areas such as keyword research, link building and analytics.

Search engine marketers are still having a hard time because so many of them working for mid to large companies are not focusing exclusively on SEO. A JupiterResearch/iProspect survey found that 88 percent of SEMs are doing SEO; however, 58 percent of them are doing website design, 26 percent do public relations, 44 percent do market research and 22 percent do direct mail. There are only so many hours in the day and only so many hats for overworked SEMs.

This is where legitimate SEO firms hope to gain ground. While MarketingSherpa research stated that SEO firms were still mostly “mom-and-pops,” staffs are growing at these firms and client accounts have doubled. MarketingSherpa says there are a handful of SEO firms reporting more than $10 million in revenues from SEM work and there are at least a few companies reporting $20 million in SEM revenues. The research reveals that most of these businesses have only been in operation for about four years at the most.

Some say that the buy-in from companies who could use search isn’t complete. SEMPO’s 2005 marketing survey stated that only 37 percent of companies said that executives were “moderately interested in search engine marketing practices.” Even companies who would like to outsource their SEM appear to be intimidated by the choices. “The biggest mistake is not doing enough homework on who is reputable and what works,” says StuntDubl’s Malicoat. “Companies should search names, company names, past company names and really be diligent in learning what is going to work best for them.”

Battelle is straightforward when it comes to telling companies what they need to do. “It is hurting companies that don’t use search,” he says. “It is our user interface. It is like a listing in the Yellow Pages.”

Do Your Metrics Measure Up?

Steve DiPietro is amazed at how frequently he listens to prospective clients parroting clickthrough percentages, Web traffic statistics and conversion ratios with great enthusiasm but little-to-no understanding of their value to their organizations. Increasing a conversion rate from 12 to 15 percent can become a goal unto itself as marketers immersed in number crunching can lose sight of the fact that sales aren’t also growing.

Making Sense of Metrics

ALGORITHM: A set of mathematical equations or rules that a search engine uses to rank the content contained within its index in response to a particular search query.

ANALYTICS: Technology that helps analyze the performance of a website or online marketing campaign.

BENCHMARK REPORT: A report used to market where a website falls on a search engine’s results page for a list of keywords. Subsequent search engine position reports are compared with that.

CHARGEBACK:An incomplete sales transaction that results in an affiliate commission deduction. For example: merchandise is purchased and then returned.

CLICK & BYE: The process in which an affiliate loses a visitor to the merchant’s site once they click on a merchant’s banner or text link.

CLICKTHROUGH: The process of activating a link, usually on an online advertisement connecting to the advertiser’s website or landing page.

CLICKTHROUGH RATE (CTR): The percentage of those clicking on links out of the total number who see the links. For example: If 20 people do a Web search and 10 of those 20 people all choose one particular link, that link has a 50 percent clickthrough rate.

CONVERSION RATE: The percentage of clicks that result in a commissionable activity such as a sale or lead.

CONVERSION REPORTING: A measurement for tracking conversions and lead generation from search engine queries. It identifies the originating search engine, keywords, specific landing pages entered and the related conversion for each.

HIT: Request from a Web server for a graphic or other element to be displayed on a Web page.

IMPRESSION: An advertising metric that indicates how many times an advertising link is displayed.

KEYWORD: The word(s) a searcher enters into a search engine’s search box. Also the term that the marketer hopes users will search on to find a particular page.

PAGE VIEW: This occurs each time a visitor views a Web page, irrespective of how many hits are generated. Page views are comprised of files.

RANK: How well a particular Web page or website is listed in a search engine’s results.

UNIQUE VISITORS: Individuals who visited a site during the report period – usually 30 days. If someone visits more than once, they are counted only the first time they visit.

“It’s sad and somewhat surprising that after all this time there is a pervasive lack of understanding … of how these numbers correlate with how to make money,” says DiPietro,who works with clients large and small as the president of the Marlton,N.J.-based DiPietro Marketing Group.

Many marketers continue to rely on basic campaign performance data as the primary or even sole metric for measuring success, according to DiPietro. People often get caught up in the measurability of online campaigns and miss the ultimate corporative objective of a marketing campaign – to increase profitability.

Despite many marketers’ incomplete understanding of how buying keywords affects the bottom line, search marketing spending continues to grow rapidly. According to a survey conducted by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), advertisers in the U.S. and Canada spent $5.75 billion on search engine marketing in 2005, up 44 percent from 2005. Search engine marketing spending in North America is projected to reach $11 billion per year by 2010.

Some marketers whose careers started in the brick-and-mortar world have seemingly become spellbound by the top-level data for measuring marketing campaigns and forget their “old-school” fundamental tenets about increasing sales and stockholder value, according to DiPietro. Finding methods of doubling the conversion rate of a keyword campaign is admirable, but who cares if sales don’t grow? Estimating the value of a keyword purchase by focusing on clickthrough rates or increasing traffic to the website is an easy way to justify spending, but may be totally meaningless, DiPietro says.

The clickthrough ratio is analogous to the batting average in baseball – it is easy to compute and understand, and therefore is the most relied-upon statistic. However, during the past few decades, baseball executives such as the Oakland A’s Billy Beane, who probe deeper into statistics, have learned that other metrics – such as on-base percentage – are more directly related to achieving the objective (scoring more runs). The A’s have managed to succeed while spending considerably less than competitors, and many fellow baseball executives now are looking beyond the batting average. Similarly, marketers who identify the metrics that more closely correlate to their specific goals can increase their success.

MATCHING GOALS

Getting customers to your website is an important first step in increasing revenue, but determining the return on the investment requires analyzing what happens after they arrive at your doorstep. “You must have an action attached to [increasing traffic] or the campaign is useless,” says Douglas Brooks, vice president of consulting firm Marketing Management Analytics.

Before embarking on a campaign, marketers must define the objective – be it increasing leads, sales or brand recognition – and apply the appropriate metric, according to Brooks. The most appropriate metric may depend on whether the company is focused on e-commerce sales or if sales staff is usually involved in any transaction. Different yardsticks are appropriate for companies that use their website as a direct sales channel than for companies who are focused on generating leads that are converted off-line, he says.

Companies that rely on sales personnel should look at the volume of leads a campaign generates, according to Jerry Moyer, manager of analytics at interactive agency Refinery. Moyer says he tells his media clients – many of whom continue to focus on clickthrough rates – that tracking leads is a more effective barometer of campaign performance.

Campaigns that drive traffic to a website that cannot identify where visitors came from may be over- or underestimating their effectiveness, according to Moyer. By using first-party cookies and analyzing all of the activities that occur over time, advertisers can better understand the value of the leads generated.

Using cookies enables marketers to identify the unique visitors, according to Andrew Hanlon, who owns advertising agency Hanlon Creative. Cookies enable companies to track how many times a visitor was exposed to messaging during an entire campaign, as well as counting the total number of interactions on a website before visitors enter personal information and become a lead. “Unique visitors is the most raw level of success; you have to consider how many [leads resulted],” Hanlon says.

For example, Designer Linens Outlet implemented first-party cookies and saw revenue from returning customers increase by 45 percent and shopping cart conversions increase by 20 percent, according to Web analytics firm WebTrends, which managed the campaign.

Measuring the quality of leads is as important as the clickthrough ratios or total Web traffic generated by a campaign, according to Hanlon. He says many of his Hatboro, Pa., agency’s clients ($20 million to $1 billion in sales) “rarely know what they are asking for” when trying to gauge the impact of campaigns on sales.

He stresses to clients the importance of tracking leads throughout the entire sales process. “The client has to be able to act on the data – what happens with the lead after it is collected,” he says. The ability of keywords to generate leads varies widely, says Hanlon. Marketers should use metrics that create quality leads versus those that merely drive traffic.

If branding is the goal, then measuring increases in traffic can be appropriate since many keywords generate low-quality leads, Hanlon says. Companies looking to reinforce messaging through multiple media should consider several online metrics, according to Jason Palmer, vice president of product strategy at WebTrends.

LANDING CLIENTS

Some campaigns are incorrectly viewed as ineffective because of low conversion rates, according to consultant Hanlon. Landing pages that were not designed to entice visitors to delve deeper into a website could turn away potential leads, so their effectiveness must also be evaluated. Landing pages should have interesting content such as blogs or unique offers to encourage clickthroughs, says Hanlon. Companies should measure conversion ratios after visitors hit a landing page, and if they are shown to be “dead ends,” they should revise the landing pages to add more content, he says.

Software companies including WebTrends and Salesforce.com are developing applications that zero in on landing-page performance. For example, Webtrends Dynamic Search evaluates the effectiveness of the landing page and keyword in matching specific company objectives.

Tweaking the content of a landing page can increase the percentage of clicks converted to leads by as much as a factor of 10, according to Kraig Swensrud, senior director of product marketing at Salesforce.com. Tracking and improving landing-page conversions is equivalent to increasing money spent on Google AdWords, he says. “Everything is interconnected – as soon as you have visibility on [landing-page] conversion rate, you can impact change,” says Swensrud.

FROM CLICKS TO SALES

The best metrics link gains in Web traffic or clickthrough percentage to the overall business objectives – increasing sales, profitability and effect on the stock price. Consultant DiPietro recommends the break-even sales analysis is applied to off-line marketing should be applied online. Companies should calculate how many sales – based on the profit margin per average sale – would have to be generated to determine whether or not a campaign is a good investment.

“Whether it’s participating in a trade show, setting up an affiliate program or a PPC campaign, work it back to break-even sales,” DiPietro says.

Connecting the dots between Web analytics and sales data has been largely a manual process for DiPietro, who spends more hours than he would like handcrafting spreadsheets to complete his analysis.

Web analytics firms such as WebTrends, Omniture and WebSideStory are addressing this software void with applications and services that can link Web and sales data to simplify calculating the return on investment. These applications can incorporate Web data such as traffic analysis, email marketing and search marketing performance with customer relationship management sales data.

Accurately gauging the value of a campaign to a company’s bottom line, tracking a visit as it becomes a lead and until the sales cycle is completed is what should be measured, according to WebTrends’ Corey Gault. Web data should be combined with higher-level key performance indicators (KPIs) such as cost per visit, cost per lead and cost per sale, he says. “KPIs can also be combinations of various metrics, such as revenue dollar per marketing dollar spent, or percent of orders from repeat purchasers,” says Gault.

Measuring the lifetime value of online branding campaigns is challenging for companies that also sell off-line, as the ability to automate the process ends at the desktop. Refinery’s Moyer says customer surveys are an efficient method to link online with offline impressions. The surveys incorporate data collected by contacting customers about their behaviors before and after campaigns, and factor in both online and off-line (broadcast, print, outdoor) impressions. This enables companies to calculate how the campaign contributed to the overall sales effort, he says.

Metrics should factor in all of the times a company interacts with the customer, not only the most recent, which can skew performance data, according WebTrend’s Gault. “Many marketing analytics solutions credit the conversion to the last campaign touched, effectively undervaluing all the programs that initiated awareness and consideration.”

Vendors are also re-engineering their products so that sales data can automatically be integrated with Web analytics to complete the campaign-to-revenue analysis.

“The ability to tie marketing metrics with sales metrics is one of the biggest problems that customers have,” according to Salesforce.com’s Swensrud. To address the difficulty in understanding the impact of keyword purchases on sales, the company introduced Salesforce for Google Adwords late in 2006. The software, which is sold as a service, traces the leads generated by keyword purchases and follows them through the sales process to determine their return on investment.

COMPARING OPTIONS

Although comparing current campaign- to-revenue performance with historical data is informative, marketers should create a baseline of return on investment so that they understand the relative value of each type of online campaign.

The cost per thousand of a keyword campaign may seem relatively low when compared with cost of an email marketing campaign. However, determining the return on investment of each can justify what appear to be higher costs per customer contact, according to Marketing Management Analytics’ Brooks. He says calculating the individual return on investment for each type of online campaign enables an apples-to-apples comparison.

For example, the lifetime value of a customer acquired through keyword buys might be a fraction of that of someone originally contacted via email. After factoring in revenue, marketers can better decide the best marketing mix for their collective media expenditures.

The volume of statistics contained in monthly Web analytics reports can make it a challenge to interpret the metrics that matter most. The bottom line: Don’t forget about the bottom line.

JOHN GARTNER is a Portland, Ore.- based freelance writer who contributes to Wired News, Inc., MarketingShift, and is the editor of Matter-mag.com.

Spiders Don’t Eat Spam

It’s the headline any search marketer would dread: “Google Bans BMW for Search Spamming.” For well-known companies, such bad publicity is reason enough to stay away from deceptive search practices. BMW’s plight was published in leading newspapers worldwide. But even small companies have reputations to uphold, because the blogosphere can trash a carefully cultivated image for ethics in a heartbeat.

On top of the public relations headaches, getting banned from search engines hurts your bottom line. Perhaps large companies can say their “mea culpas” and get reinstated quickly, but small companies may wait months to get back in Google’s good graces. What if your search traffic suddenly stopped?

Whatever the consequences, you must understand the terms of service of the major search engines. Google’s guidelines are located at www.google.com/webmasters/ guidelines.html (and other search engines have similar rules). Sure, a few people make a living fooling Google, but you’re not likely to be one of them.

Even if you think you can fool the search engines now, they increase their vigilance each day. Moreover, tricky techniques leave you vulnerable to being reported to the search engines by your competitors, causing an investigation. It’s safer and less work to know the rules of the road and abide by them.

Is Your Site Banned?

If your site’s pages are highly ranked in one search engine, but missing in action from another, your site may have been banned, or at least highly penalized. When search engines detect your use of spam techniques, they may ban your site (completely remove its pages from the search index) or penalize your site (remove some pages from the index, or lower your rankings from normal levels).

You should suspect a ban or penalty when:

  • Your home page can be found only by a direct search on the URL – queries for words on the page don’t work anymore.
  • The number of your site’s pages included in the search index rapidly decreases. To check, do a search for site:www.yourdomain.com to check.
  • The search engine shows fewer and fewer links to your site each month, maybe decreasing to zero. Search for link:www.yourdomain.com to find out.
  • Your site’s search engine referrals have dropped drastically in a short period of time. Use your Web metrics software to detect this situation.

If you suspect a problem, you first need to diagnose the cause. Let’s look at the technique that tripped up BMW. We’ll explore others in columns to come.

The Old Bait and Switch

BMW was caught using a spamming technique called cloaking. Cloakers employ tricks to show the search spider one version of their page and show searchers another, in a high tech version of the old “bait and switch” scam.

In BMW’s case, they coded a JavaScript that showed their normal Web pages when people looked at them with their Web browsers, but the script delivered highly optimized pages full of search keywords when spiders came to call. Google detected BMW’s use of JavaScript cloaking, but more clever methods of cloaking are harder to spot.

Some cloakers use a sophisticated technique called IP delivery, in which the spider’s name (called the user-agent name) and its IP address (the unique identification of a computer’s location on the Internet) are used to switch the page. The cloaker creates a program to dynamically serve a Web page, but that program checks the user-agent name and the IP address to decide which version of the page to show.

IP delivery is a bit more difficult to detect than JavaScript cloaking, but one clue shows up in the “cache” link in the Google results. That link shows the page as Google actually crawled it. If the cached crawled page looks significantly different than the actual page, you may be seeing a cloaker. Clever cloakers code their page as “nocache” so that Google does not show the “cache” link, but “nocache” could be a sign of funny business.

It’s sometimes acceptable to use cloaking techniques, as long as the effect is not to show one page to visitors and another to search engines. One ethical use is to deliver pages to spiders that require cookies (which spiders choke on). If you use IP delivery, make sure you present essentially the same content both to spiders and people.

My SEO Made Me Do It

BMW didn’t blame its incident on a rogue search engine optimization consultant, but many spam violations are indeed caused by unethical consultants. Understand that the search engines hold you responsible for your site’s spamming regardless of how it happened. If you want to stay out of Google jail, ask yourself some questions about any firm you are considering hiring:

  • Do they guarantee top rankings? Reputable firms don’t. Expect ironclad guarantees to be fueled by cheating, and expect those ill-gotten results to be fleeting.
  • Do they promise that you won’t have to make big changes to your site? Be suspicious of link spam if the only changes needed are weird links to other sites hidden on your pages. Those other sites are your consultant’s other clients, whom they also coerce to link to you. If it seems fishy, well, it is.
  • Do they talk about special techniques that give you an edge? Pay attention to the old bait and switch, or suffer BMW’s fate.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be working with a spammer. One way to trick the trickster is to pretend that you really want to hire a firm that does spamming. See if they promise they will. Ethical companies will try to talk you out of spamming instead.

What if you catch competitors spamming? Turn them in to the search engines. Google and the other search engines investigate each spam report and take action when warranted. When you report a spam violation, make sure you include the search term you used, the shady URL from the search results, the exact spam technique you suspect (with whatever evidence you have) and why it’s bad for searchers for this violation to continue unchecked.

We looked at cloaking today, but many spam techniques are in use that you need to be aware of. In my next column, we’ll examine content spam techniques, and finish up our three-part look at the dark side of link spam. Whatever the technique, spam leaves you vulnerable to negative publicity and outright ban by search engines, so steer clear.

MIKE MORAN is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and product manager for IBM’s OmniFind search product. Mike is also the co-author of the book Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and can be reached through his website MikeMoran.com.

Search Is Getting Personal

Your phone rings. A good friend is calling, more excited than you’ve heard her in months. “My book is on the home page of Amazon! I can’t believe it. My book was just published last week and already it’s on Amazon’s home page!” Exciting? Maybe not to someone who knows how Amazon works. Your friend has seen her book on her version of Amazon’s home page, but a closer look shows it under “Items Recently Viewed.” She views her book’s page each day to check any new reviews. Based on what books she looks at, Amazon thinks she’s very interested in buying this book and places it on her home page. But it may not be on anyone else’s Amazon home page.

That’s how personalization works. Each person sees something different even though everyone is looking at the same page. We’re used to seeing personalization on Amazon, but now it’s coming to a search engine near you.

Inside Personalized Search

So how can search be personalized? By showing each searcher different results. Just as Amazon shows different content on its home page for different people, a search engine can show different content on its search results page, even when two searchers look for the same keyword.

Why do this? Money. Personalization can be lucrative for search engines. If personalized results are more relevant results, then searchers are happier and search more. And if search marketers can target ads to the right people, they’ll pay higher per-click prices.

Search engines have personalized paid results for years, using geographic targeting. With geographic targeting, a furniture store, for example, that delivers within 25 miles of its location can purchase the keyword furniture but ask the search engine to show its ad only to searchers within the delivery zone. Search engines check the geographic location of the IP address for each searcher’s computer to decide whether it is within the geographic zone or not. Paid search marketers can set geographic limits on city or zip code boundaries, or sometimes even by longitude and latitude coordinates.

Search engines are now extending personalized search beyond geography. MSN Search pioneered personalization using searchers’ demographics; all search engines will eventually offer similar programs. With demographic targeting, search marketers can raise their bids for searchers based on gender, age or other characteristics. So, you can raise your normal per-click bid 3 percent for women over 65, if that’s your highest-converting market.

But how do search engines know which searchers are women over 65? They need searchers to tell them. That’s why Google, MSN, Yahoo and other search engines are racing to provide services that entice searchers to identify themselves. Whenever people register with one of these companies, they provide demographic information that the search engines can use to personalize searches.

In personalization parlance, demographic targeting is called explicit personalization, because it’s based on information explicitly provided by the Web user, such as age. Expect search engines to also engage in implicit personalization, changing search results based on searchers’ behavior, such as what kinds of Web pages they look at.

Implicit personalization may eventually prove more valuable than explicit personalization, because so much more information can be gathered. Search engines can observe which results people click when they search, discerning patterns that allow them to rank their favorite kinds of pages higher for all their searches. If a particular searcher regularly clicks product reviews rather than manufacturers’ specs, Google could begin to rank product reviews higher when he’s searching for product information.

Search engines have other ways of observing implicit behavior. Google can analyze the message text of its Gmail users to see what subjects they write and read about. Yahoo can look at the keywords used by its search toolbar users, and even see what pages they look at. You should expect search engines to use this information to personalize search, both for paid and organic. Search engines are always looking for ways to improve relevance – the match between searchers and content. High relevance means the search results correlate closely with what the searcher has in mind. For 40 years, search engines have improved content analysis to increase relevance. Personalized search concentrates on the people side of the relevance challenge instead.

Inside Personalized Search Marketing

Now that you understand the basics of personalized search, you may want to know how search marketing will change.

One change is obvious. Personalized paid search bidding is more complex, because search marketers must consider geographic location, age, gender and other demographics when they make their per-click bids. Instead of different bids for every keyword, now you need different bids for the same keyword.

You should raise your bids for targeted demographics only because they convert at higher rates. To bid effectively, your Web metrics system must track conversions by geography and by demographics, not just by keyword, and your bidding software must adjust based on those metrics.

Less obvious changes will confront us when search engines begin applying personalization to organic search. Search marketers have always wanted to achieve the No. 1 ranking for their favorite keywords. But what does it mean to be No. 1 in a personalized world? If the organic results are personalized, then different searchers get different No. 1 results. Your excitement at being No. 1 will be no more warranted than your author friend’s glee at making Amazon’s home page. In a personalized search world, every site can be No. 1 with some searcher sometime.

Widespread personalization will doom traditional rank checking. The question won’t be, “Does my site rank No. 1?” but rather “For what percentage of searchers does my site rank No. 1?” or “What was my average ranking yesterday?”

And who can answer those new questions? Only the search engines themselves. Only MSN will know where your pages ranked for every search performed with their search engine, so only MSN can tell you. Will the search engines provide that information for free or will they charge you for that analysis? Will search engines tell you the demographics of the referrals that come to your site? Time will tell.

Optimists also believe personalization will reduce the problem of search spam. The thinking is that spam is all about content, so that personalizing results based on searchers makes it exponentially harder to spam the search results (because spammers must then fake their content for many kinds of searchers). By increasing spammers’ costs for the same number of searchers, it takes part of the profit out of these unethical techniques.

No matter its effect on spam, savvy search marketers must stay on top of the personalized search trend – it’s the biggest change in search marketing since paid search. If you focus on who your best customers are, and you craft your content to match, you’ll be ready when the personalized search revolution breaks out.

MIKE MORAN is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and product manager for IBM’s OmniFind search product. Mike is also the co-author of the book Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and can be reached through his website (mikemoran.com Posted on Tags , , , , , ,

Taking It Offline

If baseball is the thinking person’s game, then online advertising is the thinking person’s medium. Much like the national pastime, part of the draw of online advertising comes from the ability to break down performance into limitless particles of useful (and useless) information, such as batting average with runners in scoring position after the 7th inning, or the clickthrough rate differential for an ad run at 8 a.m. versus 8 p.m.

But just as it is impossible to figure out why combining the best players won’t make for the best team (just ask George Steinbrenner), determining the most effective roles that online and off-line marketing should play to produce the best possible results remains largely a mystery. Online advertising revenue continues to close the gap with off-line spending, resulting in heightened interest in wanting to figure out how best to integrate performance marketing with off-line campaigns.

Integration Issues

During the first half of 2006, online advertising revenue grew by 37 percent over the prior year according to the Internet Advertising Bureau, and the dawn of video ads will likely further accelerate growth. Advertisers flocked online because they could get more precise data about ad effectiveness than through broadcast or print.

“Before, everyone had to take [ad effectiveness] on faith,” says Mark Williams, a founding partner of San Francisco interactive agency Mortar. But after seeing the low (1 to 2 percent) clickthrough rates, some advertisers ask about putting more resources into off-line, which he views as a mistake.

Focusing only on clicks as a performance metric doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Williams, who says that as with off-line campaigns, assessing online performance should consider factors such as brand awareness and the ability to generate word of mouth. “CPM blindness” as Williams calls it, is when advertisers get lost inside the numbers of what is known about certain aspects of a campaign instead of looking at the overall picture. Many people who saw an online ad will eventually go into a store and make a purchase, and the advertiser will never be able to connect the dots, according to Williams.

One method for tying off-line to online campaigns is to promote custom URLs in print or through broadcast and track the number of responses. Advertisers have adapted the longstanding practice from newspapers that printed unique phone numbers to track leads.

Marketing services company Who’s Calling, of Kirkland, Wash., develops custom landing pages that can be promoted on-or off-line to track individual behaviors, according to CEO Stuart DePina. Newspaper or TV ads include links to pages that contain unique phone numbers, enabling the original media source to be identified.

DePina says client Chrysler sent out direct mail that included a link to custom landing pages for different vehicles, so that when online shoppers called the listed phone number, the agent answering would know in which vehicle they had interest.

Tracking customers through unique pages “helps to build demographic information from the start,” DePina says, resulting in a greater likelihood of moving the buying process further upstream.

Michael Stalbaum, CEO of marketing services company UnREAL Marketing, says promoting websites off-line can become even more effective when combined with search engine marketing. His client Synova Healthcare was running radio ads to promote an online coupon for a menopause test kit without much success, which Stalbaum attributes to the inability of people to write down a website address while driving.

After buying keywords related to menopause testing, the number of coupons downloaded per week more than tripled, according to Stalbaum. By integrating campaigns, Stalbaum says you may not reach more people, but touching them multiple times can increase the results.

Advertisers whose off-line campaigns are limited to promoting custom URLs can be disappointed, according to Mortar’s Williams. If an advertiser gets a low response rate, it “creates the opposite of what you want because it gives the impression that it doesn’t work,” so Williams recommends against the practice.

While being able to quantify the interaction of off-line and online may be difficult, Williams says every campaign – whether for a brick-and-mortar or online-only seller – should include online and off-line components to maximize its effectiveness. “Online brands that take themselves seriously have to go off-line,” he says. For example, Travelocity and Yahoo recently launched integrated campaigns with multi-million-dollar buys in print and television.

Translating Word Of Mouth

Off-line campaigns that emphasize branding can have a snowball effect when used in conjunction with affiliate programs and search engine marketing, according to Ed Weisberg, vice president of e-commerce for Pingo, a company that sells prepaid calling cards online. Weisberg says the company has been buying banners ads and keywords on search engines as well as working with affiliates for two years.

This summer the company decided to advertise on billboards and in subways in cities where there is a heavy concentration of its target customers – those who make many long distance phone calls. The hope was to expand the audience by getting people in the communities with large Indian and Chinese populations to talk about the calling card savings since “not everyone uses search engines,” Weisberg says. Pingo representatives also attended ethnic festivals such as parades and carnivals and handed out promotional materials to reinforce branding. The company saw a surge in orders coming from the cities where the company was advertising off-line.

Weisberg coordinated the effort with affiliate managers, allowing them to put their own branding on the cards, and to develop call-to-action strategies where searches based on the word-of-mouth campaign could turn into special offers such as coupons. The off-line advertising also attracted new affiliates, according to Weisberg.

“If we have someone to reach, we’ll be less successful in reaching them if we only advertise in one place,” Dave Evans, co-founder of social media company Digital Voodoo, says. Evans claims an effective method of leveraging consumer buzz is to provide information that stimulates interest online and then use offline marketing to encourage people to do word-of-mouth marketing through their online and off-line social networks.

According to Evans, online advertising can respond quickly to negative press or word of mouth. If bloggers take a company to task, their message can rapidly become widespread, so online advertising is a better method of reacting more quickly than off-line.

While off-line campaigns can help build awareness, online advertising can be more effective in prompting sales because they reach people at the time when they are looking to buy, according to Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore Networks. “In the off-line world it is difficult to put an ad in [search] context,” says Fulgoni, whose company measures advertising and media performance. The exceptions are advertisements in print directories such as the Yellow Pages, he says.

Because there is not a reliable method to track the effectiveness of off-line campaigns of an entire population, comScore works with a panel of representative households and tracks their online behavior, Fulgoni says. Software that tracks online journeys is installed on the panel’s computers. The company measures how many people search for and buy particular products before and after a television or print ad runs in their area. Panel members are also surveyed about their subsequent off-line purchases as well, according to Fulgoni.

The effectiveness of television advertising can be greatly enhanced by reinforcing the message through online video advertising, Fulgoni says. “Video [ads] will make things really move in search,” he says, adding that the company is developing metrics for tracking video ad performance.

To reach audiences who spend a lot of time online, video ads are becoming a substitute for TV campaigns, according to Fulgoni. “Once you have sight, sound and motion [in online ads]” advertisers may not need to run television campaigns, he says.

An integrated campaign for the 2007 Dodge Nitro SUV demonstrated the effectiveness of using video on multiple platforms. Dodge geared the car ad toward male buyers and shot a series of video spots that would be used on broadcast and satellite TV and online, according to Mark Spencer, a senior marketing manager at Dodge. To reach the 30- something male demographic that spends many hours per week online, “we needed multiple screens, not just TV,” Spencer says.

The campaign was first introduced online. Dodge built on the experience from a previous campaign for the Caliber by increasing the number of videos online so that the experience online was similar to the television spots, says Spencer. When Dodge ran Nitro ads during the World Series that directed viewers to the website, traffic increased by 40 percent, according to Spencer.

The same creatives were used off-line and online to generate word-of-mouth buzz, says Spencer. “Our strategy was to be consistent … so that enough people will talk about [the car],” he says.

The TV campaign, which ran for 90 days, included spots run during programming that skews to younger males, including the NFL, NASCAR, and NBC’s “Law and Order”. Print ads that promoted the website ran in publications geared toward African-Americans and Hispanic audiences, Spencer says. Dodge’s integrated strategy also includes promoting the Nitro through the NHL 2K7 video game, according to Spencer.

The online campaign, which represented 20 percent of the total advertising dollars, included pre-roll and click-to-play videos on MSN, YouTube and The Onion. To move potential customers from the website upstream into the buying process, Dodge introduced click-to-talk and click-to-chat features that include the ability to pass customers from Dodge representatives to local dealers, Spencer says. (The campaign was only a few weeks old at the time of publication, so results were unavailable.)

Measuring Clicks To Sales

Just as it is impossible to accurately determine the number of online purchases that were initiated in response to someone seeing a billboard ad or radio spot, the ability to track the offline purchases of those who see online ads effectively ends when people step away from the keyboard.

While it is common for retailers to ask buyers where they first heard about the company or product at the point of purchase, this practice does not indicate the true influence of online advertising as consumers who first heard about a product off-line may have had that message reinforced several times online.

Who’s Calling’s DePina says that because the Internet (largely through search) is used more frequently for research than for purchasing, tracking off-line purchases gives a better indication of the effectiveness of a campaign. For example, some keywords drive clicks used to get more information, while others prompt consumers to make phone calls, he says.

Because only 7 percent of consumer purchases are done online, search marketers need to determine how their activities can result in off-line purchases, according to comScore’s Fulgoni. For example, a survey of comScore panel members showed that 25 percent of people who searched for consumer electronics equipment online made a purchase within 90 days, and 90 percent of those transactions occurred off-line.

Some integrated campaigns mistakenly treat the online and off-line worlds similarly, according to Digital Voodoo’s Evans. For example, companies that sell beer that advertise on the websites of sports networks that they advertise with on TV are missing an opportunity. Instead of this “TV thinking” of lumping consumers together into a category, the Web offers many more options for targeting people based on their individual preferences, he says.

“I expect to be marketed to as if I’m an individual,” Evans says. For example, advertisers could employ behavioral targeting or other tracking mechanisms to better understand the audience.

JOHN GARTNER is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer who contributes to Wired News, Inc., MarketingShift and is the Editor of Matter-mag.com.