What Makes Search Magical

Forget Your Brand-Building Broadcast Formula -- Tune Into the Consumer's 'Desire-cast'

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In recent months, Google has rolled out ads for newspapers, radio and video. Whether it succeeds in dominating those traditional media remains to be seen, but none of them have the inherent magic that search does.
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-market industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com.
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-market industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com.

Search magic? Yes, search is magical. For years, I've described search as a "reverse broadcast system" to help those from traditional ad backgrounds understand why it is unique. In a broadcast system, advertisers spend lots of money to reach a mass audience, hoping to build desire for a product or service. But most of the audience is not interested in their pitches. Instead they are interruptions to the content that readers, listeners or viewers actually want.

Search is the reverse. Each search is an expressed desire, something that someone at a particular time actually wants. Search engines consolidate all those desires into one place, making it possible for advertisers to tune in to the "desire-cast" that's going on. Ads placed in front of searchers aren't interruptions -- they're exactly what the content searchers are after.

Google's new ad offerings are not search because they don't tap into the "desire-cast." Similarly, selling them on a cost-per-click basis or through an auction system doesn't make them search either, just because Google sells AdWords that way. Payment models and purchasing systems don't define an ad medium; the unique nature of the medium's audience does. Search's defining characteristic is that you reach an audience actively expressing desires.

But just because Google's new ad offerings aren't search doesn't make them worthless. Nor does it mean ads in traditional channels are a waste simply because they are interruptive. Ads in traditional media already can and do build desire despite their intrusive nature, and Google may succeed in making them more measurable.

Search isn't a replacement for other types of ads. It's simply the most important new channel that's emerged in years, a fundamental one that you need to understand and use alongside traditional ones. But the next time someone tells you they've got a new "Google-like" ad offering, remember that this doesn't necessarily mean you'll be drawing on the power of search. And that's true even if Google itself is pushing the product.
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