Commentary

Boiler Room: Why the SEM Hot Seat Keeps Getting Hotter

With the dazzling array of technologies enabling search engines, it can be easy to overlook the "people behind search" -- the search engine marketers (SEMs) who manage paid search campaigns on a day-to-day basis.

It ain't easy being an SEM. SEMs are already responsible for managing campaigns that have thousands, if not millions of keywords. As if optimizing these campaigns wasn't difficult enough, the latest market data show changes are taking place that will make an SEM's job even more difficult:

KeywordsChart 

 

1. Searchers are getting smarter. After years of experience with search engines, consumers are becoming experts at entering queries that deliver the right results. Rather than entering "Hawaii," travelers are more likely to search for "discount package tours to Maui." In fact, comScore's latest data show consumers' search queries are now 10 percent longer than they were just two years ago.

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2. Query growth is slowing. In the past decade, the success of many search marketing campaigns has been fueled by consistent growth in the market overall. Now, monthly growth in U.S. domestic search queries is flattening, according to comScore. As the overall market levels out, advertisers can no longer count on a "rising tide" to drive campaign growth. SEMs will have to work even harder to deliver results - despite the fact that they already work long hours and juggle heavy workloads.

15/Year-to-Year-chart 

3. Competition will intensify. As growth in the search market slows, competition between marketers will increase as everyone fights for their share of the searcher universe. SEMs must find new, strategic ways to improve the performance of their campaigns and make their content more appealing than the competition's.

SEMs have worked hard to get their campaigns to where they are today. But, given the changes addressed above, SEMs will now have to work even harder. Consider the following implications:

  • Keyword portfolios will need to continue to grow. As queries continue to get longer, SEMs cannot let their keyword portfolios stagnate. Why? On the margin, search engines will give a preference to "exact match" keywords over "phrase" and "broad match" keywords. If your keyword portfolio doesn't evolve with consumers' search patterns -- and your competitors' keyword portfolios do - your paid search campaigns will slowly but surely become disadvantaged.
  • Delivering relevant ad copy and relevant landing pages will become even more critical. As searchers' queries become longer and more specific, these queries must be met with even more relevant ads and landing pages. The best way to deliver highly relevant marketing messages is by constructing tightly-themed ad groups built with highly related keywords. Highly relevant marketing messages will improve click-thru rates and Quality Score, and they will also improve conversion and campaign ROI. END

Successfully managing a paid search campaign is already a challenge for overworked SEMs. As the market continues to evolve, SEMs will need to continually grow keyword lists, form tightly-themed ad groups, and build highly relevant ad copy and landing pages. All of this makes an SEM's job a lot more difficult.

Fortunately, there are technologies emerging that can help SEMs intelligently grow their keyword portfolios, quickly form tightly themed ad groups, and automatically generate highly relevant ad copy and landing pages. Hard work, pragmatism and street smarts have helped many SEMs succeed to-date. But, chances are, SEMs will need to depend increasingly on technology to keep up with an ever-evolving industry.

2 comments about "Boiler Room: Why the SEM Hot Seat Keeps Getting Hotter".
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  1. Scott Brinker from ion interactive, inc., October 28, 2010 at 8:16 a.m.

    Excellent article.

    This is more evidence that marketing is going to be more complicated -- and frankly, more fragmented -- for a while. While this makes the job more challenging, it also opens up a wonderful opportunity for competitive advantage: the better you are at handling complexity -- and strategically picking the right things to focus on -- the better you will do.

  2. Darla Grant-braid from DAC Group, October 28, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.

    Your mention of relevant landing pages is spot on. As we all know, clicks are one thing, but conversions are the real golden egg. Search pros can build billion keyword portfolios and create Pulitzer-worthy copy, but if searchers land on a page that doesn't give them the almighty instant gratification, all of that effort isn't worth a dime.

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