The Myopic Misunderstanding of SEM

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has become one of marketing's fastest-growing channels, with spending in 2011 predicted to reach more than $25 billion in North America alone -- and global search advertising notably reaching nearly $40 billion by 2012.

Yet ironically, most executive marketers barely understand the difference between SEM and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

A majority of marketing executives today may be well aware of the average price for a :30 TV spot on "Desperate Housewives," but a lot less likely to be aware of the top keywords (or their prices) that are driving consumers to their website. Far too many marketing pros remain oblivious to the realities and implications surrounding SEM today. For example:

  • SEM is not a stand-alone, isolated channel but a critical element in any truly integrated marketing program. Any marketing program with a heavy TV focus will alter consumers' search behavior and the result will force a different buying and optimization strategy for key search words. SEM cannot be planned or optimized without considering the impact of all other marketing channels, and vice versa.
  • SEM, at its core, is a discipline in understanding consumer intent at a specific moment, within a particular context, and matching it with the most relevant and compelling display of communication. Searching is a natural consumer behavior and today's technologies enable consumers to perform "searches" wherever they wish, i.e., from a laptop, cell phone, and soon, maybe, from a TV.
  • SEM is behavioral targeting (next to online displays and other behavior-driven communication), meaning that data and insight-driven understanding of consumer behavior will benefit SEM - just as it improves other means of behavioral targeting. Most relevant consumer insights are channel neutral, and marketers need to ask if their search process can effectively expand across all relevant marketing channels.



Search Realities

Reasons why SEM remains misunderstood include:

1. CMOs and senior marketers regularly watch TV, listen to radio, read the daily newspaper; but they are not avid searchers. They do not accurately represent the rapidly changing media consumption behavior of today's young consumers.

2. A great many marketers are not too interested in understanding the technology, math expertise, and algorithms that are the foundation of a search practice. Google, the leading search engine company, is not by coincidence an engineer- and mathematician-run organization. Leading-edge marketing organizations have just begun to realize that successful marketing campaigns require that mathematical expertise and algorithms be taken seriously.

3. Most SEM practices reside with specialized interactive niche players or are run by media companies within large holding companies. SEM has not been integrated into the center of any large marketing department or agency and most marketers have never been asked to get involved in SEM decisions.

Treating SEM as just another media operation is the major misunderstanding that prevents senior marketers from understanding and realizing its full potential. It is more than a traditional media operation that focuses primarily on buying paid search listings, it is a heavily data-driven optimization process.

It is safe to imagine that one day, rather than a communications centerpiece designed to create non-consequential awareness, some TV spots' main function will be simply to motivate consumers to search. Going forward, the TV spot will be a prelude to SEM and a successful SEM practice will likely combine media, analytics, and interactive and will be a key focus of the marketing program.

Editor's note: If you'd like to contribute to this newsletter, see our editorial guidelines first and then contact Nina Lentini.

1 comment about "The Myopic Misunderstanding of SEM ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Tracy Pratt-Savage from RevTrax, April 23, 2009 at 8:27 a.m.

    I couldn't agree more with you. Especially with your comment that marketers are "a lot less likely to be aware of the top keywords (or their prices) that are driving consumers to their website"

    We have the ability to track a barcoded coupon used on an instore sale back the the keyword and web site it was printed off of. Our advertisers are able to use this as a new tool to know which keywords their consumers are shopping (or not shopping) off of - helping them to optimize their spend. 866-996-TRAX

Next story loading loading..