SEMs, Don't Get Left Behind!

SEM superstars are in great demand these days, and likely will continue to be for several years to come. That said, tying your horse to SEM exclusively is a dangerous proposition these days. The market is moving toward multichannel, multi-device marketing; eventually, SEM-only experts run the risk of becoming obsolete.

Last month I wrote about the shift in positioning and service offerings taking place in the SEM campaign management space. In particular, campaign management companies now like to be referred to as “marketing suites” or “marketing clouds,” reflecting the breadth of channels supported beyond SEM.

The software vendors aren’t alone in recognizing this trend. Go to any SEM conference and you’ll quickly realize that the content is no longer just about SEM. The most recent Search Insider Summit included discussions about content marketing, wearables, the Internet of things, display and programmatic media, Amazon and eBay, and attribution. All of this has a relevance to SEM, but it again demonstrates that the definition of SEM is expanding beyond Google, Yahoo, and Bing, to the point that “SEM” is probably not a relevant definition of the job anymore.



Consumer behavior and marketing spend is also diversifying. According to eMarketer, SEM represented 47.2% of online marketing budgets in 2011, but will drop to 41.7% in 2016, with display, social, and video taking the most market share away from SEM. To be fair, the projections show SEM growing raw spend at a healthy clip – from $15.1B in 2011 to $25.6B in 2017 – but the pie is growing even faster – from $32 billion to $61.4 billion.

Google has recognized these trends for some time. Acquisitions of YouTube (video), AdMob (mobile), DoubleClick (display), and Wildfire (social), as well as significant investments in attribution (Adometry acquisition), product feeds (Channel Intelligence), and programmatic creative and media buying (Teracent and Invite Media) are all efforts by the search giant to diversify revenue away from SEM.

Lastly, the search engines are putting a fair amount of effort into democratizing SEM. As I’ve argued in this column, Google has numerous initiatives designed to reduce the importance of keywords and replace human decision-making with algorithms.  You can debate whether these moves by Google are benevolent or malicious, but it’s hard to argue with the consequences; SEMs will be valued less for their in-depth knowledge of the platforms and more for their ability to manage numerous channels and devices.

The future of SEM won’t be SEM: It will be multichannel, multi-device, and it will require a wide knowledge of many channels and technologies, instead of arcane knowledge of the inner workings of AdWords.  As I noted earlier, the future isn’t here yet – you can double-down on your knowledge of SEM and exist in the ecosystem for years to come.  But now would be a good time to start spending your “20% time” learning about attribution, or mobile, or programmatic, or econometrics, because the time will come when just knowing SEM won’t be enough to get you that plum promotion. Don’t get left behind!

1 comment about "SEMs, Don't Get Left Behind!".
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  1. Chris Zaharias from Campanja, March 5, 2015 at 7:25 p.m.

    Agree, David, though for those of us working in ad tech startups, the game is still about building a better mousetrap in a particular solution area that has M&A potential, then trying to reap the equity awards.

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