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.
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.