Warning: Maddening Complexity Ahead!
Doing this correctly -- in other words, doing paid search in such a way that one's organizational goals were met -- has never been easy, despite all the assurances of search inventory providers. And while search has been changing at a slow creep for a few years now, the change agents have accelerated their impact on the landscape in the past 18 months, which is going to make search marketing that much harder. Let's look at some of these changes, and what they mean for paid search marketers.
The Mobile Thing Itself
One important consequence of mobile devices is that they are capable of interacting with the real world without the need for clunky translations like keywords. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Google Goggles: point your mobile device at an object or picture, and Google will translate the image into a keyword (so you can research a painting, or translate a menu with Google Translate, simply by pointing your mobile device at it.) Google barcode scanning lets you scan product barcodes to run a shopping search via your mobile device, for instance. The result is that searches are far more immediately connected to the real world.
This means that searches are subject to a lot more precision (you want to know about this exact product). At times, they're also subject to far more ambiguity as well: sure you want to know about this exact picture -- but what do you know about it? After all, sometimes a word really does speak louder than a thousand pictures.
How does a marketer buy a position in such an interaction? Does such an interaction even provide potential for an advertising position? At this point, we just don't know.
Ask a Friend
In March of last year, Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield noted that Google and the other engines stand to lose ground to social networks. The share loss, Greenfield predicted, won't just be on account of the presence of search bars on Facebook, Twitter, et al, but because people can easily ask and answer questions via status updates. The cold machinery of the algorithm is replaced by the friendly world of crowdsourcing and recommendation.
The Fragmenting Web
It's not exactly news that Apple is using its iPhone/iPad platforms to replicate the closed proprietary worlds of AOL and CompuServe that were so mightily profitable a decade or so ago. At the same time, newspapers and other media groups are clamoring to put their crown jewels behind non-searchable pay walls. One can consider Facebook as a similar scheme to herd its users into rooms whose rules are no longer under the users' controls. Even ISPs want to get into the business of regulating content.
Nobody knows how the "open vs. closed" battle will resolve itself, but it's quite likely that marketers will have to wrestle with a whole new set of advertising, pricing, and accounting mechanisms that will make today's ad buying environment look simple.
How It's All Changing Search Marketing
The common link in all of these changes? The traditional mechanism of keyword-based search marketing is being eclipsed by a new form of contextual marketing that is far more sophisticated than the traditional content adjacency model.
This new context is the flow of information from the real world in its many forms; in the case of mobile search; in the case of social media, free-flowing discussion, etc.
Marketers -- both deep-pocketed ones seeking ubiquity and thriftier ones seeking cost-effective relevance -- must learn to navigate this new world of context in achieve reach and influence. Unfortunately, things are unlikely to get easier; in fact, the level of complexity is almost guaranteed to rise. Someday we may be nostalgic for the days when all we needed to do to reach our goals was run campaigns through the big three engines.
The good news in all of this is that the cost of experimenting with all these new forms of contextual marketing remains extremely low. Make sure that your team and agency aren't so tapped out by the requirements of running traditional paid search campaigns that you can't afford to experiment in this rapidly evolving world.