When it was reported in early May that social advertising had overtaken search, many in the search-marketing industry reacted with disbelief. Some wished to take up a protracted battle with social-media marketers over whose turf reigns supreme.
Sadly, much of the discussion completely missed the point of what this data tell us: the age of the "walled garden" approach to search marketing is over. Let us all rejoice. The search-vs.-social debate is a worthless pursuit. Brands don't care, nor should marketers.
The future of search marketing will demand a blend of many different digital-marketing components -- traditional search, retargeting, display, etc. -- that must reach audiences across a wide swath of media, as consumers use many different devices to search for content across multiple platforms and interfaces.
Marketers need to focus on how well they are integrating social within search, and vice versa. It's not an either-or debate. There are two reasons this is true.
Social Signals. In the old days of search -- that is , pre-2012 -- many brands and agencies kept their search-marketing campaigns, both organic and paid, separate from social-media campaigns. They feared that mixing the two might alienate the respective audiences of what are sometimes highly distinct customer bases.
But that 's all in the past. Social signals and the rapid expansion of the digital-advertising industry are forever altering the search-marketing landscape -- for the better. While still a relatively small portion of search marketing, social signals -- the signals from Google +, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks that Google considers in its algorithm -- are already being optimized for by sophisticated search marketers. More broadly, the digital-advertising industry is poised to reach $39.5 billion in 2012, according to eMarketer, and will overtake TV advertising spend by 2016. That's too big a pot to be arguing over.
Integration as a Rule. The search-marketing industry has changed. It's more integrated and more valuable precisely because social-advertising spend is augmenting clients' search-marketing campaigns.
Search agencies can no longer simply buy keywords, put up ads and hope for success. Today's advanced search campaigns require creating efficiencies at every step of the process. That includes augmenting search campaigns with social-media cost-per-click campaigns segmented by geography and socio-economic factors. Augmentation should be search marketers' new focus, not some outdated debate.
Consider Google+'s impact on search. While little is known about Google's plans for Google+, we can speculate on its impact on the search-marketing industry. Beyond just a social network, it will track user behavior at every level and serve up ads based on that behavior -- to a degree that marketers have never seen.
Layering users' Google+ updates into their searches, Google is ushering in the era of the hybrid social-search engine. This has the potential to radically change search marketing, not to mention display advertising and the myriad other forms of e-commerce that feed off the Google search-engine beast.
Rather than debating which is better -- search or social -- we need to focus on what drives clients' business and what is the best and most efficient means of delivering customers across all digital-media channels. It must be a combination of search and social. This is the discussion search marketers need to be having.