What's The Point Of Search Marketing?

By Aaron Goldman
Appeared in Media Post's Search Insider

In my last column, I tried to put some context around future search innovation by asking, "What's the point of search?" Cribbing from Wikipedia's definition for matching theory, I landed on solving problems by using math or science to remove friction and create economically favorable outcomes for all. If this, indeed, is the point of search, then what's the point of search marketing?

Same Sh*t Different Day

Ultimately, all parties with a stake in search marketing -- consumers, advertisers, agencies, search engines, publishers, and tech providers -- are looking to create favorable economic outcomes. Consumers want to find good deals or content and will click on listings from brands that offer them. Advertisers want to drive revenue -- online, offline or both -- from paid and natural search efforts. Engines and publishers want to monetize all those queries. And agencies and tech providers want to profit by managing/automating search programs. So the point of search and the point of search marketing are clearly both about creating win-wins from a financial standpoint.

What about using math or science to solve problems and remove friction? Again, both "points" seem to be aligned here. Consumers search because they have a problem to solve and will tolerate search ads or natural listings as long as they're relevant and non-intrusive (read: frictionless). Advertisers, agencies, and tech providers use a blend of math and science -- although I'd argue there's some art in there, too -- to solve their problem of needing to drive revenue and would prefer to do that without friction (read: manual labor). Ditto for search engines and publishers.

One and the Same

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the very reason search marketing is the most powerful platform of them all -- the point (aka intent) of the consumer using the channel is perfectly aligned with that of advertisers and the rest of the marketing ecosystem looking to exploit, er, leverage the channel.

The same cannot be said for other forms of media:

TV: the problem consumers are trying to solve when flipping on the tube is typically boredom. Brands and ads aren't known for their ability to do anything about that, save one or two -- the irony with the latter, of course, is that it's consumer-generated.

Radio: same as TV with perhaps the occasional person in the car looking for traffic, sports, or weather -- not the stuff ads are made of. And the "natural listings" in radio are hardly non-intrusive -- "Today's weather is brought to you by the law firm of Ambulance Chaser, Chaser and Chaser. Have you been injured in a car accident? Call today."

Print: consumers are mainly looking for information and/or entertainment. Granted, some folks (my mom included) turn to print for deals from marketers -- but that's just on Sundays, when they dig through the coupons, a process which is certainly not without friction and involves very little math and science -- all apologies to Lester Wunderman.

Online video/display: again, the problem consumers have here is the need for information and/or entertainment. Banners and pre-rolls do not help fulfill these needs, though -- they only stand in the way of (or around) them.

And that Brings Us Back to Do...

And what of search? The problems consumers are trying to solve when they search range from information to entertainment to commerce to pure navigation -- the last two, of course, being key differentiators from the aforementioned channels. (And, before anyone dings me for not mentioning yellow pages -- yes, those books enable commerce and navigation, but does anyone really think they still have a shelf life?)

Meanwhile the solutions marketers have available to searchers include information, entertainment, commerce and, yep, navigation -- that is, as long as they're buying their brand terms!

So Now What?

If you caught the headline of this column and were hoping for some deep exploration of search marketing's branding and direct response attributes, I'm sorry to disappoint. Looking back on what I've written, the truth is there's really nothing all that revelatory here. You didn't need me to tell you that search is the most powerful marketing channel. Nor did you need me to tell you why -- in fact, I already did tell you nearly three years ago in my article, "Why Does Search Marketing Work So Well?"

That said, I did think a reminder was in order. As everyone goes ga-ga over Twitter and its prospects to be the killer search app, we have to consider if the point of the platform matches the point of the advertising. The problems people are looking to solve when using Twitter range from a need to share one's current status (you could be a Twitterebrity!) to asking for advice from peers to satisfying ADD. Of course, there's currently no advertising on Twitter; methinks that's because no one can figure out what the point of it would be, nor how it would provide a solution for overcoming ADD.

So how long will it be before a new digital platform emerges that truly intersects consumers' needs with advertising solutions? Call me crazy, but I have a hunch it's coming soon.


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.