Searches in Vegas, Stay in Vegas

By Matt Spiegel, CEO
Appeared in Search Engine Watch

Since I wrote my last column, I've spent most of my time in Las Vegas. My wife and I make an annual pilgrimage around this time of year for some good food, poker, and relaxation (yes you can relax while in Vegas). Knowing I'd have a deadline only 24 hours after getting back from Sin City, I took it upon myself to see how search (and specifically paid search listings) fit in with my Las Vegas interests. (Don't worry, this column's rated PG; after all, I did just tell you I was in Las Vegas with my wife.)

Vegas Offline: Marketing's Best

In so many ways, Las Vegas is the best-marketed city in the world. What's impressive about much of the marketing is that you really don't notice it's there. For instance, it's hard to find the exit in the casino but easy to find your way to the buffet. It's impossible to get to your hotel room without walking next to (if not through) the casino. The walkway to the next casino is lined with stores. And outside, it's one massive billboard.

So given the sophistication of Las Vegas marketing, I expected to find all the main casinos, restaurants, night clubs, and shows listed in paid search results. After all, the city basically prints money and spares few expenses. These businesses must use search marketing, right?

Well just like there's no sure thing in a casino, there's no sure thing when it comes to paid search utilization.

What Searches in Vegas Stay in Vegas

There are really two sets of potential searchers for Las Vegas information: Those planning a trip and those already on the trip (searching from Las Vegas). In either case, I expected to be looking for the same information. It would seem the fierce competition for my entertainment dollar would guarantee a wealth of ads to click on.

If any query would generate listings, I thought it would be for hotels. Aside from a select few, only aggregators have search listings. In four pages of paid search ads for my queries on both "Las Vegas hotel" and "Vegas hotel," I only found three specific hotel listings. Curious.

Treasure Island Restaurant Search

Our first night was a calm one this year. After getting up at 5 a.m. CST, come evening all we wanted was a nice dinner. We happened to already have reservations; nonetheless, query two: A test to find a restaurant.

Once again to my surprise, very few restaurants made the paid search results. If I wanted to avoid the aggregator sites, my only choices included a steakhouse and Treasure Island (TI).

Wait, TI is a hotel, not a restaurant. Well, quite impressively, TI uses paid search to market one of its restaurants. There was a customized creative message linked directly to the dining page of the site. Well done, TI.

Search Revues and Poker Ads

Day two, time to play some poker. Poker is hot, and I was sure the main casinos would be advertising their poker rooms and tournaments online.

Wrong again.

Not a single casino advertises their poker options via search. I guess the casinos expect I'd visit each of their Web sites. Strike two for most of the major casinos.

We didn't plan on catching any shows (Cirque, comedians, etc.); nevertheless, test three: Queries to find some entertainment. Again, I was stunned. It's not like Vegas shows are cheap. You would think they'd do some promotion. And I didn't just do general queries. In fact, it wasn't until I searched for a show by name that I found the casinos doing their own advertising.

Leaving Las Vegas

So what the heck does this all mean? Well for me, it was a reminder. There's still much work to be done to position search advertising as a no-brainer. It's our job as search experts to continue to push for that proverbial "seat at the table."

As a client said to me recently, "There's a lot of distance from good to great in this space." An apt quote -- I, for one, remain dedicated to innovations in search advertising, innovations that ensure "great" is achieved more often, and "good" is never good enough.


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