What will be the big trend this year?
Pruitt: The biggest trend is the convergence of display and search advertising. We’ll see a vastly different landscape over the next three to five years. Non premium inventory will be served to contextual like products—like site targeting, content ads, display-type ads and video ads. The key is that this form of advertising will continue to evolve into what I would call search-type dynamics. Non premium display content will move to a more auction-based model. In 2008, you’ll see the first pieces of that. You are seeing Google, MSN and Yahoo really starting to push that more.
Social media search is another trend. Imagine getting an e-mail from someone, clicking on their name and receiving their Facebook profile. That is an example of social media search. I’m hearing that Google, MSN and Yahoo are ramping up their social media with these types of applications.
What do you see as the near-term challenges for marketers?
Pruitt: I’m seeing two. One is maintaining visibility in universal search. It used to be, “Let’s do some keyword research.” Universal [search] brought a much more intuitive but complex approach to how people search online. Marketers have to think holistically through the customer-buying funnel. In doing so, they have to understand the search insights that can be gained from various tools—not just keyword research, but also analytic tools to understand customers’ persona's. That will in turn help map that information to help guide what type of content needs to be built to interact with customers in a more meaningful way. For example, will it be news-related content or video-related content?
The challenge is to create content that appears in universal search, and understanding your customer is necessary to design that content most appropriately.
The other challenge, which is tied to universal search, is that search marketing still needs to get redefined in the boardroom. People believe search marketing is simply optimizing for text-based search. It’s much more than that. It’s defining your customer online and building content for them to interact with. If you understand your customers more online, you can create more meaningful connections with them.
What is changing in terms of ROI measurement in search marketing?
Pruitt: Measurement and tracking technology is becoming much more sophisticated, and smart marketers will continue to embrace it. Search is scrutinized more than any other from of advertising online, but that is because you can measure it. Where it becomes difficult for a marketer is determining how other forms of ads impact your search effectiveness.
How do you integrate search with other digital media?
Pruitt: If you understand where your customers are online, you can develop an appropriate content strategy and create more meaningful connections with your customers across those platforms, whether it’s blogs, forums, social networks, videos or Web sites. It starts with market research, both linguistically and from a competitive standpoint.I view search as the core component of all digital marketing. You need that insight into what your customer is doing online. It’s any content they are interacting with online. You create and optimize that content, but you also advertise across those same networks.