Don't Hate Search

I Hate Search from David Cohen at ClickZ posits the self-admitted conspiracy idea that if search engines made free listings better, then ads wouldn't be so lucrative. No, that's not the reason paid ads are so effective, plus paid search isn't exactly the inhuman, uncreative open auction model that he thinks.

Let's start with the conspiracy theory. Paid search ads are effective because, as I've talked about before, search engines are a reverse broadcast system where consumers are broadcasting exactly what they want to advertisers. Search marketers are smart enough to tune in and deliver up something that matches. It's a connection unlike most other advertising mediums except for really the yellow pages industry.

Yes, free listings can always be made better. But if you really wanted to deflect consumers into paid ads, you don't downgrade organic results. You simply put more paid listings in the "main" column rather than on the side. Indeed, Google just did that last month, putting three ads on top of free listings in certain circumstances, rather than just two.

But put too many ads up there, and unless the relevancy is always spot on, you risk losing users. That's one reason Ask Jeeves recently cut the number of ads it would display, sometimes up to 10 of them before showing regular results.

So skip the conspiracy theory, at least the idea that regular results might be reduced in quality just to push ads. That's just going to cost search engines users. Gary Stein does some further debunking here.

If you want a conspiracy theory, go with the one kicked off back during Google's Florida Update of 2003, where some wondered if Google was trying to make its free results more non-commercial.

Since that time, I've heard various search engines express the idea that they would like to see the free results be more non-commercial, or at least more about providing information rather than selling things. But it's clearly not completely that case. Take a search for ipod on Google. Yes, I get iPodHacks and Wikipedia and other news and information sites. But I also get everythingipod, "The Superstore for your iPod," coming up.

How about the concern David has that the open auction model of search means anyone can outbid you, and the relationship/clout you have with other ad sellers doesn't mean anything.

Part of me thinks, "Too bad!" I'm sorry if you the advertiser don't get to shove yet another ad I don't care about down my throat in search due to being cloutly-challenged. I get enough of that when I'm at the supermarket, watching TV, reading a newspaper and so on. You're often wasting your money, and if you're an agency, wasting client money, doing this.

Beyond this, he writes:

I don't know about you, but I always liked the "part art, part science" section of the business. I don't even want to think about being replaced by an open auction.

That's just not correct. Search is very much part art and part science. Doing well with even showing up with a Google ad is not entirely down to just spending enough money, since ads are not ranked solely on bid. MSN will be that way. Ask Jeeves is that way. Yahoo's going that way.

And what's the pitch in the copy? What's the landing page like behind that? Because if you aren't converting, you're not going to have the budget to convert. Again, as I wrote before, it's not just math and machines.

Let's be honest. I think what scares David and a lot of other non-search marketers is that money keeps flowing into search, and they may not understand the fundamentals of that medium.

Here's the good news. Other media will continue to have money come to them as well. Search especially isn't a good branding venue, as I've written before.

Here's the bad news. Those other media are going to be forced to be more accountable and they will continue to give parts of their money pie to search, since search remains largely undervalued and in demand. David understands this, as he says at the end of his column:

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to get over it. Despite my protests, our clients demand increasingly more of our digital media budgets go toward search-related spending. As a company, we're rapidly scaling our search practice to accommodate increased need.

Overall, don't hate search or be scared of it. Get educated and participate in the space!

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