A few years ago, when I was a little bit younger (but apparently a lot dumber), I got myself into hot water with some colleagues when I said I didn't think search was all that strategic.
I was happy to grant that search was effective and efficient, but despite its clear importance, search at that time seemed very prescribed: optimize the site, develop the keyword list, test ad copy, manage bid position, and on down the line. There were a set number of levers to pull, and the search craft was about doing the best possible job within those tight parameters.
Well, I was probably wrong even back then, but imagine my surprise to realize that I now find search really interesting and, um...strategic. In fact, I don't think you can be truly successful in search unless you have a thoughtful, integrated strategy in place.
That's because search has gone from a discipline with two primary activities (paid and organic) that were fundamentally about optimization to a discipline that now has at least five core activities (paid and organic, plus video, Twitter, and social graph), with the three newest additions driven by content development and relationships, in addition to optimization.
Video and Search
It's become an often-quoted statistic that YouTube is now the number two search engine. Makes sense, given the vastness of the library and the pace at which it expands. But what's even more interesting is the type of content that users are searching for, beyond sources of entertainment. The impressive rise of Howcast seems to validate the fact that consumers are looking to video to answer any and all queries.
If video search is a fast-growing consumer behavior, it means that brands need to have a plan for video content creation and distribution. There needs to be stuff for people to find when they search. So what starts as a question about how to be competitive in video search, quickly turns into a conversation about what video content a brand should create. Useful videos that help consumers use your product? Entertaining videos that hopefully get passed along? Both?
Twitter and Search
The recent announcements that both Google and Bing will be including tweets in their search results has a similar implication for brands. It means that in order to fully compete within search, the brand needs to have a Twitter strategy in place. Previously, marketers could make the argument (right or wrong) that Twitter wasn't a good fit for their brand, characterizing it as an insular community of early adopters.
But now that Twitter has found its way into search results, it has been unlocked and gone mainstream. If it's the case that "your brand is what Google says it is," and Google is brimming with tweets about your brand, then getting active on Twitter just got bumped to the top of the to-do list.
The Social Graph and Search
Related to Twitter search, but a degree or two apart from it, is the broader category of social search: enter a query and see what your social graph (defined as the social networks you list on your Google profile) has to contribute on the topic. Google's new social search feature has one big gaping hole in it at the moment -- no Facebook -- but I'd bet that this will change soon.
In describing its rationale for including Twitter in its results, Google said that "comprehensiveness" is a business imperative; if Google is committed to social search, then the comprehensiveness mandate would certainly require Facebook's inclusion. The implication for brands is the same for Facebook as it is for Twitter: if you take the leap of faith that Facebook results will become more and more prominent in social search, then a Facebook strategy (focused on generating actively positive fans) becomes an imperative.
Aside from the new ways that consumers are using search (video) and the new content being included in search (Twitter and social graph), in the background we have improved analytics that show how search works in concert with display. Many marketers have been thinking about cross-channel attribution in a sophisticated way for years, but it's encouraging to see a broader industry interest in the topic, as evidenced by Forrester's recent Wave on the topic.
So, here we are. To win in search today means that you have to deliver on efficiencies as outcomes, same as ever, but also create and distribute video content, establish a Twitter (and probably Facebook) presence, and measure across channels. Now that's strategic.
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