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I got a really interesting email in response to the 2007 Consumer Internet Predicitions post from Iggy Fanlo (CEO of AdBrite, ex President of Shopping.com and a guy who knows a thing or two about CPC advertising!):

You talk about cos like Zappos filling the SEM void, but the math still doesn’t work… if search revenues (online advertising generally) is rising at 70-80% and e-commerce (total, not just the established entities) is rising at less than 30%, AND folks still aren’t using search for branding, then what is going on?

(a) Either we are moving to a far greater lifetime value model for customer acquisition (which really is branding in disguise) OR

(b) There is an rapidly approaching upper limit on search revenue growth that approximates e-commerce growth (Google and others’ slice of pie cannot get much greater) OR

(c)There are lots of greater fools (small cos trying to get off the ground, large cos not watching their SEM spend with any discipline) and will still end up drying up in the end.

Thoughts?

I’m going to hand-wave a little in my attempt at an answer here, but would love to hear comments from those more knowledgeable than I am about Google.

Google grew its revenues at 70% Year on Year according to their 2006 Q3 financials.

Lets say 30 percentage points of that came from the growth of US ecommerce as per Iggy (Comscore says 26%, I’ve seen others a little higher).

Search Engine Watch and Neilsen say that Google has increased its market share from the mid 40s to around 50% of all searches in the last year or so, which is about a 10% increase for Google, so that gets us to 40 percentage points of growth.

Google’s international growth is outpacing US growth as per their Q3 earnings slides: 92% vs 56%. I wheeled out my creaky excel and crunched the numbers, and this international growth premium over the US contributes about 14 percentage points of growth, getting us to around 54 percentage points.

Lead gen isn’t included in the ecommerce growth numbers, but is also clearly a driver of search engine marketing. According to the IAB, lead gen was up over 70% in H1 2006 over H1 2005. Its still a lot smaller than ecommerce, so perhaps that adds another 5 points of growth to get us to 59 points.

That still leaves around 10 points of growth that is likely due to increased pricing. I scanned some analyst reports which seemed to agree about pricing but couldn’t find size estimates

So Iggy is right. But its not as dire as it looks at first glance, or perhaps not as imminent. I agree with his point (a), that margins are getting skinnier and in some cases Search Marketers ARE applying a Lifetime Value analysis and taking a loss on customer acquisition for the first transaction. (I would disagree that this is branding in disguise though as it is still trackable). I don’t think his (c) is a major factor – people are being pretty rigorous in their ROI analysis in this area in my experience. But (b) is ultimately right – it has to be eventually. I don’t think we’re quite there yet though.

Comments and discussion much appreciated.

I’m going to post on Monday about Lead Gen in more detail as it generated a lot of comment discussion in the earlier post, and I think the SEM trends very relevant to that topic also.

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