I recently attended Econsultancy’s Digital Cream event in London and although as always the topics under discussion were extremely broad and the varying perspectives extremely interesting, the main thing that everyone seemed to be buzzing about what the idea of integrated search. I think what struck me the most was how few people at the B2B table, the better part of a dozen noteworthy brands, seemed to have a full grasp of just what was meant by the term “integrated search.”
In most cases people had latched onto the “search” portion of the term and started talking about integrating more between SEO and PPC – usually meaning organic search and Adwords – which seemed to come partially from the talk I heard about “not provided” on organic search and trying to use Adwords data to overcome this. A lot of people seem to be stuck in the old keyword silos and there was a lot of talking around analytics hacks and tricks to “get the keyword data back” although nobody apart from myself seemed to have the idea of just waving goodbye to the individual keywords and thinking about a more holistic strategy based around site topics, which is a shame.
Others were talking about integrated search as more of a cross-departmental exercise, pulling in sales staff or call centre staff to provide additional insights. Some were trying to make their social media strategies more integral to their overall search performance which I found encouraging, especially for B2B. One person at the table spoke at length about how utilising the LinkedIn profiles of staff members had helped immensely to generate, qualify and convert leads for her business – and, more interestingly, many others had had similar success with Google Plus profiles which was frankly surprising as I’ve not heard of G+ being utilised this way before. Bears watching!
At 4Ps of course we think of integrated search as all of the above plus a bit more – the idea of integrating all channels and content, on and offline across multiple business departments, to benefit a brand’s overall search visibility. This is immensely powerful when it is done right but it takes a lot of work and analysis, which is why I was rather shocked when nobody I spoke to at Cream had heard of the Google Analytics Academy’s video on measurement planning. If you don’t plan what your business needs to measure, how can you ever hope to implement successful tracking?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised – a lot of the challenges that people spoke about as being their biggest daily headaches had to do with tracking, reporting and proving ROI to their business. A lot of major B2B brands have surprisingly small marketing teams and budgets, often due to what someone tellingly referred to as a “lack of internal believers.” Far from being integrated in any measure with the rest of their business, these marketers are more often to be found sitting on their own isolated islands just “ticking along” and unable to provide the coherent, data-driven arguments they need to justify their activity.
Information – or at least an awareness of where to find the reliable variety – seems in short supply too, which may account for the lack of both integration and planning. Quite a lot of people were launching new websites and confessed they had no idea what to do to maintain their current search visibility, let alone how to go about improving it. Most had severely limited budgets for this major and critical business activity due to a lack of past ROI clarity. Many, critically, seemed to be ill-equipped to handle even the most basic content strategies for their businesses to help integrate search and general marketing activities – my idea of starting with a simple content calendar showing major events, blogs, newsletters and so on in a single spreadsheet met with surprise and then a lot of rather embarrassed looks. I suppose perhaps these things only seem obvious when you’ve been doing them for a while!
I think my key takeaway this year was that a lot of B2B marketers need help establishing how to prove the ROI of their current search activity before they can begin making a case for integrating it into other areas of a business. Measurement plans, skills auditing to identify gaps and external assistance to help critical factors like website launches go smoothly can all help here – but the first challenge, certainly at the B2B table, seemed to be to encourage marketers to recognise how much exists for them outside their isolated islands. Only once marketers fully understand the potential rewards that an integrated search strategy can offer can they be ready to start making a case to move it forward within their parent businesses!
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