Our Little Baby Has Grown Up

It's funny; my Mom still buys me dried apricots. I haven't eaten them since I was fifteen. It's hard to see your baby grow up -- they are always the baby you knew when they were young and developing. I feel as though some of us in search act the same way about our business.

Is there a better place to be in advertising, marketing, and media than in SEM right now? We are in a down economy and as fellow Search Insider Aaron Goldman just wrote, no budget is safe, but search is faring far better than everyone else. There's a simple reason for this. Search behavior has permeated everything we do in our lives.

I look at my life and I don't organize my music anymore, I search by song, genre, and artist to find what I want. I don't, in a "Monk"-ish fashion, organize files on my Mac the way I used to, because I can use search to find PPTs, Docs, XLS files, relevant calendar events or contacts, and so on. I don't want to read a TV Guide anymore; I search for topics or programs of interest. When was the last time you picked up that giant yellow book you use as a door stop?



But this wasn't always the case. Search was the land of early adaptors, consumer, engine, and advertiser included. The practitioners were mad scientists. There were no benchmarks or standards, no bid tools, no syndicated research tools nor competitive tracking tools to guide us.

Now, though...

ComScore has search data, AdGooroo rocks the competitive landscape, Hitwise, Quantcast, Google Trends, and Yahoo Analytics all offer different spins on search data to help us plan, strategize, analyze, and justify search budgets. Bid tools have recently reached new levels of sophistication. Even the analytical output has come a long way. No longer do we have to rely on intuition to explain to clients the balance needed when applying the marketing funnel to building the keyword lists. Now we can prove it. Here at Havas, we do a search journey analysis using our proprietary Artemis tool -- and even Atlas is offering engagement mapping. Getting away from last click attribution is huge and a whole new world (for all of us, not just search marketers).

Yahoo and MSN offer demo targeting. Demos in search? This isn't Kansas anymore, Toto.

Retargeting is so commonplace (or should be) now that I am almost afraid to write it without sounding clichéd, but that's my point: search has evolved into an advanced ecosystem interconnected within an individual's broader media experience that constantly shifts based on a multiple of exposures.

This means we have to be "harder, better, faster, stronger," to quote Daft Punk. What I mean by that is clients now demand stronger rationales for keyword selection, budget allocation, engine selection, and balance. They demand (and deserve) to have better competitive intelligence. They need to understand the appropriate mix of core search, video or mobile search, retargeting, and/or contextual, etc., to obtain the optimal objectives. Given the economy, I have many clients using search for branding purposes, as they should be, but it means I don't have the luxury of just showing a positive return to justify my life. A lot more analysis goes into demonstrating results. Clients need better answers. Especially as SEM evolves, it is becoming more crucial than ever to have the data and insights to back it up.

Now let's look back to 1996 and the early "Internet advertising" days, when full-service agencies couldn't figure it out. So they outsourced to boutique shops that specialized in new media that made dealing with the unknown more effective and efficient. WWW stool for the Wild Wild West, where the nonconforming, no-standards crazy kids played. Not too many of them are left, though. Heck, we acquired Hook Media and we have all seen the SEM acquisitions in recent history.

Clients need specialists, but they also need integration because of how interconnected media has become. As a result, many agencies are using search as an umbrella for performance media, ad exchanges, social media, and various other forms of dynamically priced targeting-driven opportunities. Fine, as long as these specializations exist fully integrated and are balanced with the continued enhancement of our core search programs (the bread and butter of everything else).

We can't assume our clients still want apricots. SEM has evolved -- and as it gains a larger share of an ever-shrinking budget pie, our core search clients demand more. Search has grown up and is increasingly integrated with other advertising disciplines like analytics, display, DRTV, etc. This means we need harder communication, better insights, and faster tools with stronger planning and account services.

8 comments about "Our Little Baby Has Grown Up".
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  1. Bill Mungovan from Adobe, April 27, 2009 at 12:24 p.m.

    Great piece, Rob. Totally agree on all fronts. Part of me will always miss the wild wild west early days, but you have to admit it's much more interesting nowadays with increased levels of sophistication across the search industry.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 27, 2009 at 3:14 p.m.

    The yellow pages is so much more practical than online - for one's home area at least. When I need, that is, search for a plumber, I want to see the entire pages and ads with their location, offers and more than 10 on a page so I can easily compare. And heaven forbid, if one spells something wrong or has the wrong little town which is right next to the one you need, you get screwed. What I cannot understand is why they are not putting pages on the screen as you read in a regular phone book or any search for type periodicals. It is done for a few catalogs and a few magazines. I want to also know what I don't know. If you catagorize too tight, you miss opportunites. You don't know what you are missing and what you don't know can cost you.

  3. Ann Betts from FetchBack, April 27, 2009 at 4:26 p.m.

    Great piece, Rob!

    Couldn't agree more that it's time to be "harder, better, faster, stronger" - and especially when backed up with data to prove value and contribution.

  4. Henry Hall from HH4Media & Associates, LLC., April 27, 2009 at 6:04 p.m.

    Good point on clients needing specialists yet integration is essential due to interconnectivity of media.

  5. Eric Layland from Confluence Digital, April 29, 2009 at 12:43 a.m.

    Glad to read I'm not the only one with this opinion though I paid the price. It sucks to hold a minority ownership position when the majority doesn't want to hear that being an PPC/SEO agency is a one-trick pony. SEM + social + display + landing page optimization + UX optimization + analytics = Online Marketing 2.0

    As for the wild west...yes it was. But I don't long for the days of having to explain 30-40% impression count discrepancies when buying/selling banners on CPM's. At least we were using VC's play money at the time.

  6. Rob Griffin from Almighty, May 1, 2009 at 4:24 p.m.

    Really? Sorry, Paula Lynn, but what planet are you from? YPs only allow you to find what you know, Google (for all my beef's with them and thats another thread) suggests and asks what you intended. A traditional YP book cant do that.

    Even the Online YP sites cant, at least now stack up, because for all their local activity they are still, what?, less then 5% of local searches. This is still a land owned by the big engines.

    Granted they could do it better. But that is the point of my article.

    I agree, Billy M, the WWW-days were fun. That said, Eric, those days did make for hard sells. LOL.

    OH the fun of it all.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 1, 2009 at 10:56 p.m.

    Rob, I am from the planet of right here, not distant. I need a plumber located in my local area. My intent is plumbing. There is no other intent. When I look at the YP, I see an entire ad rather than a listing and sometimes on other planets regardless of the area entered. The ad can tell me what that business does and where they are located and the area they serve. Perhaps, your arguement lies in the format and the sales and directorship of the online YP. And flipping through pages can give you ideas you will never find on line, bulky though it may be. Honestly, I use both.

  8. Karl Beeton from columbus search, May 6, 2009 at 7:40 p.m.

    Great article

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