Why Search Geeks Are Taking Over Advertising

Just Don't Call Them 'SEMs' Anymore

By Published on .

John Nicoletti
John Nicoletti

Over the past decade, search engine marketers have emerged as the masterminds behind effective search advertising. When traditional marketers struggled to understand how search fit into a market campaign, SEMs utilized their results-oriented DNA and panache for data to guide traditional marketers through the search frontier.

Now we stand at another horizon: The onset of new digital forms, such as display, mobile, social and video, is promising -- but these new channels are only adding to the challenges of running marketing campaign in today's digital world. Again traditional marketers are faced with the challenge of harnessing massive but complex opportunity.

If the past is any indication of the future, I anticipate that SEMs will again guide marketers to success. If this is true, these search artists need a facelift and a name change. Could that group that so often stands in the background of a marketing summit really be the next generation of Mad Men? They just might be! The SEMs are tech-savvy and hardwired to lead the charge in developing and measuring multi-channel online campaigns.

Not an identity crisis -- an evolution
CMOs and marketers alike, I urge you to consider the number-crunching capabilities of your SEM in building effective integrated digital campaigns. In fact, think of SEMs as your handy GPS device for navigating the rapidly expanding digital superhighway.

And, SEMs, I suggest you change your name because your wheelhouse is expanding. While search is thriving, it's no longer the only digital medium -- and you are poised to steer traditional marketers toward understanding of emerging channels. With the quick rise of online advertising, you possess the technical toolkit necessary for success in the digital world. Let's take a look at how this scenario could play out:

Search is bigger and better than ever
They are called Search Engine Marketers for a reason. The group that defined this discipline grew up on search ads. Opportunities with pay-per-click advertising are expanding as consumers search more often and as search-ad formats expand. Even beyond pay-per-click advertising, all digital paths still run through search and SEMs can leverage their mature knowledge of search ads to explore, optimize and integrate. With skyrocketing social-media consumption, display media creation as well as paid and viral content creation the sheer volume of relevant search traffic will increase and SEMs will be there to guide marketers through it.

Mobile is just as geeky as search
Everyone is going mobile. In 2011, we'll see more smartphones ship than PCs in the U.S., and this nascent market has created a massive opportunity for SEMs to leverage. Like search, mobile opportunity is steeped in numerical analysis; On average advertisers experience an 11.5% increase in mobile clickthrough rate when they run a mobile-specific campaign, as compared to their mobile clickthrough rate on a hybrid mobile and desktop campaign. Marketers need the data-savvy minds of SEMs to truly capture the opportunity of mobile.

Furthermore, mobile is still considered a marketing platform. This distinction opens the door for SEMs to emerge as Mobile Platform performance agencies vs. simply search firms. With mobile app and web consumption soaring, mobile could be a pivot point in expertise for SEMs to own. In terms of the experience on mobile, it's estimated that nearly 80% of sites are not yet mobile-enabled. For smartphone users, that's like watching TV in black and white. Queue the SEMs who might just be the leading mobile website builders and mobile app developers of tomorrow.

Display is more measurable
Display advertising isn't new, but it is definitely growing: People now spend about 12 hours per week online and much of this time is spent perusing various websites. We've also seen a shift toward accountable and data-driven display campaigns and SEMs can utilize their performance-based DNA to understand display measurement strategies and technologies. Despite the challenges, don't be surprised if SEMs start to show up in display conversations and start smashing silos for the marketers they represent.

Video, social, and the next big thing
SEMs are also a frontrunner for promoting and measuring the power of video and social advertising. Most marketers are caught somewhere between trying to play catch-up with the digital explosion and being first to harness the next big thing (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter didn't exist five years ago!). SEMs understand connectivity, can make complex and ugly problems seem easy and usually blend nicely in to the backdrop of the macro-marketing strategy. All things both marketers and agencies will need.

SEMs, the opportunity is yours. Many, many others will be appearing to play with these same digital mediums, but 10 years of mastering the online domain has you ready to help guide the marketing world to the next big thing. It might be as easy as changing your name.

John Nicoletti is head of agency development at Google, where he is responsible of developing Google's business strategy as it pertains to marketing, customer support, and overall revenue management for digital advertising agencies in North America.
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