Monday was what some would consider a manic day following a highly eventful week. As I read through Monday’s headlines I found four stories that I feel have long-term implications for the search marketing community. Several hours into the writing of it, I realized it was going to run several thousand words so I decided to break it up into two sections. The first section focused on the two negative aspects of our industry both of which stem from SEO practices considered to be less than ethical in the minds of many in the search marketing community. The points I was trying to make are fairly simple. The biggest challenge faced by the search marketing industry comes from the ranks of rogue search marketers but Google is attempting to crack down on them. It is a good thing Google is taking steps to crack down on SEOs who work to exploit Google’s weaknesses instead of simply employing its strengths. Someone has to take action and the SEO community resembles a dysfunctional social club when it comes to any form of self-regulation. Ironically, the SEO sector’s greatest strength is about to become its greatest weakness. Our greatest strength is that our services are extremely interesting. SEO and SEM produce successful results and unquestionably increase website traffic and revenues. Naturally, before a group of people are prepared to drop a few billion bucks here and there, they want to have a good sense of what they are spending it on and with whom they are spending it. That accounts for the increased scrutiny faced by the industry, which in turn accounts for the tone of the Newsweek article reported on in the first half of this piece. Search Engine Optimizers, as one of the knowledge based sectors whose work directly affects the general public, have a public relations management problem. It is in fact our greatest collective weakness. We have been courting this problem for several years, seemingly in the vain hopes it would simply go away before it one day becomes a survival issue for ethical players in the industry. I suspect that day came Monday.
A vast ocean of money is coming into the search marketing sector. Much of it is being funneled in from radio, print and television advertising budgets. The people who make those budgets have been marketing products to the people for so long traditional marketing is considered an often grotesque but fine science. While the adage, “information is power” might have come from the mouth of a military mind; marketers understand that the knowledge of ways to use information is what makes information useful.
A report,”The Changing Face of Advertising in the Digital Age” issued late last week by Parks Associates, notes online advertising spending will double by the year 2010 to account for over 10% of the general advertising market. The report also found that nearly 21% of Internet users considered Internet advertising as the most relevant ad format, outscoring radio, newspapers and magazines.
A good portion of this growth can be attributed to Overture (now Yahoo Search Marketing) and Google’s AdWords. While organic search is less expensive and proven to convert more traffic than PPC does, the PPC model is easy to understand and offers quantifiable results. Suddenly, traditional marketers “got it” when presented with a system that delivered promised results, could be easily explained to clients, and did not require a deep tech background to understand.
What is simple to understand is that the Internet is the most efficient communications medium on the planet and search is the most efficient method of finding information on the Internet. Something a little more difficult to understand but instinctually compelling for advertisers is the ability to track information as it passes through the Net. Everything is recorded online. The fact you are reading this article and how much time you spend reading it is being recorded at Google, MSN, Yahoo, Amazon, and a host of other information brokers too numerous to mention. Where you go, what you do, and the patterns you form in doing whatever it is you are doing online is of enormous interest to the major search engines. The only thing that isn’t known about everyone with absolute certainty is exactly who is conducting which session. The major search engines can only match registered users to specific user-sessions.
The reason they want to know as much about the individuals using their systems as possible is, the more the search engines know about you and your web surfing habits, the better they can serve personalized advertising to you. At the Search Engine Strategies Conference held last week in Chicago, MSN demonstrated a long awaited feature of its paid placement and contextual ad delivery program, adCenter demographic targeting.
Imagine running a PPC campaign bidding on over 10,000 keywords or phrases. The expenses of serving so many ads every day to consumers who’s only pre-qualification was they typed keywords into a search window or were looking at a document with those keywords in it. While slightly more focused than television or print advertising, it is obvious the PPC campaign will be serving ads to many viewers who are not interested in the product. What if you could specifically tailor the delivery of those ads to target viewers by age, income, or social interest? Chances are the number of click-throughs that actually convert into a sale will rise dramatically. That’s the thinking behind personal targeting and, given the extreme competition between search firms, it is only a matter of time before Google and Yahoo follow suit.
Contrary to stereotype, the vast majority of lawyers enter the legal profession because they truly love the convoluted nuances of the law. Did you know that most used-car salespersons want to give you a good deal and do not want to sell you lemons? Would you believe that most politicians run for office because they truly care about their communities? Even though the vast majority of SEO and SEM shops run honest operations and act responsibly with their clients, a few not-so-ethical SEOs can make the rest of us look like, well, lawyers, politicians and used-car salespersons in the under-informed public eye. The only things left to wonder about is how long mainstream advertisers will trust us with their dollars and, if not us then whom?
The SEO/SEM PR problem might seem a molehill to some but it is wise to remember that any sudden influx of money will naturally create inflation. Our molehill is quickly growing into a mountain, just in time for those of us who want smaller SEO firms to thrive and survive to push a very heavy rock up.
The harshest aspect is, those damaging the reputations of honest SEOs by using the knowledge to spam search rankings don’t need to care if the small business SEO and SEM shops are replaced by the larger corporate ad agencies. They are, for the most part, working to promote their own reference based businesses. If not, they are almost certainly working in the ultra-competitive worlds of casinos and adult entertainment.
That’s why I think the recent moves by Google to chase after black-hat SEOs and improve user experiences in their PPC offerings is a signal that a significant shake-up is coming in the SEO industry. The movement has actually already begun with many noted black-hats adopting non-spammy technique in the wake of the Jagger updates. The search marketing industry is changing and that change appears to be for the better. Hopefully, that will translate into better coverage and reporting that digs deeper than the Newsweek article printed on Monday.