The Secret of Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing has always played an important role in managing the visibility of a company’s brand online. But with the internet becoming the dominant medium today, search engine marketing has also risen to become a key driver in the company’s overall branding strategy. It is unfortunate that the maturity of products and services comprising disciplines related to search engines comes at a time when the industry has never been more complex and difficult to navigate. Although businesses today have many choices in terms of how they implement their search engine initiatives, I find that many marketing executives today struggle more with online marketing strategies than they did a few years ago. In today’s blog post, I will share my views on the current state of the search engine marketing industry.

My experience with search engine marketing is ahead of many in this field. In the mid-1980s, I co-founded what was at the time the largest web development company in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Subsequently, my partner and I sold that company to the world’s largest web enablement company where I stayed for a while as director of Internet strategy before leaving to found one of the top 50 interactive advertising agencies in the United States. At the 2006 Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Jose, California, it was evident that the industry had shown significant growth and had made tremendous progress in sophistication as well as in the diversity of product and service offerings currently available, but I wonder if things are getting better or worse for the consumer.

When speaking regularly with many senior executives, marketing professionals, and entrepreneurs, one thing is clear… they are clearly not very good at search engine marketing. While these professionals understand the potential that search engine marketing holds for their business, they don’t understand how to take advantage of it. In fact, many of the people I have spoken to are so frustrated with the sums of money they have invested in research initiatives without being able to develop an understanding of the broker that they are not yet able to develop a consistent winning strategy in this space.

The main problems that exist in the research industry are related to the fact that this is still an intermediate in the embryo stage. There are only so many ways to purchase advertising in more mature mediums such as radio or television. Compare this with the many options available to consumers and businesses looking to buy ads on the Internet: search engine optimization, pay-per-click, pay-per-call, pay-per-acquisition, sponsored ads, yellow web pages, Ezine ads, contextual advertising, inline ads, and pop-ups Pop-ups, banner service networks, directory ads, link farms, video ads, webinars, etc. Advertising media at the start of their lifecycle offers new opportunities faster than you can shake them up. Keep it up, with inexperienced sellers chipping in their teeth at the advertised nickel. Rarely a week goes by when I don’t talk to a company that has a horror story to tell about a search marketing company that has made over-promises and not delivered, and by the time the advertiser found out what was going on they had spent thousands of dollars with little to show for it.

Another problem in the search industry is that Google currently controls most of the traffic. Combine Google’s dominant position with the fact that they will share little, if any, data with advertisers and that they can change the rules of the game at any time, and this brings new meaning to the term “Flying Blind”. However, the issue of transparency in the search industry is not limited to Google. Most search engines play their cards close to the box as they try to set foot in the market. Until competitive pressure is put on Google, the odds stack up against the advertiser. I met a client last week who was spending 50% of their pay-per-click budget on Yahoo and MSN because the search marketing company recommended them. The problem is that given the advertisers’ product line and target market, Yahoo and MSN won’t actually generate any revenue…that’s a huge problem.

The truth is that the Internet is the medium that can deliver the most speed and the greatest return on your marketing dollars. I also believe this will remain the case because the dominance of the internet medium will only continue to widen the gap to alternative media. Companies can’t afford not to allocate a large portion of their advertising budget to online advertising, but until the medium matures, they will have to make sure they work with the best sellers who can keep up with the rapid pace of change in the industry.

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