I still keep thinking back to Intuit's Avinash Kaushik, quoted in last week's column as calling paid search "the lazy man's option" at a recent Frost & Sullivan symposium. It's like calling TV the lazy man's option since it's so easy to buy, or outdoor advertising the lazy man's option because it's just sticking up a billboard. You can participate in a marathon and still be lazy if you walk the 26.2 miles; that doesn't make a marathon the lazy man's option for exercise.
So why are some so disdainful and dismissive of SEM? Much of the blame falls on search marketers themselves. There are a vocal few with this god complex, preaching the salvation of search marketing. "Search is everything!" they scream. "Shift all your budgets to search or repent! Everyone is searching billions of times a day, and they're telling you what they want. If they're not searching then you will never figure out what they want so you shouldn't even bother reaching such heathens!"
Fanaticism provokes fanatical responses. Every time a preacher cries out from the Evangelical Church of Search, an apostate will bristle and repudiate all of SEM. Ideologues hamper the dialogue we should engage in; it's the moderate approach that will foster the healthiest growth of search engine marketing. To this end, I propose Search Plus.
Search Plus embodies the ongoing mission to integrate search engine marketing into other campaigns when and where it can best serve the marketer's goals. It's that string around your finger (or, for the Kabbalists, the red string around your wrist) that serves as a constant reminder of SEM's effectiveness when part of something greater than itself. Furthermore, it refutes the fanatical claim that the universe revolves around SEM; rather, Search Plus places SEM as an integral piece of the media and marketing ecosystems.
Here are some guidelines, far from all-inclusive, of how to frame Search Plus conversations:
Search Plus Television: This is one of the best documented examples of the Search Plus mindset, thanks to case studies such as product placement on "The Apprentice" leading to searching spikes in Yahoo. Any TV campaign that generates buzz generates searches, so visibility through search engine optimization and paid search will keep the marketer visible when the consumer is actively looking.
Search Plus Word of Mouth: A number of companies, such as Intelliseek and BuzzMetrics, measure word of mouth effects online. If your company is a buzz target, positive or negative, make sure your voice is heard in search engines on both the paid and natural sides. Compare natural search results in Google for the brands Wal-Mart and General Motors, both of which are routine targets for unflattering press coverage. For Wal-Mart, three of the top five results attacked the company. For GM, there was only one remotely negative result in the first three pages, a BBC article on poor earnings nearly invisible as the 30th listing.
Search Plus Podcasting: Some marketers are sponsoring podcasts while others are producing podcasts themselves. Top business podcasts on iTunes include those by IBM, Fidelity Investments, and McKinsey Global Institute. As the subscriber totals rise, consumers will search for both the podcasts and the information presented during the shows. A search strategy that extends beyond iTunes and into the major search engines will capitalize on this interest.
Search Plus Outdoor: If the ad is memorable enough, pedestrians and commuters will search for more when they get to their home or office.
Search Plus Public Relations: A wonderful side effect of corporate PR efforts is that such controlled, positive materials often rank highly in natural search results. Thus, this connection works in two ways: PR drives people to search engines, and it also can populate the results people find when they get there.
Search Plus Direct Mail: This is a no-brainer, with two of the most effective direct marketing vehicles complementing each other. Multivariate testing with paid search can be especially effective for improving direct mail results, and marketers with a strong direct mail heritage are often the most successful with SEM, thanks to the experience they've amassed.
Search Plus E-Mail: E-mail is especially powerful as a retention vehicle. Capture leads through a search campaign and keep the communication going through e-mail.
Ideological debates are usually distilled into two oversimplified sides, with one good and the other evil. They engender rising feelings of animosity on both sides. With Search Plus, we can frame discussions of search engine marketing around the bigger picture. The way it adds up, we'll all enjoy the better view.