Search Engine Marketing vs. Search Marketing

I just printed the 2010 SEMPO State of Search Engine Marketing Report, and it’s a whopping 110-pages long. If you want to know what your competitors and colleagues are thinking and doing, it’s a great read, and could make the difference between success and failure for your campaigns and initiatives this year. The survey report and results were made available at no cost to SEMPO members and those who responded to the survey. In addition, the report can be purchased here, so if you want one you’ll have to decide whether to join SEMPO or, for a bit less money, get the report from Econsultancy. (As a SEMPO board member, you can guess my recommendation.)

By the way, to avoid any potential confusion, I’d like to point out that due to the timing of the report this year, the SEMPO research committee called it a 2010 report because the data was collected primarily in 2010, unlike prior years when data was gathered late in the year prior to release. However, the longitudinal data is still fairly accurate, even though it looks like SEMPO skipped a year if you look at prior results. It was more of a naming convention.

Take the ‘Engine’ Out of SEM

Before looking at some highlights of the report, I’m compelled to rant on an issue that I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s time we kill the word “engine” in the phrase “search engine marketing.” Why? Many of the forms of search marketing that we as marketers engage in are in fact now independent of the SERP (define), and even of the search engines themselves. So, we must broaden the definition of search marketing to include all forms of marketing, media, or advertising that capture consumers who have recently expressed either search intent or a desire to learn more about a specific subject or keyword. Every year, more and more dollars will flow into forms of search marketing that extend beyond the SERP.

This of course creates a quandary for the acronym “SEM.” Assuming we want to keep this acronym, we as an industry need to clarify that SEM (define) signifies not just PPC (define) search, but is in fact a term that includes all forms of search marketing: organic SEO (define), social media search marketing, PPC search advertising, directory advertising, Internet yellow page advertising, comparison shopping engines, search-behavior driven display advertising, video search advertising, etc. Ironically, one of the areas of search marketing that is perhaps furthest from “pure search” is contextual keyword-driven advertising, something that has been included by most marketers within the definition of SEM, mostly due to Google being the primary supplier of contextual text-link, keyword-driven ad placements with its AdSense for the Google Content Network.

Yet, even in the instance of AdSense, one can make the argument that when advertising is charged on a CPC (define) basis, the consumer has telegraphed search intent based on the combination of context (driven-off keywords, phrases, and concepts) and the fact that the consumer chose the ad by clicking on it (thereby demonstrating clear curiosity about what lies on the other side of the ad).

Where does it stop? Is all advertising that results in curious consumer behavior search? Clearly not, and the lines are going to remain fuzzy for some time, particularly given that even printed yellow page directories could easily be defined as search marketing under a strict definition of “search.” On a side-note, the day I wrote this column I got an e-mail notification that Yahoo is shutting down YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network) – its attempt at a self-serve contextual ad platform for publishers. I don’t doubt that the upcoming Microsoft integration has something to do with this announcement.

Highlights of SEMPO’s Annual Report

Now let’s take a closer look at the SEMPO report that got me thinking about the boundaries of SEM. Since Google’s Q4 numbers have been available for a while, it should come as no surprise that the search industry (where revenues are made up primarily of PPC search advertising) has grown, even in 2009, when the economy took a severe beating. Paid search wasn’t the only form of search marketing to grow, and (per my earlier point) because more forms of marketing are being classified as search marketing, the growth came from experimentation in these new areas as well.

The key takeaway from SEMPO’s State of Search Engine Marketing Report is that the North American search engine marketing industry is estimated to grow 14 percent, from $14.6 billion in 2009 to $16.6 billion by the end of 2010. Clearly, some of this growth will be accomplished more easily because 2009 was a slower year of growth than prior years (8 percent).

Bottom line: if you expect to coast though the year with less competition in the paid search markets, clearly you are mistaken. You had better have your teams and resources ready.

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