So, How Do YOU Explain Why Search is So Hot?

Remember the term BOW? Born on the Web Companies? Back in the old days, like December 1999, there were many Born on the Web companies who had seemingly cool revenue models but who somehow never made any money. A problem with many of these companies was the lack of focus that was rampant despite the proliferation of MBAs running things. But, a larger problem for those with the right focus was that they couldn't prove that they were providing benefit to their clients.

While there are many reasons why the bubble burst, that's the one that I hear marketers talk about the most. It's also the one that seems most ironic now, since there is so much quantification of campaign success going on these days.

I kept thinking about that as I walked the floor at the Search Engine Strategies show in Chicago this week. I was expecting to see maybe 500-600 people here, rattling around a big McCormick hall. But, the 1800 attendees that came to this show were here to do business. I spoke to many who did substantial deals on the floor and in the corridors. Sure, there are a few companies here who clearly aren't going to make it, who clearly lack the focus to capitalize on the best opportunities. But, something that separates what's going on now from the old days of four years ago is that interactive marketing works, and we can prove it.



That's how I explain why Search is so hot.

This show reminded me of the buzz and energy of the Streaming Media Show I attended in San Jose in 1999. Only these companies are mostly self-funded and profitable, not VC-funded and gushing red ink.

A member of the consumer media who I'll call Joe wandered into the pressroom yesterday looking for anyone who could explain to him what Search Marketing was and why his editor had sent him to this show. "What is all the fuss about?" he literally asked me.

When I told him that I had heard of one branded retailer who had given their search agency an additional $500K to spend between now and Christmas based completely on the results of their search engine marketing efforts of the past three weeks, that got his attention. This is the true convergence represented by the Web, folks. It's not about telephony and television, it's about shopping and media.

Since you're reading this column that is surrounded by monetization, this is media. But, you can't buy anything here - no snickering please. But, when I'm on my Yahoo! Home page checking my meager stock portfolio or the news portals I've chosen, that little search window and those like it on Google, MSN and elsewhere, is home to 82% of all consumer Web commerce. Find a way to reach that self-selected consumer, and you've brought the Mall of America to their desktop.

I was ranting by now, but my new friend really began to get it when I asked him why all agencies had to develop digital capabilities by the year 2000. I mean, even if you wanted to disregard the business, you had to at least keep up and offer digital services, right? Well, if that construct holds true, then some representative portion of all digital agencies will have to provide some sort of search marketing capability soon, if it really is true that 4 out of 5 online transactions made by consumers starts with a search term.

Now, my guy was fully rapt. And this is where I lost him again. When discussing paid versus natural search, he really glazed over. But, he had already been on the show floor, listening to the pitches of some of these unfocused companies. No wonder.

If the Web is a marketplace, Search is the door to the store. I've already written about why it's vital that Search Marketers adhere strictly to the rules of the game, and why we'd better all take seriously what the FTC has been looking at - the thousands of consumer complaints regarding deceptive search placement practices that are commonly encountered online. But, even before this week, I was very bullish on Search as a market idiom. After this show, and seeing how brands can quantify their ROI so quickly, I'm truly impressed. The next Search Engine Strategies show will take place in New York from March 1-4. Go.

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