Posted by Dan Malachowski, Product Marketing Manager (Natural Search)
At last week’s SMX Advanced in Seattle, I attended the “Search Marketing & Surviving a Recession” session, which dealt with the question: “How will search be able to weather a recession?” Moderator Jeffrey Rohrs, VP of Marketing at ExactTarget, started out by asking the audience of search marketing professionals whether they felt that their business was being impacted positively or negatively by the recent economic downturn. About three-quarters of the audience indicated that business was up. Panelist Russ Mann, CEO at Covario, agreed by citing the fact that during a recession, advertisers are much more concerned with profitability and accountability. He said that marketing budgets are being reallocated away from traditional branding vehicles like TV and print. During an economic slowdown, marketers are held more responsible for proving and measuring the results of their media spend. The panel agreed that search is one of the most measurable forms of marketing, along with the fact that if a search campaign is run properly, it’s easier to prove ROI. Panelist Jon Miller, VP of Marketing at Marketo, expressed his concern that marketing budgets are generally cut during a recession, but felt that search campaigns that are properly benchmarked and measured would fare well through hard economic times.
Jeffrey Rohrs then posed the question of where the first marketing dollar should be put during a recession. The panel agreed that the first dollar should go to some form of improving Web site usability along the lines of landing page and conversion optimization. The end goal is to cost-effectively drive qualified traffic to your Web site, but if the site isn’t intuitive or able to engage and convert your target customer base, this traffic is worthless. This also speaks to the need to understand your customer base, along with the keywords they are searching for on the engines. Once landing pages are properly optimized to drive conversions, most of the panel felt that making that initial upfront investment in SEO would build a strong natural search foundation that would cost-effectively pay dividends in the long run. Panelist Andrew Beckman, President of Location3 Media, added that higher natural search rankings would result in better paid search quality scores and cheaper paid clicks. It was also noted that running natural search and paid search campaigns alongside each other was the most effective search marketing strategy.
When it came to the question of where marketers are wasting money during times when the economy is down, Jon Miller commented that the biggest mistake is shouting to consumers who you aren’t sure want to hear your message. Focusing on the "pull" marketing strategy of paid and natural search puts you in front of people who are already deeper in the buying cycle and have interest in what you sell. This is a much more cost-effective marketing strategy for times when budgets are tight.