Enough With Theory And Hyperbole!

"Search is great! It's the best form of advertising, with the lowest return point. It can build brands and create interest, intent and be point of sale. In short, search is the revolution and the future."

That's a summation of the search marketing community's view of itself, its impact and the "value" of search. While we all love to drink the Kool-Aid, it's important to remember that for a numbers-driven industry, we sure seem capable of producing theory briefs and POVs that have limited data to substantiate those feelings. I think it's finally time to define what this industry should be and what marketers (both agency and client alike) should not settle for with search programs.

Whether it's using jargon such as "symbiotic relationships" or "brand awareness," the industry has latched onto certain phrases that convince marketers to increase online, search-specific marketing budgets.

Yet for all of this talk and rhetoric, we are still a bit ahead of ourselves. As an industry, there is confusion around conducting a true search brand awareness study. But that doesn't seem to deter some SEMs, who gladly refer to the concept of measuring brand awareness as a "soft" metric.



Bill Bass, former vice president and general manger of Sears Customer Direct, once said, "When someone starts talking branding, hide your wallet." I'm not trying to devalue search's place, nor the merits of brand building and increased awareness. But search lacks proven control studies that other media have developed. As an industry that wishes to move beyond the "lowest ROI vehicle" proposition, we must push vendors, clients and ourselves deeper into this discovery phase.

Search marketers are heralding various tools and technologies for their ability to integrate into dashboards and analytics platforms. They champion this as a great value because it allows them to consolidate, plan and execute all searches with an infinite amount of keywords. This focus on the long tail often comes at the expense of the proper management of the head--and of the human interaction needed to effectively succeed in the search space.

In addition, the newest buzz words--"holistic" and "integrated"--refer to the ability to look at all aspects of a search program in one location rather than as siloed programs. The goal is greater efficiencies, singular tracking and better strategy, with the ultimate payoff being the ability to link back into the overall marketing plans. However, these terms are code for business consolidation, not real progress. Many in our industry would rather theorize that a holistic campaign will show substantial ROI lift in the pitch process, rather than prove they have done it successfully in the past.

So, why is this still happening? Because what I've described is the hard work of search. But the marketers who win long term will be the ones who will demand this.

Call me crazy, but for an industry that stormed the castle looking for respect and has gained a seat at the grown-ups' table, it's time we start pushing clients--and ourselves--to stop settling for supposition and theories and start producing results-driven stories based on data we have readily available.

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