My expertise isn’t in the world of finance. In college, I had the option to major in finance or accounting. I soon realized I was better suited for the creative world of marketing. I consider myself a reasonably smart guy. Having been in business for a while and running my own business the last few years, I’ve picked up enough expertise in finance and accounting to be dangerous. Right about now you’re asking, “So what?”
The so what? Despite -- or maybe because of -- my background, I don't understand why there’s a desire to connect the core competency of search marketers to the expertise of a stock trader. There’s so much talk right now about portfolio management. Sure, it's a key fundamental, but not the defining component of search. I’m not blind; I see the obvious connection. Both areas of expertise require understanding how to buy and sell (or raise and lower bids) within a constantly changing open market system. If changing bids is the main objective of search marketers, I’m in the wrong field.
Auctioneers Need Not Apply
I’m not suggesting that an understanding of search marketing pricing models is irrelevant. However, an emphasis on bidding and pricing must be connected to more relevant and unique features of search advertising. The live auction system pervades media buying in areas other than search: display, television, radio, and other forms of media. Managing a live auction doesn’t make someone a search marketing expert. What best determines search marketer effectiveness? His or her understanding of the searcher.
The belief that changing bids is our core competency relegates search budgets to the back of the line. The typical question of senior level business executives ends up being: How much can I spend at a given cost-per-order or cost-per-lead? Focusing on bidding technology perpetuates a myth: Technology is all I need to succeed in search advertising without really trying.
Understand Searcher Behavior
If search advertising isn’t about the price of keywords, what is it all about? Seems obvious enough to me: the behavior of searchers. That means our expertise rests in understanding the intention behind the behavior. The best search marketers then turn knowledge into profit. Not long ago, marketers often bought keywords describing a specific make and model of a product. The ad would direct visitors from the targeted query to their homepage, or slightly better, the alleged “targeted ad” would lead consumers to a “deep selection of electronics.”
Neither of the above examples sound sophisticated. In fact, they aren’t, but I challenge you to have a discussion with someone who isn’t an expert in search advertising and see if they look at these examples as obvious best practices.
While the rest of the marketing world starts to learn the basics, search experts will force a significant shift in how companies bring their products and services to market. How? By focusing correctly on integrating query strategies into a marketer’s overall marketing plan.
About a year ago, Yahoo! released a study titled the “Long and Winding Road” (PDF download). The study focused on how consumers use search listings to research and buy products. A few stats showcase the potential of query-driven search marketing strategy:
- 40% of searchers reference online reviews (compared to 11 % for the next highest category).
- 36% of searchers post reviews (compared to 25% for the next highest category).
- Searchers on average consider 2.50 brands before purchase (compared to 1.80 for the next highest category).
These statistics begin to paint a picture of the searcher as a key influencer open to new information. The searcher who’s a key influencer feels strongly about sharing both positive and negative experiences. Given the increasing power of consumers to find and share information, can you think of a more important segment to target than this? I can’t. Therefore, our job as search marketers is to understand and leverage such statistics in order to best reach the qualified audience -- not to merely manage the ad buying process.
Drive Revenue and Profits
As search advertising experts, we need to demonstrate our ability to drive client revenue and profits (directly and indirectly) by targeting the query. I don’t like it when my company is called an “SEM agency.” That implies we’re focused on tactical execution of text listings on the major search engines. Take out the word “engine” and I’m getting more comfortable. The last thing I need to do: build a business that boasts online media buying as a core competency. Even technology can do that better.