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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Meta-Thought for a Busy Week Part I: Paid Search a "Niche" Topic in SEM?

Browsing through Sphinn, the forums, and other places where online marketers hang out, it's hard not to notice the disproportionate focus on anything but paid search. To put it another way, the disproportionate focus on SEO, especially SEO 1.0 details, intimate details of SEO's as individuals, who said or did what, and various meta-minutiae contributions like the one you're reading now.

I've always been comfortable with being an avid part of what the old SEO world still seems to see as a "niche," but then I read a little newsletter from Perry Marshall this morning, and a voice said to me: "Andrew, dammit, these people are taking money from your pocket. They're stealing!"

I was surprised at Imaginary Perry's vociferousness on the subject, but hey - he's probably noticed what a vociferous advocate of paid search I've been since inception. He's probably also done the math. All of the headlines over the past couple of weeks, all of the Wall Street interest in Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft: it's all because of auction-based targeted clicks, half of which come directly from a user search, triggering a payment to Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. It's a $15 billion a year business. It's one of the most proven (legitimate) ways to make money online if you're a small business. It's a hugely successful and growing direct marketing channel (and data goldmine) for large businesses. Unlike SEO, you control the levers. Unlike SEO, paid search also forces you to consider conversion issues and information scent in an immediate way - or you get your head handed to you financially. There's no free ride that leads to mushy thinking.

It's one of the reasons Page Zero regularly welcomes a new client, without having to resort to fads. Oftentimes these are clients with realistic expectations, strong businesses, and ad budgets. Albeit with a long-term view of testing and iterating, these clients have a real expectation that they'll be tightly testing and improving in the first month, and holding their own feet to the competitive fire.

Example: Page Zero welcomes new client, Tripharbour.ca / Tripharbor.com. For the next few months, I'm guessing Tripharbor's clicks will primarily come from AdWords - less so, organic search, and even less so, from social media gimmicks. Probably because the founder understands the guts of direct response (he was with Expedia). You have to get the fundamentals of your marketing sundae right before you start throwing the fun sprinkles on top.

I really love stories about Matt Cutts' haircut and linkbaiting tactics from folks with no public relations training, I really do. But let's not confuse it for marketing.

So I can only say again: wake up world! Paid search is here to stay. For real.

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