You Say Search, I Say Query

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

In my last column, I asked the search marketing community to resolve to be consistent with verbiage in the year ahead. It's hard enough to keep up with (and explain) evolving algorithms and best practices, much less all the various buzzwords and search-isms being thrown around.

Search media, search network, search technology, search retargeting, search analytics -- it seems the word "search" is being appended to every marketing platform to capitalize on its growing popularity and effectiveness.

As the applications of search marketing grow and seep into different media channels and technologies, I believe the term "search" is now too big of a catchall to be really meaningful.

As such, I want to more closely examine the root of search and what it has come to mean to marketers. In turn, I'd like to introduce the concept of query marketing as a platform centered around consumer-initiated queries.

At its core, search refers to an individual's behavior. A query is a manifestation of that behavior.

When an individual is searching for something through a digital platform, he/she submits a query.

When all is said and done, it is the query that becomes immediately actionable for marketers, not the search.

Today, queries are being submitted on computers and cell phones at rapidly growing rates. And not just at search engines -- at video sites, newspaper sites, music sites, etc. Tomorrow, queries will be submitted on radio and television in much the same manner via TiVo, Comcast, and, eventually, through content publishers themselves.

As we know, Google is leading the charge to make all content digital and, thus, searchable. And it's likely that Google technology will someday span all media platforms. This is another reason why I'm pushing for the differentiation between search and query marketing.
Google has become synonymous with search -- both from a marketer standpoint and a consumer standpoint. I can't tell you how many times clients have asked for a POV and budget reco on a new Google platform, assuming it will fall under our domain simply because "it's Google" and we're that marketer's search agency. And, try as it might, Google has been unable to get consumers to stop saying things like, "I Googled it on Yahoo."

But just because Google does it, doesn't make it search. DMarc and Google Print are two great examples. These are not search propositions. Neither is the rumored development of a Google digital billboard network or the potential Google in-game ad platform. Yes, these can be relevant, efficient advertising vehicles but they do not involve queries and, therefore must be treated differently than how "traditional" search platforms have been managed to date.

As I've discussed in previous columns, what has made search marketing so powerful to date is its ability to marry proactive consumption with mass customization, instant point-of-need direction and dynamic, performance-based pricing. DMarc and Google Print can only check two of these boxes. Ads in these environments are not consumer-initiated -- there is no query -- and cannot instantly direct a consumer to a point-of-brand interaction.

Despite these differences, my hunch is that these platforms will be quickly adopted under the umbrella of search marketing, and planned and executed by search marketers and search agencies solely because they are Google products.

So, rather than fight the battle to define what is and isn't search, I'm focusing instead on carving out the practice of query marketing.

To be clear, I'm not passing judgment on the viability of a search marketing landscape inclusive of platforms like dMarc or Google Print. In fact, I think those opportunities will prove to be very effective for marketers. I am just emphasizing the importance of distinguishing the facets of the emerging search world that are triggered by a query versus those that aren't.

I know that many folks probably aren't ready to start flying the query banner after years of hard work pounding the word "search" into the heads of everyone in the marketing world. However, if we sit back and let search be defined as "everything Google does," we risk losing sight of one of the core competencies of search marketers -- the ability to translate queries into action.

Those search marketers that define their core capabilities as the ability to manage an open-auction marketplace or place contextually relevant media are welcome to continue marching behind the search marketing mantra and follow Google into all its new ventures.

Everyone else is welcome to join me on the query marketing train. All aboard!


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