Complacency In Search Advertising: Growing Beyond Keywords

Yes, there’s still growth in paid search, and the search engines will continue to make money from advertisers eager to market to consumers who are actively searching. On the other hand, that growth is slowing dramatically. eMarketer Daily recently predicted that by 2015, U.S. growth in search advertising will flat-line and even be surpassed by online display advertising.

Why the stagnation in what has historically been a booming market? The answer comes down to keywords. SEMs are held hostage by them. Their time and resources are constrained; there are only so many keywords they can create, manage, and optimize with current tools. This bandwidth constraint is reluctantly accepted as a necessary evil by the industry, which recognizes that the same unit of trade that permits granular, performance-based ad targeting also limits the ability to build campaigns that are both large and highly relevant.

Given this, how can the search industry unlock the true value of SEM campaigns?



Responding to the Challenges

Google ignited search engine marketing in 2001, and in the ensuing 10 years, the industry has evolved into a complex discipline with its own set of best practices, pitfalls, and paradoxes. Ten years seems like a long time to those of us immersed in search-based marketing, and yet as Alliott Cole espoused on in “Google’s Fundamental Flaw is Search,” there’s plenty of room for innovation and improvement in how consumers and advertisers interact with search engines. Put plainly: "The sector as a whole remains in its infancy."

Keywords provide advertisers with a helpful granular unit of trade and management, but they cause a lively ecosystem to suffer in two ways:

  1. Growing an SEM campaign typically requires adding more keywords, and adding keywords requires advertisers to hire more SEMs or have existing SEMs work longer hours -- both of which advertisers are loath to do. As a result, most SEM campaigns are significantly smaller than they could be because of manpower constraints.
  2. Keywords not only impact the size of SEM campaigns, they can also degrade the quality. As the number of keywords grows, it becomes exponentially more difficult for SEMs to maintain highly relevant ad groups, ads, and landing pages. And as campaigns grow, relevance often decreases. This negatively impacts the consumer experience as well as the advertiser's campaign ROI. 

In short, advertisers can't realize the true potential of their SEM campaigns because they don’t have sufficient time and manpower. They simply have no cost-effective way to scale campaigns. 

Today, typical solutions require significant trade-offs. For example, SEMs can create coverage by focusing heavily on broad match, but reliance on generic ad copy associated with broad match lacks relevance. And if advertisers want to mine the long tail to build more effective campaigns, more SEMs must be hired.  

Clearly, resource constraints hamstring the growth of the search industry.

If ever an industry was in need of disruptive innovation, it is paid search. Technology will drive the next phase of market expansion by overcoming the inherent limitations of keywords.

From Keyword to Intent

The ability to rapidly and efficiently map consumer intent to products and services at an abstract level will provide a better unit of trade and campaign management, and it will underpin richer and more targeted content. Abstracting from keywords to intent helps identify large numbers of relevant keywords, put them into tightly themed groups, and more easily manage large campaigns -- without growing  SEM staff.

Perhaps equally important, the proliferation of mobile devices and applications is spawning a dramatic increase in mobile queries and non-query expressions of intent. The National Retail Federation notes that mobile payments for “digital and physical goods” are predicted to reach $630 billion by 2014. And TechCrunch recently reported that smartphones hold a 63% market share in North America. As non-query expressions of intent increase through barcode scanning, location-based searches, and voice-operated searches like Siri, keywords as a unit of measurement will become less relevant, forcing retailers and companies with searchable products and services to master mobile platform-based search advertising. 

Intent-based SEM, by design, will help advertisers radically simplify their campaigns and focus on what consumers really want, as opposed to keywords. This will make campaigns more relevant and ads more appealing. Clearly, this goes far beyond creating ads that play to a few of the most popular  -- and therefore most expensive -- keywords. Intent-based advertising will have the scalability and relevance that keyword-based campaigns lack.  It will also give SEMs an abstraction layer where existing search campaigns can be translated into non-query paid search advertising.

The search industry is not a maturing cash cow. Without question, it's still in its infancy and experiencing inevitable growing pains.

Mapping intent can do much to disrupt industry-wide complacency and spur growth. And the industry at large is beginning to look for ways to do this. Take, for example, Google exploring the possibilities through Dynamic Search Ads (currently in beta testing). When advertisers and the search industry recognize that it is possible to transcend keywords to easily and painlessly achieve relevance at scale, search advertising will realize its full potential.


3 comments about "Complacency In Search Advertising: Growing Beyond Keywords".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. David Burdon from Simply Clicks, February 15, 2012 at 1:14 p.m.


    Nice piece. In my opinion its not about complacency but the ultimimately futile and unfilling task of striding to find perfect knowledge of the how, what, where and why of search in relation to the consumer mind. It could be summed up thus:

    "The more I analyse, the less I know"

    Each time I go to a client with a hunch or a gut feel of how to tackle a problem or exploit an opportunity, the requirement is to provide data to justify a change in strategy or incremental spending. The hunches come from short term obervations and quick and dirty analyses of what's happening real time. Yet mountains of data need to be pored over, crunched and presented. Yet we still don't find the ultimate truth and the window of opportunity passes.

  2. Ben Russo from Adchemy, February 15, 2012 at 4:28 p.m.

    Thi will be hosting a webcast on Thursday, February 23rd to talk about the Top 5 Growth Opportunities for Retail SEM.

    Join us:

  3. Kerstin Recker from VSW, February 16, 2012 at 2:03 p.m.

    There is no need to wait for disruptive innovation in paid search – it is here! Semantic technology is leading the charge in shifting the paid search paradigm. Semantic ad matching, or rather “smart” ad matching, aligns marketers’ messages, products and/or services with consumers’ passions and interests. Leaders in the semantic search space are today building platforms that eliminate the need for time consuming and resource draining key word bidding programs. Semantic search advertising platforms, like VSWFeaturelink, use semantic technology rather than keywords to place context-based ads on a web page. So, rather than paying for keyword real estate, savvy Web marketers are utilizing a semantic search platform and benefitting from a very scalable and easily managed pay-per-click model. Paid search is here to stay, but those marketers who have shifted their search advertising dollars to semantic search platforms are finding themselves with a technology that benefits not only their bottom-lines, but brings the customer a more targeted and effective search result.

Next story loading loading..