SMX Toronto Day Two Recap: Seeing the Path Forward

This is part two of a two part series on SMX (Search Marketing Expo) 2012 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

If the first day of SMX Toronto was all about finding the courage to embark on a journey into the great unknown, the second day was about outfitting attendees with the right maps, gear and tools to light the way.

Getting savvy about testing, measurement and tracking

The morning was filled with two sessions on how to take your testing, tracking and analytics to the next level.

First, a panel on advanced analytics generated lively discussion with Helen Overland of Search Engine People’s bold assertion that “all analytics packages suck”. Strong words, but her point, made by fellow panelists Cameron Cowan of Adobe and Brent Chaters of Sapient, was that there is no magical analytics tool that can track every single number perfectly in absolute terms. However, all three agreed that as long as you are consistent in how you set up your tracking, great analytics insights can be found in relative measurements. My geeky side was engaged with the in-depth discussion of multi-channel funnels, advanced attribution models, incremental conversion analysis and level-of-effort cost-benefit analysis. Ultimately, the point is that analytics packages are like the human brain; we’re only using a small percentage of their power at any given time. And if we put a little more brain power into it, we can not only measure the past, but actually see in the future.

Next, Brad Geddes of Certified Knowledge and Jeff Ferguson of Fang Digital spoke about slicing, dicing and testing in AdWords. Ferguson implored us to “widen our gaze”, using the analogy of the Hubble telescope to help us actually see through time. Most marketers are drowning in data and are light on information; the trick is figuring out where to zoom in and which numbers are the ones that actually can have a major impact on a business.

Back to the future on Social ROI

One of the most anticipated panels happened right after lunch, and the topic was measuring the returns of social media. Marketers find digital ROI to be one of the most stressful and confounding challenges, and the attendance at this session seemed to support it. Everyone was looking for answers, but panelists Alan K’necht, Peter VanRysdam and Molly Gallatin were quick to point out that there is no magic bullet. K’necht compared social ROI to being asked to measure a fire; certainly, the intangible benefits of social media are such that this metaphor seems apt. All emphasized some of the truisms of social media: It’s not about quantity but quality, it needs to relate back to the ultimate business objective (and this should not be something like “build buzz” or “foster engagement” but should actually relate to the business KPIs).

K’necht claims that we have gone back in time by 10 years, and that “followers are the hits of social media”. In other words, we’re measuring meaningless metrics because we haven’t figured out how to measure the meaningful ones properly. Panel moderator Chris Sherman went even further when he  referenced the old advertising adage that “we’re still back to where we were 50 years ago, where you know you’re wasting 50% of your budget but you don’t know which half.”

Personally, I don’t think it’s quite that dire. The panelists all showed various tools that can be used to better measure social media, and we are at a point where we can put a value on most of it. However, they were right to claim that some of what you build in social – brand equity, PR, goodwill – is not directly correlated to sales, and is more intangible. With more investment in measurement models and tools, and better training, there does seem to be some movement forward. But it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go until the ROI model for social media is as clear as it is for something like PPC.

The year of mobile is here (yes, we really mean it this time)

The afternoon wrapped up with a discussion on mobile. Cindy Krum, Tyler Calder and John Busby talked about best practices in mobile pay-per-click, mobile app promotion, and click-to-call campaigns. The common theme is that the “age of mobile” – long promised – has definitely arrived. Tablet is its own category, and deserves to be treated as such. There are huge opportunities both on smartphones and on tablets, and all of it is inherently measurable. The ability to target by device, carrier, and even browser version means that we can reach people in a very focused way. But all made the point that mobile is more immediate, shorter and quicker than desktop. Using shorter search terms, bidding to be in the top two positions, and providing immediate answers to an urgent need or a local want are the best practices here. Furthermore, according to Busby, Siri’s foray into local search is expected to be a game-changer.

What it all means

Search no longer exists in a vacuum – if it ever did. The days when the search guru in the corner ran PPC without any visibility into the rest of the company are long gone. Today’s sessions integrated the search, mobile, social and offline environments in such a way that proves that these walls need to come down.

On the positive side, analytics tools have come a long way in helping us along. There are big changes afoot to be sure, but this integration is going to come with a lot of great support.

Sari Stein, Digital Strategic Planner

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