Okay, no, search isn’t sexy

I’ve been sitting in a lot of marketing meetings lately. The kind where clients demand the “big idea” from agency participants and look to the online media team to come up with something magical.

Only I’m not really a full-fledged member of the online media team. I don’t peddle banners, or Flash apps or ultra dynamic, mobile, viral, streaming, Web 2.0, wrap-a-round branded skins.

I peddle 95 character text ads which come in two flavors – bold and not bold. There’s no way that I can claim these ads are sexy.

I know it. Everyone in the room knows it. So after I drop the enticing search statistics – the billions of searches conducted each month on the top three search engines, the highly influential nature of search marketing, the average clickthrough rate (over 2%) which is much better than most other forms of online media and the high ROI generated from search…well..the conversation passes me by.

What I really want to say, but never have time because I only ever have sixty seconds to present search

The search marketer never gets center stage in pitches that focus on the “big idea.” I think this is a shame, because there’s so much more to say on the subject of search.

A search campaign, if planned appropriately and managed correctly, can be the cornerstone of even the sexiest of online media campaigns. Search compliments all other initiatives. If you’re running a campaign which touts a certain compelling feature of what ever you’re selling (our widget is the shiniest!) then you can easily reinforce that issue with your keywords “shiniest widgets, shiny widgets, widgets that shine” and so forth.

Search is event-driven. It really is.

Banners take time to develop and traffic. Media that’s purchased on a CPM basis is often tied to contracts and I/O’s. Translation – it’s not easy or quick to move media dollars around, even online media dollars. Not so with search. Advertisers aren’t tied to a specific spend per month with search. You can dial the budget up or down depending on how the campaign is going.

You can launch new ads in seconds (assuming you don’t have pesky regulatory issues to comply with, as is the case in some industries). You can easily traffic ads directly in the engines – even tools like Atlas and Dart are fairly easy to implement on the fly. The ability to launch ads in mere minutes in response to events that may be going on in real time (seminars, news releases, industry buzz, etc.) is one of the, dare I say it, sexiest features about the tactic of paid search. It’s instant gratification. What’s sexier than that??

Let search lead!

Paid search can be the foundation of your online marketing campaign – this is true. It’s a pay-for-performance based tactic that people really respond to. But search also has the potential to lead your marketing initiatives. How? Well, for one thing, search results are available in real time (practically). This makes it the ideal tactic for testing campaign elements like landing page copy, ad copy, and messaging.

Google even provides a free tool to assist with A/B split testing of landing pages. It’s called Website Optimizer

Search is not what it seems

I know search marketing has been around a long time. It’s an old tactic, crowded in among all the pretty, shiny new Web 2.0 gadgets and gizmos and is easy to dismiss either because it’s a given that search will be in your campaign or because search doesn’t even make it into the media conversation at all.

But I have a strong sense that many companies are overlooking the true potential of paid search. There’s a lot of information you can learn from what keywords your audience uses to find you, buy from you or abandon you. That information isn’t available anywhere else – it’s the start of the online conversation, the door to learning more about how your audience perceives you and how you can respond to their needs. And it’s a dialogue that’s happening with your without you.