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If customers hate search adswhy do we put all our money in them?

  • By Jeff Molander

search marketing future

How does your digital marketing team invest today — and why?  How will this change given the failings of search engines?  Yes, failings.  Search marketing is broken and failing most businesses… yet it is the #1 way digital marketers spend budget dollars on the Web.  More alarming, research proves search engines are increasingly less trusted and less useful to consumers… and this will continue.  Bottom line: search engines are increasingly unable to deliver results against the strategic interests of most companies.   True.  Now what?

I recently lectured on this and other surprising perspectives in Rio de Janeiro at the request of Petrobras, one of the world’s largest energy companies.  My host even convinced me to gain new, bird-like perspective on their vibrant city (see above where I can be seen fully un-prepared in my Gringo slip-ons which are actually tethered to my feet).

As I soared on the thermals gaining new perspectives on South America I realized — the perspective that most businesses have on search marketing needs updating, BADLY.   Erick Schonfeld’s piece featuring Nova Spivack is very important, helpful.

Search engines admit it: they’re failing customers and marketers.

They don’t admit it in what they say but they do admit it in what they DO.  Search marketing is failing — it can’t help but fail given the increase in Web users and the content we’re all creating (‘social media’).  Search engines are struggling to respond by “getting personal” (personalized search).

Most marketers continue to invest HEAVILY in search marketing — believing it to be wise, justified and profitable.  Yet for most organizations investment is purely habit — not a measured practice.  Just as 75 percent of display advertisements are “left alone” (re-invested in) most search marketing ads that everyone knows don’t work are left alone… to fail.


We’re not aligning  compensation structure with strategic (ie. quality customers) goals.

Do you pay or incentivize your search marketing team to deliver on objectives other than “visitors”?  Do you give them reason to fix or lower your customer acquisition costs?  Do you give them reasons (and means to) set customer lifetime value targets?

A dangerous mass marketing mentality STILL drives our decision-making in an interactive age.

Aside from mis-aligned compensation or internal or external search marketing pros, search often wastes precious budget dollars due to old-school values.  Search engines give us a gift: understanding a customers’ real-time purchase intent.  Yet we use search engines for wasteful “branding” tactics — merely aligning our name with customers’ specific, product or service-focused intent.  We throw up an ad and somehow hope for the best.

Savvy marketers are capturing information on customers’ “need state” along their “chronology of purchase intent” — capitalizing on the opportunity search presents. Think direct response marketing.

In many cases, search marketing’s promise is overstated — an outright lie and a waste of precious budget dollars.  But don’t blame digital marketing services companies… consider the role that we marketers play.  Many of us actively convince ourselves of falsehoods, look the other way on critical issues or apply worthless mass marketing practices in an interactive realm.

Search is failing to create tactical and strategic value.

Search is failing to create tactical (conversion to sale/action) and strategic (lifetime value of customer) value for most marketers. Why?  Because of how most of us use it — as a mass marketing device.

As an example, the very popular and free Google Analytics works hard to overstate the value of search marketing.   Danny Sullivan and Wharton’s Eric Clemons are going head to head on strategic and tactical issues that indicate how badly search is broken — if not rigged to exploit marketers themselves.  More on that soon as I find Professor Clemons to be on the mark.

The search marketing community is very busy trying to talk their way out of positions they’ve behaved their way into.

There’s no shortage of research “propping up” search marketing but a raging debate is underway on a more important subject — what I call the Ignorance Economy (a “middleman economy” of digital service providers that our struggling world economy can no longer afford to support).  I hope to turn up the heat on this issue in weeks and months ahead.

About Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on starting sales conversations online. He teaches a proven, effective and repeatable communications process to spark buyers curiosity about what you're selling. He's a sought-after sales prospecting trainer to individual reps, teams of sellers and small businesses owners across the globe. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network and what is today the Performics division of Publicis Groupe.

Jeff also serves as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.

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Evan says

I’ve never understood the sentiment: Search is failing to create tactical (conversion to sale/action) and strategic (lifetime value of customer) value for most marketers. If done properly of course it should.

I think that most companies under-utilize their organic search potential, mainly in that they don’t have a strategy for publishing enough unique content/articles on their sites frequently enough to drive more natural search.

Any company doing a ton of PPC search has to constantly be working to improve their conversion rates on their site/landing pages to maximize in a competitive market. Also, how the visitors are treated and whether the site is sufficiently “sticky” is a big factor…

Rok says

Jeff, hope you enjoyed flying high above Rio.

But yet again, I have to differ when it comes to your online interpretations:)

I just can’t understand how you can argue that search is supposedly broken by saying that it’s not delivering enough sales or leads to most marketers.

Well, it’s not search’s problem … it’s marketers’ problem.

I’m not going on any kind of research here, but even a quick glimpse of most search campaigns today shows that most are in fact focusing on actual business results and are doing at least some degree of direct marketing.

    Jeff Molander says

    Well it seems that neither of us wants to actually cite proof of our statements, Rok. That makes us both worthless blow-hard Gurus! 🙂 Actually, we agree — we don’t differ. It IS marketers’ problem and I state that clearly.

    I’ll challenge you a bit… to consider why I’m reading stats like these? These HURT!

    75 percent of failing online ads are left in place. 
    The primary dimensions of assessment should be the quality of inbound Web site visitors as well as the quantity. However, because off-line marketing has almost no ability to micro-target, marketing’s focus has primarily been on quantity. This historical tendency has carried over onto the Web and it is for this reason that many online marketing people show little interest in assessing the quality of the traffic they are generating.

    Globally, marketers estimate that 55% of their entire marketing spend is failing to contribute to their top or bottom line. (Brand Strategy, 2008)

    Has search helped improve that number? The answer is no. This number has increased over time.

    Just 23 percent of CEOs report that marketing pros make a significant value contribution, compared with 61 percent for sales and 43 percent for customer service (Accenture).

    That number is also shocking and what has search done for MOST brands, Rok? Very little if anything. YOUR brand is the exception and I’m confident that it’s difficult for your direct marketing mind to fathom how wasteful all those brand-heads are out there — throwing money at search engines HOPING that they somehow create enough influence to someday, somewhere, somehow create results.

    Marketers are given the gift of real-time access to customer’s specific intent on an individual basis and the most they (most of us) can do with it is align their ad with the customer’s intent — rather than capture that need state and put it into the classic ‘sales funnel’ which guys like you live and breathe.

    In fact, they’re so goofy (yes, goofy) that they’ll go to great lengths to create wacko faux math (check THIS out from one of the leading academic institutions in the world — Northwestern’s Kellogg school). Why would marketers—in an interactive age—settle for secondary feedback on customer purchase intent or behavior? The entire notion of harvesting/mining the conversation database is rather backward—mass marketing influenced. Why are we even bothering with this approach? This approach — just like most brands’ approach to search marketing — is ONE WAY—does not leverage the inherent interactivity of the Web.

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