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Q&A with Ken Jurina, President and CEO of Epiar

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Search Engine Strategies Toronto is coming up June 16-18, 2008. To give attendees a sneak preview of some of the trends in search engine marketing that will be discussed at the event, we've interviewed Ken Jurina, the President and CEO of Epiar.

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Ken will be one of the speakers at the “SEM Toolkit: Marketers Share” session, which will be held on Wednesday, June 18, from 12:45 to 2:00 p.m. And Epiar and Yahoo! Canada will be hosting The Official Search Engine Strategies Toronto After-Party on Tuesday, June 17.

But, we interviewed Ken primarily for his expert opinion. Scoring tickets to his party was only a secondary consideration. (As Maxwell Smart would say, “Would you believe I'm from New England, which still thinks the term ‘party' means Boston Tea Party?”)

Seriously, as president and founder of Top Draw and Epiar, Ken has more than 15 years of expertise in traditional advertising and Internet marketing. And I've heard him speak at SES New York, Chicago, San Jose, and Toronto.

Q. Can you give me a brief overview of some of the trends the search marketing industry is seeing this year and what the next 5 to 10 years might look like?

A. The Microsoft bid for Yahoo! accompanied by the subsequent bid withdrawal, along with the much talked about Google-Yahoo! search advertising partnership have certainly resulted in much speculation regarding the future of search marketing as we know it. I also don't think the deal is entirely off the table just yet.

Ask's withdrawal from mainstream search as it abandoned its efforts to compete against the search giants in March has also affected the search landscape. Over the last 12 months Google's search share has increased slightly, Yahoo! search share has remained stagnant in aggregate, and Microsoft's share has fallen.

If we look at trends from the perspective of consumer behavior we continue to see increasing growth in the use of image and video search. Another consumer trend significantly affecting the search marketing space is the astronomical increase in the influence of social media marketing, in the form of consumer feedback and reviews, on brands, ecommerce conversions and tactical refinements of on-page content.

Google's Universal Search results have been seen to have an impact on the traditional F-shaped heat maps generated by eye-tracking studies as eyes are now first drawn to image and video search results. The inclusion of the OneBox, as well as Sitelinks and ‘Search Within a Site' search box features, are all affecting the usability of the results in the organic listings. User interaction is facilitated by these features and the probability is that the trend in click-throughs will skew towards increased searcher interaction with more ‘visible', usable, graphic listings – assuming the relevancy factor is retained.

Google has also recently revised its display URL protocol in AdWords, and has been experimenting with the inclusion of video results in the paid search listings.

As to what the future holds, I think current behavioral trends and further improvements in the relevance and universal appeal of results provided by the search engines will continue unabated. However, based on the dramatic events in the industry in the last few months alone, at this stage I think it would be fool-hardy and irresponsible to attempt to predict anything more specific.

Q. How will marketers have to adjust their budgets to compensate for the upcoming changes?

A. Marketers should seriously consider budgeting for continued SEO initiatives, particularly regarding Internet market research on consumer search behavior. Assigning marketing dollars to image and video production and optimization is imperative, as is integrating with relevant social communities. Brands need to aggressively begin to empower brand proponents and embrace reputation management (RM) tools. RM has only recently gained the recognition it should have attained years ago. With the huge growth in both social influence and social media marketing, and the impact of reviews and consumer feedback on online purchase decisions, the need for brand transparency is becoming ever more important. Consequently, the need to facilitate consumer feedback and interaction is key to future success in the search and ecommerce space.

Q. How important is it to understand all the online touch-points of your visitors?

A. This answer is basically an addendum to the previous one. Understanding where and how your online market interacts online, what they do, and what they want, need and expect to achieve at each touch-point is imperative.

Meeting them on common ground in forums, on blogs, and in the social space is very important. Openly dealing with detractors and embracing and supporting evangelists is best done in this space.

Consumer exposure to your brand and online offering is unlikely to be limited to the information housed without your official web site. Review sites, feedback consumer forums and blogs are going to discuss businesses with or without official permission – freedom of expression online has reached previously unimagined new heights as regards the impact of this freedom on brand reputations. Proactively embracing the social space via RM tools and facilitating interaction on your own blog or site is no longer something to merely be considered, it has become a necessity. Advertising these social – touch-points via paid search is also something to be considered.

Q. When we talk about “tricks of the trade” used by search marketers, can you share a bit on what kind of “competitive intelligence” is required and what exactly is “exotic analytics?”

A. RM tools allow you to see what's being said about you and your competition in the online space. Internet market research allows you to see how your consumers are behaving online and what terms they are utilizing when searching for your offering.

By understanding what your online market is really looking for – not what you think or want them to look for – can provide competitive intelligence on brand awareness and market share. It can also identify new product or service opportunities, consumer feedback and trending data, and a host of other factors that will allow you to refine your online offering.

As for “exotic analytics”, different web analytics software packages offer different levels of service and different features. Some are highly advanced for sure – trying to predict visitor behavior based on trending for example. However, a wealth of information is available through the basic measurement standards if it is analyzed properly and thoroughly.

Q. What excites you about Search Engine Strategies Toronto? What do you look forward to most?

A. The Epiar / Yahoo! Canada Party on Tuesday June 17 of course! There will be more details to follow closer to the event but you can expect it will be a party to remember like we are known for.

Q. Are there any advantages to being a Search Marketer based in Canada rather than any other place in the world?

A. Numerous advantages:
• 85% of Canadians have high-speed Internet access (one of the top ten levels of broad band penetration in the world);
• 94% of online Canadians interacted with Google and Microsoft sites in February;
• Canadian online business reaped $62.7B in 2007, an increase of 26% year over year, but the proportion of private sector companies who sold goods and services online remained relatively stable at 8%.

The market is big, it's relatively untapped, and the returns are obvious. The future of search in Canada is promising. In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that online ad spend will grow faster in Canada than anywhere else in the world over the next 5 years for two primary reasons:
1. high broadband penetration
2. lower online market saturation

It's great to be Canadian, eh!


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