Thursday, March 08, 2007

SEM—It’s More Than Just Paid Search

Why is it more typical than not that I spend the first few minutes of my initial meetings with potential clients recalibrating them to understand that there is more to SEM than just paid search?

Is it because so many people in this industry keep erroneously referring to paid search, or search engine advertising, as search engine marketing, or SEM? Why are they so willing to have that broad term serve just one master, paid search? Where does that leave search engine optimization (SEO), search engine reputation management, search engine PR, mobile search and search marketing avenues yet to evolve?

Could it be that marketing agencies—both interactive and traditional—and in particular, larger ones with extensive expertise in media buying--can’t figure out a business model for SEO and other SEM in their organizations? Could it be that they are happy to pretend other forms of search marketing simply don’t exist by omitting them from the industry vernacular? Are they intentionally misleading their clients because of their own inability to fully embrace all avenues of SEM?

Why would they misrepresent the SEM landscape that way? Well, here’s a theory: by pretending that paid search is all there is, agencies that can’t figure out how to do SEO profitably or who don’t have an infrastructure that supports the factors required to hire, retain, and grow optimizers who are really worth their weight in gold, downgrade its relevance and value, and count on uninformed clients to let them get away with it.

Yet, according to a recent survey published by SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), SEO is a growing discipline, with two-thirds of advertiser respondents saying they expected to spend between 10% and 50% more on organic SEO in 2007 compared to 2006

That same study indicated that 20% of marketers are shifting advertising dollars away from traditional print media to SEO and SEA, with other forms of media also losing out to SEM in varying degrees.

Could it be that media buying agencies are trying to grab onto the piece of the search engine environment most familiar to them? Does this leave them inclined to communicate to their clients and prospects that paid search is all that really matters? That SEO can’t be tied to orders (not true)? That the search engines don’t like SEO (not true)? That SEA is what really drives sales (not true)? That SEO is only good for sites for researching information (not true)?

Picture any mega agency—you know them all. Just pick one. Can you picture such an agency telling a super-brand client that it doesn’t need an integrated marketing mix? Toss out PR, direct mail, Web and FSIs. All you need is advertising—TV and print? Of course not.

Take your imagination a step further: would any leading agency advise a client that advertising is the only kind of marketing there is—that nothing else plays a critical role? If anything, today we all know the marketing mix is incredibly integrated and interdependent.

So, once more…if advertising isn’t the only kind of marketing you do outside of search, why would it be the only kind of marketing you do in it?

Search Engine Marketing—it’s more than just paid search.

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