Why Does Search Marketing Work So Well?

By Aaron Goldman, VP Marketing & Strategic Partnerships
Appeared In MediaPosts’s Search Insider

In my last two columns, I contemplated the future role of search in the online and overall media mix. In a world where all media are digital and all content is available on demand, search becomes vital for consumers, publishers, and marketers alike.

In trying to determine how advertising can best fit into this new environment and how search professionals can best prepare for this convergence, I think we need to do a deeper dive into why paid search work so well today.

While this may not be rocket science, I do believe the combination of the following features are unique to pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising and will dictate the formation of tomorrow’s marketing methods of choice.

Proactive Consumption

When people search, they are seeking out–and indicating an active interest in–specific content, products, and/or services. In turn, search marketers are able to reach consumers at the precise moment of inquiry, providing relevant content, products, and/or services that may be of interest to the searcher.

In this respect, search is truly a pull medium. The closest parallel in the media world is Yellow Page advertising–but “searchers” in that context are limited to pre-defined categories.

Mass Customization

With search ads, marketers can display a different listing to each consumer based on the perceived intent of his/her query. That customized message can include different brand attributes and calls-to-action to meet each specific search.

This differs from traditional online display ads or TV/radio spots where the same message is delivered to all consumers who happen to be viewing a Web page or viewing/listening to a certain channel at a certain time.

Instant Point-of-Need Direction

By using customized landing pages, search marketers can instantly direct interested consumers to a specific destination where they can present the information requested, engage the consumer with the brand, and entice a desired action.

Unlike other ad platforms where only one direction can be provided and the call-to-action cannot be completed until a later time (i.e. sending people to a brick-and-mortar store to redeem a coupon), search ads can immediately take consumers to a location tailored specifically to their query.

Dynamic Performance-Based Pricing

With PPC search, marketers can name their price in real time for each ad placement, and only pay for actual traffic delivered to their Web site.

A lot has been made in this space recently regarding auctions as a means for efficient media sales/buying. And, while auctions can certainly be a crucial component of successful advertising, it is the combination of an auction environment with the ability to change a bid at any time and pay only for completed consumer activity that truly sets search apart. Even with the e-Media Exchange, which brings an auction to “traditional” media, marketers will still have to pay for ad insertion (CPM) as opposed to ad performance (CPC/CPA) and it’s unclear how often marketers can update their bids.

So, as we think about search pervading traditional mediums in the coming years, how can we create advertising opportunities that incorporate the key features of search marketing as we know it today?

Put another way, to all my fellow search professionals out there–rather than trying to convince marketers to reallocate budget from TV and other platforms because search works so well, why not convince traditional media providers and publishers to redevelop their properties and platforms with the aforementioned attributes of search in mind so that all advertising will work well?

It’s clear that some search providers and search firms are already moving in that direction. My next column will explore the role of each of these constituencies in that process–and how some key players are leading the way.


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