SEM Is Dead – Long Live ’Find’ and ’Influence’ Marketing

The term “search engine marketing” has long been too narrowly defined.

Many people consider search engines to be the big three (soon to be the big two) engines, Google, Yahoo, and Bing, plus a couple of other vertical search properties or smaller engines such as Reality is, most consumers search all day long, looking for information (often very specific, highly targeted consumer-oriented information). They not only use specialty search engines such as YouTube (video), but also search functions on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, comparison shopping engines (CSEs), eBay, Amazon, Internet yellow pages, and even search functionality within sites (their own or other content sites). One can argue that navigating through links of all types is also a type of quest for additional topical information driven by desire which ranges from browsing to seeking.

Therefore, the term “search engine marketing” is rapidly becoming passé, and it’s time we begin to think more broadly about what we really want to achieve with consumers, which I’d suggest is:

  1. To have our information found, whether on our sites or elsewhere within the Internet ecosystem (or to have other positive information about us found)

  2. To have consumers notice and engage in that information and content
  3. To have consumers trust that this content is accurate
  4. To have consumers become informed and positively influenced by our information (or information we have blessed)
  5. To have the influence manifest itself measurably in a way that we can tie this influence back to the marketing or media which imparted it

In effect, what we really want is to have influential content found and consumed by consumers, thus increasing the odds that consumers choose our brand, product, or service. Such actions may include registration, “following us,” “liking us,” or otherwise sharing their online identity with us.

That’s a huge evolutionary leap from simply showing up in the SERP (define). What’s really interesting, however, is that the vast majority of content types we want consumers to interact with are indeed showing up in the SERP at times, including:

  1. Wikis
  2. Tweets
  3. Facebook information (groups, profiles, etc.)
  4. LinkedIn content, including not just personal profiles, but their answers and company profiles
  5. Review sites and blogs
  6. Mobile-only content

At all of these locations, the best way to capture the consumer’s attention is through keyword-based-targeting. In the SERP, the keyword is searched by the consumer. But in many of these other environments, the keyword is the means to an end. Keywords describe the content or, in some cases, a consumer’s interests. For example, Facebook ads are keyword-driven, and while the consumer behavior isn’t “search behavior” per se, the profile pages and other pages on the Facebook site are targeted based on interests the consumer has shared with their friends and (via a liberal privacy policy), with Facebook itself. Plus, Facebook and Twitter are now being indexed in real time by search engines, which means that your social media strategy has implications with respect to the SERPs at the major search engines. Social media advertising will also continue to be keyword-driven, both with respect to status updates (and tweets), as well as based on the interests shared by social media participants.

If we can’t get our brands and appropriate content found, we can’t win at marketing. The SERP is one way to gain access to the consumer, but consumers are spending less time searching within the big search engines (as a percentage of their overall time online), based on data from comScore, Nielsen, and other data providers. To win, our strategies need to expand to encompass the broader ecosystem.

Contextual-keyword advertising has long been a sister form of marketing to PPC (define) search engine advertising. As consumers engage in broader forms of online content consumption, expect to see a broader set of options emerge for advertisers, each of which is triggered by keywords in order to put our content and our brands in front of consumers within a relevant setting. Google’s AdWords interface will continue to be a gateway to many of these advertising opportunities, as will Microsoft’s aptly named adCenter. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other major platforms (including, quite possibly, one from Apple) will join the search engine ad interfaces as purveyors of keyword-targeted advertising.

My team and I look forward to testing the various forms of keyword-targeted media and becoming great “find” and “influence” marketers in the larger world that lies beyond the orthodox definition of search engine marketing.

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