Like most people, I hate being wrong. Let me correct myself: I hate being wrong. There is nothing worse than that sinking feeling when you realize whatever it was you were defending so vehemently is just flat wrong.
At that point, you only have two options: 1) hold onto your point, stick your head in the sand and admit nothing, or 2) swallow your pride, take your medicine and admit you were wrong. I like to think I am not wrong all that often, and despite what my fiancée might say, when I am, I like to think I am one who swallows my pride and admits it.
With that, I am taking a huge gulp of my pride with this month’s column. I was wrong, and I admit it.
Now, there are varying levels of being wrong. There is the “Cowboys are going to win a playoff game this year” kind of wrong (which I appear to be wrong on most of the time); then, there are the big ones that shake you to your core. In this case, I’m guilty of the latter.
A few months back, I wrote an article for Marketing Land called “Is The Art Of Paid Search Marketing Dead?” in which I foolishly suggested there was still a small bit of art left in search marketing. Art? Are you kidding me? Ugh. I haven’t been so wrong or felt so foolish in a long time. The truth is, there is no art in search and I believe we are moving to a time where there is very little marketing in search as well.
Paid Search’s Early Days
While I have always been one that longs for days gone by, I tend to do it with paid search more than other things (which makes me the nerdiest person alive). In the beginning, search was marketing. With almost no tools or automation, it was your job as the marketer to find the right keywords and phrases to match your customer with your campaign.
As the marketer, it was your job to develop and test creative that perfectly reflected your brand and distinguished it from everyone else’s ad. It was your job to comb through data to find the right position at the right time and place your perfect keyword and perfect description in front of a customer at the perfect time. You were, in fact, a marketer. You were creative and targeted, and you needed the same skills as a traditional ad person, but you had the added bonus of analytics to support your work. Needless to say, those days are long gone.
Paid Search Today
Today, the marketing aspects are all but gone from paid search. Don’t believe me? Try it. Here are the results for my recent search for [hotel near TCU campus]:
Keep in mind that I, the searcher, told “advertisers” the state, city, neighborhood and an interest of mine all in the search query. Of the 10 paid search ads I received (not counting the Google hotel search ads), only 3 even mentioned TCU — 2 were keyword insert, and one was an Ask.com listing.
At this point, you are likely so used to seeing a bunch of auto-generated, nearly identical listings that your brain is discounting this as “no big deal,” and you probably think that I should just get over it. While you are right, and I need to get over it, I still think it’s worth comparing these generic listings to the paid search ads of years past. When you look closely at paid search listings these days, you will notice a few things:
- There is little to no differentiation
- There is little targeting
- There are now advertisers that are simply “marketing” their site… which is a site of ads (Ask.com amongst others)
Are any of those good things? When you consider the points above, it is clear the “marketing” aspect of paid search is all but gone. We have automated, generic, blanket listings that are quite often less creative and targeted than yellow page listings. We have brands whose entire goal has shifted from marketing their brand and product to simply trying to protect it from JoeSchmo.com, who has no product and no brand, but does have a terribly designed site that simply consists of more ads for you to click on.
The idea that this is okay still bugs the hell out of me. And perhaps the worst part about all of this is that the person who suffers the most is the user. They rarely get the specific ads they need, they are left clicking nonstop, and (without knowing it) they are being exposed to fewer and fewer brands as the biggest of the big crowd the space.
Paid Search Tomorrow
With the “marketing” piece missing from search engine marketing, what’s next? Clearly, I don’t work for Google (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, probably am not smart enough to work there), but there seem to be two clear next steps in search engine marketing listings:
- Paid search is simply a cost of doing business. It’s like toilet paper or printer cartridges — you just have to have it to run your site. The further away from “marketing” paid search gets and the closer it gets to becoming a simple cost of doing business (e.g., we have to buy our brand terms or other people will benefit from our brand), the more secure the spend gets to be with Google et al. The engines get guaranteed dollars, brands are required to allocate funds each year, you check it off the list and move on.
- Automation creates a feed-based world. As if things aren’t automated enough, soon you won’t even have to run your campaigns. Give Google a product feed every day and they churn out the keywords, the creative, the positioning and you’re done. For Google, it’s a win because they control your cost of doing business, and marketers will think it’s a win because everything gets easier with completely automated “marketing.”
Neither of the above two ideas are all that much of a stretch, but both are clear steps away from the idea that paid search is marketing. Whether paid search is marketing or is simply generic listings — and whether this shift is a good thing or a bad thing — I am sure can be nerdily debated until we are blue in the face. But either way, it will certainly change the role of search agencies, the role of brands/advertisers, and the way consumers experience your brand through search for years to come.
(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.