Latest Search Trend: Less Than Optimal

When it comes to fashion, it's painfully obvious that I'm not exactly a trend-setting kind of guy. Coordinating my small repertoire of khakis, button-down shirts, and ties is about as advanced as I get. And what's more, my wardrobe changes about as much as the J Crew catalog. However, once in a while a new trend piques my interest. But whenever I stray from my regular duds and try a new "look," the results are... well, let's just say they're less than optimal. Invariably, I get the tell-tale silent, blank stares, and calls from the Fashion Police. It's like my wife always tells me, "Remember Rob, stay with what you know."

But trends don't just affect people. Businesses and entire industries can be susceptible to what's fashionable, and it appears that the search engine marketing industry is plagued with just that. What was in style yesterday gets turned inside out and becomes the hottest trend today. And as these trends swing left and right, some players sway with the latest just to be fashionable.



In fact, remember not so long ago when advertising agencies "got religion" about search marketing? As the medium became more pervasive and earned its stripes as a potent marketing channel, advertising agencies realized search would be key. This revelation gave birth to the build-or-buy trend, and ad houses scrambled to secure resident search engine marketing practices to extend their offerings. Along the way, they learned that search isn't something you can wing on the fly, or grow overnight. It requires dedicated resources with substantial knowledge and expertise.

Now it seems like the pendulum is swinging in the other direction--a reversal of sorts. Today's trend shows some search marketing firms trying to morph into interactive advertising agencies. Search-only shops are now extending their offerings to include various advertising disciplines beyond search, and positioning themselves amongst the interactive agency set.

My question is, why? The search marketplace has experienced explosive growth. And while we all couldn't imagine search getting more complex--it will. Consider all the ways the various search engines have extended their product offerings. Have you ever clicked on the "more products" link on Google and seen how many other ways you can use Google? There is local search, shopping search, image search, video search... well, you get the picture. It is a full-time job just keeping up with all these new products and helping marketers find ways to leverage them without trying become a full-service agency.

Given the landscape and the medium's inherent and ever-growing complexity, I just don't understand why some search engine marketing firms feel the need to become interactive agencies overnight. The largest ad agencies and interactive shops have been around longer than search has been a distinct category. What makes SEM firms think they can organically grow an in-house capability that is best of breed? Do they really expect to be able to deliver the same level of results that seasoned interactive agencies have been producing for their clients for years?

While it may be trendy right now, morphing a search engine marketing practice into an interactive agency overnight seems a stretch. And from where I sit, adding non-SEM disciplines will only dilute the effectiveness of a search offering, for today--more than ever before--marketers need knowledgeable and dedicated search practitioners intensely focused on the medium in order to deliver the best possible business results.

In the end, fashionable trends may come and go--even in search--but one thing remains the same: stay with what you know. Otherwise, the results could be...well, less than optimal.

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