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Three years is a long time in the search biz

It seems like much longer than three years ago that Bill Hunt and I wrote the first edition of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. But it was published in 2005. Somehow, the industry seemed a lot smaller and simpler back then. By now, it’s grown up and is a major part of almost any marketer’s toolbox. As the second edition of the book comes out this week, I wanted to reflect on all the things that have changed. Some of these things are covered at length in the second edition, because they directly affect how search marketing is done. But other things are just changes in the industry that make me wonder about what things will be like in three more years.

So, let’s do the big stuff first. Even though we updated the first edition for each printing (there were seven of them in all), we were constrained by the page numbering of the very first printing. We couldn’t add lots of new material because it would throw off the pagination of the rest of the book. Instead, we removed pictures to add text, we de-emphasized some things to add others, and generally colored within the lines. In the second edition, we could tear the cover off and rewrite it any way we wanted. Now, we didn’t rewrite everything, because we kind of liked it the way it was (and things that were timeless might not need any updating), but there were many industry changes that required a fresh look:

  • Sitemaps. At first a Google initiative, now all the major search engines support sitemaps. If your site is having trouble getting indexed and you haven’t tried sitemaps, why not?
  • Hybrid auctions. In 2005, only Google factored click rate into paid search rankings. The rest were strictly high-bidder auctions. Understanding bid jamming and other arcane techniques was required, where now you need them only for second-tier paid search engines that few utilize.
  • New tools. Nowhere did we see more change than in tools. The demise of the old Overture keyword tool looked like a huge blow to the skinflint community that won’t or can’t buy keyword tools, but just before we went to press, Google updated its free tool to top even what Overture did.

There are obviously hundreds of more changes of substance that have affected search marketing tools and techniques, but I am also thinking about some other changes. As the industry has matured, it’s become more of a big business with a little less room for quirkiness. Some might have thought a few of us to be unprofessional a few years ago for the way we dressed or talked, but now there’s a kind of style and attitude that’s become normal rather than dangerous.

And when some of us engage in bad behavior now, it’s big news. There is a lot of heat without a lot of light every time someone disses search marketing or is caught in some kind of ethical brain cramp.

And I remember when we wrote and blogged and spoke for fun rather than for money.

I am not criticizing anyone. Some people don’t like the way I speak and I am certainly doing this for money now. I am just noticing that some of the fun goes out as the success comes in. It was smaller, friendlier, and somehow more exciting a few years ago. I notice that I am spending as much time on social media and reputation monitoring as on search, I think because it’s edgier.

And there’s nothing to do about it—I am just feeling wistful. (I’m not exactly sure what “wist” is, but many people have told me lately that I am full of it.) I think that we’re watching the normal progression of seeing something that was almost a hobby turn into a business. When it was a hobby, we complained that no one “gets it” and that we’ll starve if this doesn’t turn around. Now that it’s a business, I am complaining that everyone is in it for the money. Poor us, huh?

What does all this mean to a search marketer? Well, you need to stay up-to-date, because the techniques do change, even if the overall principles are relatively stable. But you knew that.

I think the other kinds of changes in the industry tell search marketers something, too. That search is mainstream. That metric-based marketing has become so important that it’s in danger of crowding out other ideas.

I recently sat next to a veteran marketer who has been very successful in the digital age. who nevertheless lamented that too many companies now do everything by the numbers and no longer value creativity. I don’t know how pervasive that is, but what a turnaround! Three years ago, you could still get blank stares when you mentioned direct marketing techniques. (I know that I did.)

So if the pendulum is swinging too far toward the numbers, it will be interesting to see whether we remember that we need creativity to subject to the numbers. As this veteran marketer put it, “If you test two lousy choices and pick the best one, what kind of process is that?” Uh, a dumb one, for sure.

Because for all the changes we’ve seen, marketing is still, well, marketing. We still need a noteworthy product with differentiated benefits. And willing customers that we can target. And a creative message that resonates with that target audience. We needed it in print, and on TV, and online too. No matter how much things change, a lot stays the same.
So what do you think are the biggest changes in the last three years? I’d love to hear from you.

Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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