SEMs: Your Days Are Over (Not)

Search-Specific Agencies Fight for Survival from MediaWeek comes away from the SES NY show earlier this month with this frightening sounding conclusion: "Many SEMs also likely wondered whether the event might be their last trip to New York."

What's up? Interactive and traditional media agencies will buy everyone up, that's what. As I've written before, I have a bet going with a friend that this will NOT happen, and I'm sticking with that.

Yep, there's going to be more acquisitions as we've had in 2004. Yep, interactive and traditional firms will grow capabilities. But there will be plenty of space I feel for search-specific shops. That's especially true when you consider there are lots and lots of firms that are small, that serve a particular niche, a particular location or clients that simply cannot afford nor want the cost of a big agency to do the job.

One search marketing firm's CEO is quoted as saying SES will be really different next year, with the suggestion being it will be all agencies at that point. Hey, I've been to them all since they started. Change is par for the course. But I'm happy to wager there will still be plenty of independent search marketing firms out there. Maybe fewer, and maybe the agency presence will be stronger. But don't also forget that there's been a bigger change at the conference that the article doesn't mention -- significant growth in those who do SEM work in house for their companies. The in house SEM contingent has grown and grown.

By the way, at our SES Chicago show in December, someone asked me if it made sense to start referring to search engine marketing as just search marketing. I agreed, as did the room full of people at the forum where it was raised.

I've actually already been doing this slowly over the past year, saying search marketing rather than search engine marketing, which I started using as an umbrella term back in 2001 (see Congratulations! You're A Search Engine Marketer! and Search Engine Marketing: You Like It, You Really Like It.

I still prefer the acronym SEM for the activity of search marketing, however. Saying SM sounds odd. SEM is also used as shorthand for the firms involved in search marketing: SEMs. I've been wondering if perhaps another shift is in order here, such as SMAs (for search marketing agencies) or just saying "search agencies" might make sense.

What about SEO and SEOs? I still use those terms and will continue to do so for activities specifically about getting better "free" or "organic" or "natural" listings on search engines and for firms that only do that. My Intro To Search Engine Submission explains this a bit more, plus how search marketing is the combination of many activities involved with getting search-targeted traffic.

Want to comment? Join our forum thread, Will SEM exist 3 years from now?