Commentary

What Do You Do?

The latest obsession on the Web, judging by Facebook news feed density (which is a pretty good judge of such things), is what others do for a living -- or, rather, what everyone and their mother (literally) thinks they do. Writer.Psychiatrist. Director. Radio DJ. Executive Chef. Now we have a nice, graphical (and super-ironic) way to describe these job functions.

After waiting a week to see if anyone in our corner of the world would take the bait, my team went ahead and created the Search Engine Marketer meme. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’d like to devote this column to the pursuit of defining what exactly it is SEMers actually do.

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What My Parents Think I Do

If your parents are anything like mine, they have no idea what we do, but know it has something to do with computers and assume we’re qualified to troubleshoot any issue they encounter with their machines. Did you try restarting, Mom? OK, I’m out.

What My Grandparents Think I Do

If you have living grandparents, consider yourself lucky. If they have any clue what you do, consider it a miracle.  It just so happens that my Grandpa Irv embraced technology early, so he’s hip to The Google.

What Society Thinks I Do

Despite the fact that every ad on every major search engine is delivered in a relevant, non-interruptive manner, those of us that put said ads on said engines get lumped in with the punch-the-monkey guys and Nigerian Princes.

What My Boss Thinks I Do

To be sure, not every misperception about search engine marketing is one we want to correct. Most CMOs don’t really get SEM but know the folks managing it are pretty much printing money. It’s getting a bit tougher to take all the credit now that sophisticated attribution models are being used, but, by and large, when compared to other channels, we’re still making it rain.

What I Think I Do

My wife is an Occupational Therapist (which is one of the few jobs that has yet to get memed) and works on a psychiatric unit at a local hospital. Every day we swap stories about our work days and, every day, I’m put back into my place and reminded that we’re not saving lives in the SEM world. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that what I do is rocket science. And nobody better say otherwise!

What I Really Do

So what the heck do we really do here? And just what is search marketing anyway? These are heady questions I’ve tried to tackle over the years.

I once said the point of search was “to solve a problem by using math or science to remove friction and create economically favorable outcomes for all.”

A few years earlier, I tried to change the lexicon from search marketing to query marketing, insisting that the core competency of search marketers was “the ability to translate queries into action.”

These days, I’m thinking what SEMers really do is connect people with relevant content, community, and commerce. Content covers all facets of information and entertainment. Community speaks to the people and opinions we seek out. And commerce includes products, services, brands, stores, etc.

Of course, it’s the commerce aspect that pays the bills for search engines and search advertisers, which, in turn, pays the salaries of search engine marketers. However, no general search engine would survive without strong results for content and community. After all, no one wants to use one search engine to find funny videos or dig up scoop on potential partners -- and another when it’s time to shop.

As such, search engine marketers must capitalize on the opportunities afforded (and they can certainly be affordable!) by content and community queries.

When it comes to content, think product placement, and optimize digital assets that represent your brand well.  And consider buying ads against “lifestyle” keywords that are indicative of someone in your target audience before they enter “buying” (aka commerce) mode.

When it comes to community, make your content and ads social through plug-ins from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and the like (pun intended). And reach out to influencers in your industry in hopes of getting favorable mentions -- and, even better, links.

I won’t spend time on best practices for connecting people with commerce other than to say that technology can be a great enabler here, as our lower-right box attempted to convey through a bit of high-brow humor. Indeed, without a sophisticated platform running advanced algorithms built on complex models that automatically cluster keywords into portfolios, what search engine marketers really do is this

3 comments about "What Do You Do?".
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  1. David Burdon from Simply Clicks, February 22, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

    Aaron,

    Nice take on SEM.
    However, I think you may have missed the most obvious question - What do my clients think I do?

  2. Aaron Goldman from 4C, February 22, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.

    Thx David. I was trying to keep it general so it'd apply to both in-house SEMers and agency peeps. The boss I had in mind was the CMO, which can be also be the client. Either way, hopefully that person has their umbrella cuz you're making it rain!

  3. Yoni KahnRose from Mint Chip, LLC, February 22, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.

    Aaron - Big LOL - totally hit home. Probably one of my favorite posts made by you, to date.

    In general, I read your articles to gain knowledge and insight. This one, on the other hand, addressed an issue that has been a constant source of tension between my wife and myself for years now.

    Whenever people ask me - "What do you do?" - I get a migraine. How should I go about explaining something to this person, that he she will most likely not even have realized was a profession - SEM, Digital Marketing, etc.

    My wife always says to just tell them I develop and design websites. Maybe it is just ego, but giving that answer, would just be such a blow to my professional life...So, I used to try and explain what I did - literally saw the words coming out of my mouth going right over the person's head, while the person was yawning. :)

    Now, I simply answer - "Stuff that has do to with the internet and other digital media." People usually don't care to know more than that.

    Also, my parents, siblings, close friends, etc., have no clue what I do. I've explained many times, but I guess unless you are really entrenched in the industry, it's just too hard to understand. Even my father - Ph.D. & M.D., can't wrap his head around it...

    Glad to hear that I am not alone in this... :)

    Look forward to your next article!

    -Yoni

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