Thursday, September 25, 2008

Gasta Video: Noah Elkin from Steak Digital

Optimizing video and images for search is no longer optional. It's a must-have for brands that want to continue connecting with their customers.

Historically, successful advertisements have depended on two main ingredients: compelling words and captivating imagery. The ascendancy of search engine marketing has put a new premium on the value of words, for if search tells us anything, it's that marketers should take their cues from the terms people plug into search engines.

In effect, marketers who want to capture their customers' attention need to "listen" to the different ways they are expressing their wants and desires through search. Consequently, advertising success today depends on a slightly different set of criteria. Marketers must harness insights into customers' thought processes and the vernacular they use to seek out brands and products. You must synchronize that language across a campaign to ensure that customers not only look for your brand but also find it once they've gone to the web.

In-house and agency search practitioners, as well as experts around the industry, have been sounding this drumbeat for a long time now, but search still faces an uphill battle in relation to sexier on- and offline media. What it really boils down to is an image problem.

The fact that a highly -- if not the most -- effective advertising medium (by some measures, anyway) continues to have an image problem speaks volumes about the culture of advertising. We live in an age when John Wanamaker's old adage -- "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half" -- rings truer than ever for brand managers caught in the transition from offline to online media.

It's not that brand advertisers aren't interested in results and ROI, as tempting as that might be to conclude at times for some search practitioners. Rather, it's that TV and even print are far more emotive than the comparatively austere text ad. TV and print also have the luxury of employing visuals, which provide richer options for conveying a brand's tone, image and message, as well as ultimately creating the kinds of brand associations that lead to loyalty and advocacy. In an industry that evolved on the back of images -- still, moving or otherwise -- there is some truth in the notion that search is as unsexy a medium as you can find. That is, unless your idea of "sexy" is the cold hard dollars that come from conversions -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

How do we go about making search sexier without compromising its effectiveness? Ironically, it may come down to using words to deliver the power of images. Provocative findings from comScore have been making the rounds of all the major conferences this year, and they point strongly in this direction. On the one hand, comScore has shown that interest in multimedia content among searchers is both widespread and not yet matched by placements in blended search results (as first revealed at the Orion panel at SES NY), particularly where video is concerned. On the other, recent studies have demonstrated that over-emphasis on last-click conversions and under-emphasis on latent on- and offline effects result in the loss of a shockingly high percentage of search's overall value.

Combined, the following three trends shed light on the relationship of keywords to images:

  • The call to better monetize the 95 percent of paid search ads that do not lead to a click
  • The implication that search can and should function as more of a branding vehicle
  • Increased searcher interest in video, news and images

As blended search results become the norm across the industry, optimizing video and images is no longer a nice-to-have -- it's a must-have for brands that want to continue connecting with their customers.

I've always said that search will give TV new relevancy to the extent that commercials drive viewers to search engines to find more information about a product they've seen advertised. Now it's becoming increasingly evident that TV -- and news clips and movies and music videos and images -- will do their part to provide new relevancy to search as well.

Noah Elkin is vice president of corporate strategy for international search-inspired digital agency Steak.