Usually in this column I write about various trends, evolutions, and other factors driving our industry forward. These usually are focused on consumer and advertiser implications. Today, let's flesh out the definition and value of search to an agency.
Search is, while often not overtly viewed as such, of huge strategic importance to an agency because it represents the front door to their business. Get search right and you can improve almost every other aspect of the media mix -- which is why more traditional agencies have been gobbling up stand-alone search shops for years.
Search benefits from all other media -- and, when planned synergistically, greatly improves its own performance. Search can also serve as a real-time, large focus group that can help to optimize other channels and creative messaging. This is largely because consumers don't consider search a channel, but rather an action they take when they need something. As a result, they come at search from different angles in a non-linear fashion. What this implies is that search enables an agency to help their clients drive sales, increase brand visibility, and/or provide cross-channel continuity.
So the value of search to an agency comes from an integrated view, but how it is defined will depend on the agency. A creative agency is often focused solely on SEO, while a media shop, obviously, skews to paid search. However, as search evolves, this definition needs to broaden with it. In many agencies, the search specialists are the ones being tasked with Facebook buying and other dynamic API-based buying. Plus as we have read in previous Search Insiders, social, video, and mobile have massive implications for both natural and paid search management and optimization. As a result of these evolutions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate paid and natural search efforts, which means we must broaden the definition and view of search. When you do this, search's value to an agency increases because of its relationship to both emerging and traditional media channels like TV and print.
Thus, to get search right, an agency needs to have a robust and integrated set of capabilities both in and outside of search. This is why the risk of not getting search right is high. Get search wrong, and it's a fairly simple equation for the competition to convince a client to test them. On one hand, search compared to other media has a lower barrier to entry and is the easiest to partition off budgets for testing, which makes it very important for agencies to get their clients' search campaigns in order. If search is not budgeted appropriately or performing to expectation, an agency risks losing its clients' search campaigns -- and potentially, a host of other services over time, as a competing agency builds a relationship with the first agency's client.
Conversely, though, if search is fully integrated, it can be hard to win away from the incumbent, because it so intertwined with other channels and services. Combine this with the fact that search itself performs better when it is not managed in isolation, and the strategic importance of search goes up. I think this will only become more critical going forward as all media becomes digitized and thus searchable. So the greatest value of search is driven with a fully integrated definition -- because this is the way an agency can in turn offer maximum value to its clients.
If you are an agency person reading this, it might be time to audit your services and think long and hard about the quality of what you are delivering to your clients. Otherwise, more than your search business is at risk.