Search is no longer just one thing. At minimum, it’s two things: organic and paid. But, as the marketplace that holds it has evolved, search is so much more.
It’s a composite of methods; it’s an ingredient; it’s a mechanic; it’s a mindset. While it’s not yet unrecognizable, even marketers who once deemed it a silver bullet or their performance-marketing drug of choice must acknowledge that we have somewhat moved beyond search in its pure form.
It’s ironic that the very folks who perhaps took a bit too long to adopt search marketing in the first place than they should have, and who now consider it a vital method, must accept its transformation. But, it’s clear: In order to compete, we must come to terms with what is starting to feel like a Post-Search world, as we raise the bar, yet again.
As we think about how to ready our minds, our muscles and our teams, it’s helpful to look at several aspects of the new reality — the truths of this Post-Search era.
1. Strong Search Is Always Integrated
We’ve covered this. It’s just true. In the Post-Search era, this is considered entry-level thinking. This is presumed: organic + paid, when strategically executed against your objectives, are a powerful blend.
You can achieve branding and direct performance goals on the paid side — with the right assessment of your keyword universe; well crafted, branded and/or action-driving titles and descriptions; well-chosen, merchandised landing pages; thoughtful inclusion of video, multi-media, downloadables; and selective use of engine- or publisher-side campaign options.
And, then, of course, you must implement skillful tracking, measurement, analysis and optimization of every available factor. Execution and analysis can and should be leveraged across the paid initiative and the continual environment optimization piece. So, in this robust form, search hardly looks like its earliest ancestors. From what it once was, it’s a transformed mix unto itself.
2. Social Is Becoming The Focus Of Plans
There are surveys done very year of media planners and buyers — polling them on which media types they plan to include in their plans for the coming year. Search has been topping these charts forever, especially when it comes to performance marketing.
Email and social have been right up there — again, not necessarily as a percentage of spend, but as an express intent to use or include — for quite a few years. But, search has always been first. However, at the same time, out in the market, anecdotally, we’ve been hearing agencies, marketing services companies and marketers themselves talk about how much more often social is driving their plans.
So, it was almost no surprise to read recently in Online Media Daily a summary of research released by Strata, the agency media software and processing firm owned by Comcast. This research showed that social has finally leapt to the level of search and is expected to soon race past display, as the “focus” by most media planners at agencies, when developing client media plans. After all, given their buying power, it is with this group that social has had to prove itself over the years.
From the piece:
“Social media has surpassed search, and is poised to overtake online display advertising as the No. 1 source of digital media planning and buying, according to the latest edition of a quarterly survey of U.S. advertising agencies. The survey […] found that 69% of agency executives now consider social the ‘focus’ of their digital ad spending — up 32% over the past year, and now a close second behind display (71%) as the dominant digital media-buying platform in the minds of agency executives.”
Planner preference absolutely gives us a sense of the industry. After all, agencies have so much influence over spending and common thought on media planning and buying practices and methods.
3. Search As Mechanic Vs. Total Environment
Marketers engaged with integrated planning — blending traditional, digital and then mulitiple platforms within digital, have seen a shift when it comes to the search option.
Within social environments and utility; on mobile devices, applications or within mobile campaigns; within today’s interactive high-engagement publisher environments, especially wherever localization is presumed — search has a more graceful, integrated presence than ever before.
Rather than standing alone as a stark function, or an environment of its own, it’s almost part of the operating system, an element on the dashboard for the individual navigating his or her day across platforms, environments and devices. It’s a smooth mechanical essential, an increasingly well-executed given.
4. The Influence Of Search On Display
The display renaissance we are seeing over the past few years can be largely credited to search.
As networks and exchanges have eventually yielded DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) and what is nothing short of a heyday for Real-time Bidding (RTB), we clearly see the influence of search.
Yes, display is at a certain creative height right now — with rich media, video, and engagement options being richer and slicker and easier to execute than they have ever been. But, that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about the marketplace for audience buying — and the bid-based systems and technology that make it possible. Our marketplace has become increasingly focused on selling and buying audience in this way — with more inventory being allocated and targeting opportunities and audience intelligence capabilities increasing every quarter.
As reported by MediaTrust in May, “International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts Real-time bidding, with the benefits it brings publishers and advertisers alike, will grow to a $5 billion business by 2015. US advertisers will spend just over $1 billion on display ads purchased through the channel, a tiny fraction of total online ad and total display ad sales. But this year’s spending represents a 203% increase over 2010.”
This is a whole new take on gauging consumer intent, profiling behavior, targeting and buying audience. And, it delivers scale, when well executed, with great efficiency — all music to marketers’ ears. And the talent who does best on the planning team, on the trading desks or generally on the front lines of automatic audience buying — are the folks who get math, embrace the bidding mechanic and otherwise operate from a demand-led search orientation.
Preparing For This Future
There is no great secret to getting ready for change. You can’t really prep for evolution. The key is to be aware of transformation in progress — to recognize and keep the operating principles and methods that have worked for you, but adjust your approaches as the context shifts. Search has been transformative:
- It gave us an appreciation for express consumer intent and demand.
- It proved an amicable and natural companion to other media types (social, mobile).
- Across channels, as they themselves evolved, it became a natural mechanical fit, nestling nicely into those.
- With its emphasis on data and analysis, it was an early case on the optimization imperative.
- And, when executed at scale — it showcased the brilliance and potential of a bidded marketplace.
Even if search no longer stands in the sunshine as a holy grail — as we move into what may very well be a Post-Search era, we owe it great thanks for where our industry has come.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.