Search And Destroy

If this column comes across as controversial, that was not my intention. If it is read with skepticism, I respect you and ask for your open mind. The following is based on my intuitive sense for selling advertising at rates that match the equity created building a content brand.

I think the business of search is destroying the advertising business -- and content publishers are unaware they are active accomplices in their own demise.

I understand the crutch of generating monthly revenue without making a sales call, or the pressure to keep the lights on, for that matter, but whether you are making $3,000 a month or $30,000 from search-driven revenue-sharing agreements (like Google AdSense, for example), dollars earned this way appear to help your bottom line but make far less sense underneath the surface.

Like a Trojan horse, search continues to inject a direct-marketing principle into the business of advertising. Search shouts "No action, no charge" to advertisers because in part, they did not invest of themselves in producing the content assets that corral the consumer attention advertisers seek. They just built a better way (but not the only way) to find what you, the publisher, created. By allowing a search company to farm out real estate on your site on a cost-per-action basis, you further promote this principle that flies in the face of the business you are in -- selling advertising.



Advertising is like a construction business, only instead of buildings, it is tasked to build brands (many say advertising must sell products, but my assertion is that without a brand you have little to sell, and a "bigger brand" allows you to charge more when your product or service is purchased). According to Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, a brand is "a consumer's gut feeling about a product, service or company."

The consumer attention publishers cement with the content they produce forms a foundation advertisers must acquire for these gut feelings to occur. Publishers must charge for this "material" -- which means that every impression an advertiser makes, regardless of the size of the advertiser, the size of the ad or the response of the consumer, must be paid for.

As a publisher, your tireless efforts are spent accruing consumer attention bound by the credibility of your content. This takes a continuous investment, regardless if you are Time magazine, or a blog that takes a lot of your time to update. When you allow advertisers access to the attention you earned without charging an entry fee, you are diminishing the value of what you produce.

Consumers inherently understand their attention is for sale in exchange for the content with which they engage, but they also know when they are being sold cheaply. A box filled with text links lacks subtlety and causes your audience to question your motives, while cheapening the feel of your property. If you don't agree, go to Now picture that site with a Google AdSense box of text links on it, and tell me how that visual affects the site's perceived value.

Search and ROI are synonymous, which makes sense in the direct marketing business but is a nightmare for content publishers who sell advertising. I read a recent column that insisted publishers should focus further on their advertisers' ROI. What about the publisher's ROI? Way too much responsibility for advertisers' ROI is placed on the shoulders of publishers selling online advertising, and not enough is placed on the ad creative.

Additionally, it is unnatural for content publishers to "focus further" on losing the consumer attention they spend days, nights and years trying to obtain. Monetarily benefiting from transferring this attention is counterintuitive to a publisher's business, but it aligns perfectly with --- the business of search.

The more cost-per-action advertising is promoted, the more search companies stand to gain. It's naïve to think ad dollars won't migrate further -- to risk-free investments -- as long as they are offered. So why, as a publisher who sells advertising, would you want to help that cause? I know it's "easy money" running search ads on your site sold by someone else, but easy isn't better. If you publish a blog that has drawn in the loyal attention of 1,000 people, then find an advertiser who cares as much about those people as you do and sell them an uncluttered, display-centric sponsorship.

Search will encounter problems. Click fraud isn't going away and underneath that surface are all of those "wasted clicks" that eat into advertisers' budget and will eat away at their enthusiasm for search. But as long as publishers continue to aid in the promotion of a business they are not in and worse, compete with, search will continue its dominance, while content publishers battle on, unaware they are in a fight.

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