I sit on the board of a local organization called Boston Interactive Media Association (BIMA). Last week we had an event entitled "Demystifying Search Engine Marketing." In attendance were planners/buyers, vendors, search firms, and clients alike. A few years ago we had a similar event. I forget the exact title but it was something like, "Why rankings aren't enough." Back then few people were talking about search. And those who did focused solely on search engine optimization (SEO). Such efforts were to drive traffic to websites.

Search has gone from a couple of guys running a business in their basement to just about everyone talking about it, trying to understand it, implement it, and perfect it. In a matter of no time, SEO has transformed the industry into a new service offering entirely devoted to search efforts. You may have heard one of my "Rules of Connection" before: "It's not about traffic, it's about qualified traffic."

For instance, Paul Sonderegger, principal analyst at Forrester Research, was on the panel last week. He eloquently illustrated the fact that SEM is an art more than a science. He made the crowd aware of the fact that no one searches the same way. The bulk of keywords we buy or consider buying for our campaigns might very well be wrong. He told a story about an American furniture company that wanted to make customers aware of its waxes and polish. He then recapped what happened when all of a sudden this company realized they were getting an inordinate amount of traffic from Poland. Think about it: You may think someone would type in polish when they are really typing in Polish.



Most of the panelists seemed to agree on overall principals and questions asked by the audience. However, I noticed a common thread: everyone seemed to throw out the acronym ROI (return on investment) whenever they could. It seemed to be the overall disclaimer: "well, it depends on ROI." Search yields ROI? While I certainly agree that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, I blatantly disagree with these statements in the context that they were delivered. In addition, I understand why no one wants to be the guinea pig by sharing his or her coveted metrics goals, but I think we really need to be careful that we are not hanging our hat.

Lest we forget online advertising back almost a decade ago, the entire industry began and continued to sell the discipline by numbers alone. Since then we have grown up. Let's face it, numbers are important. We look at numbers of visitors to our sites, numbers of unique users, time spent per session, and the number of times users type in given keywords to find a destination online.

What we need to focus on is uncovering the lifestyle and user habits of our respective prospects. SEM certainly represents the we-fear-what-we-don't-know mindset, but start by relaxing. There are many of us who have been doing this stuff for years. Learn from our mistakes. Do a search on search! There's a ton of stuff written about the discipline, practical application, do's and don'ts, and the like. If you have questions, comments, tips and tricks, post them on the Spin Board. Talk to the sales reps at search firms. They have a ton of information and intellect. Most are not shy and most want users to have the most relevant experience. They won't steer you wrong.

Also, you probably know more than you think you know about search.

Consider this scenario: Maybe you are representing a CPG company that is targeting busy moms. Talk to them. Don't muck up the strategy of your campaign by online advertising myths and mumbo jumbo. Ask a woman how she finds the right baby food. She'll tell you. And afterall, it may not be "turkey dinner" it could very well be just plain ole "baby food."

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