Although the name of the event was Search Engines Strategies Conference and Expo, the search engine companies themselves were a small presence. Top companies such as Google and Yahoo were represented, along with second-tier MSN, LookSmart and Ask Jeeves, but the focus was on sales rather than search technology.
It might be an opaque and foreign world to many, but search engine marketing represents an $11.9 billion per year market in the U.S. alone, according to a JupiterResearch report. This amount includes $5.1 billion for display ads (banners, buttons, skyscrapers), $4.2 billion for paid search rankings and $2.6 for classifieds, in media such as Web sites, online services or other media such as instant messages or sponsored e-mails.
The report predicted that the total market will see "steady and consistent" growth through 2010, when the total market will reach $18.9 billion. (The report noted, however, that even at this level, online advertising will represent at most 7 percent of off-line advertising sales.)
Of note is that the report does not factor unpaid search results into its calculations—a distinction that many at the show made, calling them "paid" and "organic" search results.
The report stated that online ad sales spending is fueled by companies having "confidence" that online ads work. Sixty-eight percent of advertisers surveyed by JupiterResearch stated that they are "confident" that they are seeing a positive return on investment, though no data were provided.
Going forward, the report projected that paid search results will surpass display ads, based on spending, in 2009, with both accounting for approximately $6.9 billion in spending.
In part, this will be due to an expanding definition of what search engine marketing is, as search engines not only return paid results but also are able to deliver banner ads targeted to the search terms inputted by a user.
Its that promise of the primacy of search engine rankings that seemed to power most of the exhibitors at the Conferences show floor, which was lined with booths for companies promising to move a clients ads up to the top of Googles or Yahoos paid search results.
On the Show Floor
Most major search engine companies had modest booths and were there to promote their paid search rankings programs, such as Googles AdWords, which accounts for the majority of the companys revenue.
However, the majority of the show space (half the size of the show floor at, for example, Apples Worldwide Developers Conference) was occupied by companies promising to pump up search engine results rankings or to include customers in affiliate programs.
The latter companies included LifeTips.com, which solicits tips on various topics, promising to pay writers based on the popularity of their work, while the company cashes in on links and delivering ads. JoeBucks.com similarly wanted to recruit, but in their case links to their own sites selling herbal supplements such as Attract Mate and Breast Gain Plus.
There were also companies offering services to help manage their ads. ClickTracks.com and Whosclickingwho.com were promoting their auditing services to help Web sites detect and deter "click fraud," where malicious parties click repeatedly on a companys online ads. If the ad presenter charges the client based on how often viewers click on ads, such tinkering can drive up the cost of ads with no return.
Also on the floor were consumer research companies, such as ComScore Media Metrix, a division of ComScore Networks. ComScore enlists consumers by offering them prizes in exchange for using browsers configured to run through the companys proxy servers, which track online browsing. A representative of ComScore said that the company compares its data against recent census information and weights its findings to normalize conclusions against demographic distributions.
Still, the lions share of booths were companies such as 360i.com, AtlasOnePoint.com, BlowSearch.com, BetterPPC.com and more, all promising to optimize a companys name in online search engine results.