Since the 2011 SEMPO State of the Market Survey was released back in March, I keep revisiting this one nagging data point, one that may be a sign for the reality of future marketing endeavors
across social networks, and yes, social channels ("Social PPC is Giving Google Adwords A
Run For Its Money"). The survey found that social PPC has emerged as a sort of third search channel for paid media buyers, meaning that they go to Adwords, Binghoo, and also a
multitude of PPC channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to round out their media spend. This data point leaves out all debate on the efficacy of these channels, but rather underscores the point
that marketers and advertisers are in fact buying media with a PPC mindset towards these channels.
The problem is that we, as marketers, may be unknowingly reinforcing social as a PPC channel, while the greater opportunity lies in participation and content publishing strategies. But as search marketers, we've seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. So today I want to go over a loose history of the "ppc-ification" of the search channel as a much larger strategy, and how the same path may be happening to the balance of social participation vs. advertising marketing activities.
But first let's go back to the basis of the 90-20 conundrum in search marketing, to better understand if we in fact may be headed down a similar path for "social" as a marketing "channel."
The problem is this:90% of spend goes toward paid search media channels, yet it only provides 20% of the return from the search channel as a whole.
For at least 10 years now, I have at various times dragged out my own slides and data points in making the case for
proper budget alignment in the search marketing channel. Over and over again, using a client's actual spend and conversion data from both channels, I revealed an unbalanced approach to
budget allocation versus actual opportunity in the search channel. In almost every single historical case for my own clients, the spend is lopsided in terms of investment versus the potential
for short- and long-term benefits from the channel.
I've since taken the liberty and rounded it off to the 90:20, meaning that for most marketers, 90% of their search marketing spend goes towards paid search, yet it may only represent 20% of the opportunity and return they are currently getting from the channel. Paid search may only represent 20% of the clicks. It may only represent 20% of the conversions, and 20% contribution to the bottom line. Conversely, only 10% of search budget may be going towards natural, yet it is generating 80% of the revenue or desired actions. This is true for marketers who may be getting anywhere from thousands to billions of dollars in return out of the search channel as a whole. Sure there are exceptions, but this remains the case for most enterprise and SMB marketers.
The purpose of my argument here is not to debate what the actual %ages are - it varies too much from marketer to marketer, anyway - but to shed further light on a fact that many of us know all too well, that paid search media is already maxed out for many marketers, while natural allocation has achieved only the tip of its true potential. Again, 90:20 is not a set ratio for every situation, but I rounded it off for this article to illustrate a greater point.
why does this problem exist? If most searchers are clicking on the natural results, why don't marketers shift more spend into natural search, or earned marketing approaches? The answer
Paid search makes it too easy for lopsided budget allocation. (Stay with me here -- I'm getting to the point about social budget allocation).
Paid search is quick, and relatively easy to get started with. Most marketers don't understand natural search and earned media, and they have organizational challenges with implementation. They do not measure the benefits of an earned media program in months or years, but rather as "what have you done for me lately," meaning today, this week, and this month for paid search. Marketers have numbers to report, and they want to see the results right now to justify the channel upstream.
So for all of the evangelization and education, for all of the search conferences, for all of the columns and blogs read, all of the forums frequented, marketers still find themselves in this short history of the search marketing channel in an upside-down, disproportionate position of throwing 90% of search budgets at paid media. Make no mistake about it - I am not an SEO apologist, but rather an advocate for balanced allocation in the search channel as a whole, especially when the benefits are to the client, and also the consumer and searcher.
Which brings us back to the 90:20 "social" allocation conundrum.
My question for marketers is this: Has frustration with the difficulty of "social media optimization" as an earned effort (and its parallel to SEO) driven them to social PPC and advertising as a quick way to get involved in the channel and be "social," even if it is paid media?
Again, my concern here is that the greater opportunity of social is participatory and earned, but with the rise of Social PPC and advertising, the trend seems to be that marketers are focusing on it as yet another paid channel. Are marketers somewhat unknowingly reinforcing this view, simply because social engagement is harder? Is it the "advertising" mindset that somewhat disintegrates all media efforts away from "earned," and into "bought"?
I don't have the answer right now, but I would say that this is one to watch. Based on my long experience in search marketing, I would say that a 90:20 ratio for paid versus participatory/earned spend appears to be where social media marketing is indeed headed.