With recent reports revealing Aussie businesses now get as much as half of their customers via search, getting your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) right has never been more important. To find out where SEM’s heading, B&T sat down with two of the country’s top minds on that very subject. Yes, it’s Deb O’Sullivan, Head of Strategic Sales at Microsoft Search Advertising ANZ and Chris Wallington, Segment Lead for Microsoft’s Search Advertising ANZ…
How do you both see search engine marketing (SEM) evolving over, say, the next five years? What are the things marketers should be readying themselves for?
Wallington: The way we think about Search has changed. The information we get, the way we access it, the way we consume it and the way we search for it has changed. We want predictive, personal results. We’re on that journey, we’re in the early stages of the rise ‘personal digital assistants’ such as Cortana, Siri and Google. ‘Spoken queries’ will be different to the keywords we might clumsily tap into the keypads on our phones. More importantly is how digital assistants will learn about their user delivering relevant, anticipated experiences of the same quality of the user generated search.
(Pictured) Chris Wallington
O’Sullivan: Search is all about answering people’s questions, wherever they are and whenever they need. In the future, voice search is going to play a much more crucial role. My kids can’t read or write yet, but can find answers by asking Cortana questions. For example, ‘What do Hippos eat?’, to which Cortana says, ‘Hippos graze on the land, preferring short, creeping grass’. Cortana is powered by Bing, so it’s really Bing which is answering their questions out loud. Once you get the hang of voice search, it’s actually much quicker than having to type into the browser.(Pictured) Deb O’Sullivan
Is it ALL about the tech? How is that shaping the future of search?
Wallington: Technology is now delivering marketers the right message, to the right audience, at the right time. But at the same time, search is becoming more intelligent and predictive; gathering signals closer to consumers’ end action and intent, and intelligently predicting what they want next, by being where they are no matter what device they use.
O’Sullivan: Microsoft has over one billion devices in market globally and we want to make it super easy for people to search throughout the Microsoft ecosystem, be it Windows, Office, Cortana, Skype, Xbox, Outlook or Bing. Our focus is less on making people go to a destination site, like Bing, and more about bringing search to them wherever they are.
What role will data play in all this? And, adding to that, will we see more concerns around users’ privacy?
O’Sullivan: Data is crucial to search as it helps advertisers reach the right person at the right time. The data that we use to inform advertisers is based on broad base user search behaviour rather than being based on personal information. We take privacy extremely seriously at Microsoft and that’s why we are conservative with our data use.
Wallington: Data is evolving as it powers intelligent machine learning which, in turn, delivers increasingly better consumer search experiences. But, yes, privacy remains ever important to consumers. The ability for consumers to understand and control their privacy options allows them to make meaningful choices about how and why data is collected and used, ensuring that consumers have the information they need to make the choices that are right for them.
If it’s not already, how much will SEM play in the actual customer purchase into the future?
O’Sullivan: Search is amazing at intercepting a consumer at the moment of intent, which gives the advertiser a much greater chance of converting that consumer to purchase.
Wallington: Search will continue to play an active role and create efficiencies in task completion based on intent. The personal digital assistant (Microsoft’s Cortana, as an example) will drive the search and task completion experience. It will be able to learn what users like, where they choose to make a purchase, understand how they prefer to pay in any given situation; plus, what they might like to do next.
In terms of brands, what role will SEM play in something like customer loyalty?
O’Sullivan: Search plays a massive role in brand loyalty. Research shows that response rates go up when a user is served an advertiser’s search engine optimisation (SEO) listing and a paid listing in the same search. It increases the advertiser’s level of credibility in the eyes of the user. Absolutely make sure to bid on your brand terms, to get the right message across to the user.
Wallington: The relationship between brand owners and consumers has become increasingly conversation-driven across paid, owned and earned media. Whether first or last click, the evolution of the search experience is providing the consumer with ever increasing signals; take customer reviews as an example. And validation, too, such as social media engagements (follows, likes, shares and commentary). Understanding the relationship between these signals, validations and the search ecosystems is an increasing focus for marketers managing brand loyalty.
How will SEM ultimately connect to other media such as Facebook or Instagram?
Wallington: Consumers are now spoiled for choice and don’t operate in a single ecosystem or ‘walled garden’ environment. Quite simply, an open approach of partnering across the web brings greater value and knowledge to the consumer. This creates a vibrancy in results that resonates with searchers. For example, Bing partners with Yelp, TripAdvisor, GoDaddy and many more to source the best data available. We do not rely on simply the data we own. They (the consumer) see better results, they see more accurate data and get better answers. Stealing from Kenneth Blanchard (American management expert), this is the perfect example of “none of us is as smart as all of us”.