The rapid and explosive growth of search engine marketing is well documented. The business press writes glowing articles about Google and Yahoo, consumers have become increasingly reliant on search engines to navigate the Web, and investors have shown a renewed interest in digital technologies and in search marketing, in particular.

But beyond the hype, what is truly taking place in the SEM industry today? What are the key industry trends?

To answer these questions, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) contracted with Radar Research LLC and Intellisurvey to conduct an industry-wide survey with 553 respondents in November 2005. The following are some of the key highlights from the survey.

Branding, sales, leads and traffic are the top objectives of paid placement programs. Among advertisers, enhancing brand awareness is their top objective, albeit by a narrow margin at 62 percent. Sixty percent of advertisers cite selling products as a key objective, especially among firms with less than 500 employees. By contrast, larger firms with more than 500 employees are more interested in driving leads and traffic than smaller firms.

Despite claiming branding is their top objective, advertisers gauge success by performance metrics. While the majority of advertisers cite branding as their top objective for SEM campaigns, less than a quarter (24 percent) track or measure branding impact. Rather, the overwhelming majority (80 percent) track increased traffic volume, three-quarter (74 percent) measure conversion rates, and 69 percent track clickthrough rates.

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