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Is paid search part of marketing?

Is paid search part of marketing? Is it an evolving craft, full of artful nuances? Or is it nothing but a cold, calculating, data-driven science, devoid of creativity, passion, and art?

Vic Drabicky clearly feels it’s the latter, boldly proclaiming on Marketing Land, “Today, the marketing aspects are all but gone from paid search.” He builds on this theme, noting,

“We have automated, generic, blanket listings that are quite often less creative and targeted than yellow page listings. We have brands whose entire goal has shifted from marketing their brand and product to simply trying to protect it from JoeSchmo.com, who has no product and no brand, but does have a terribly designed site that simply consists of more ads for you to click on.”

So, is Vic right? Is paid search part of marketing? Does paid search allow for creativity and passion and art?

Well, read on and see.

First things first, let’s get two obvious points out of the way:

  1. Vic Drabicky’s chosen example highlights some terrible paid search ads in a highly competitive segment. I do loads of work in the hospitality industry and could offer a spirited defense of the “why’s” behind the examples Vic shows[*]. Just remember, though, you can find terrible example of marketing regardless of the medium used to deliver the brand’s message. Finding paid ads that suck isn’t really a sign of paid search as marketing one way or the other.
  2. Of course paid search is marketing. Period. Just hang with me for a moment and I’ll explain why.

Mind you, Vic’s absolutely right that “automated, generic, blanket listings” aren’t great marketing. But one benefit of those listings is the opportunity they create for you and your brand.

For instance, marketing has always been both art and science. Great marketers exhibit taste and know how to ask the right questions to get at their customers’ real concerns. But they’ve been just as likely to use data to support their efforts. Don’t forget, Claude Hopkins published his classic Scientific Advertising in 1923.

Perhaps more shocking, much of his advice still holds today.

One problem is that people misunderstand what science means in this context. Science, at its core, is really just a simple process for systematically asking questions and finding answers:

  1. Ask a question. For instance, “Could our advertising be more effective?”
  2. Get some information to understand that question. Look at your business results or click-through rates or conversion rates to see how your current advertising works for your business.
  3. Develop a hypothesis. A hypothesis is really just a fancy word for an assumption or a guess. Obviously, you’re basing it on the information you collected, but, at this point, you can’t know whether or not it’s true. For example, “I think a new ad will outperform our existing ads” is a hypothesis. Is it true? Well, that’s where the next step comes in.
  4. Test your hypothesis. Put your new ads in-market at the same time as your existing ads and see which works better. If you’re curious, I’ve looked at A/B testing in detail in the past.
  5. Update your hypothesis based on your data.

That’s all there is to it.

But, this process allows for all kinds of art and creativity and passion. Hell, I’d argue you can’t ask the questions in Step 1 or think up solutions in Step 4 without art and creativity and passion.

Plus you really ought to welcome the fact that some marketing teams do it so badly. Imagine how much more effective your thoughtful, creative, passionate, artistic ads can be when positioned alongside crappy, automated, generic listings. I’ve argued for years that Google’s only interested in growing your brand if it helps their customers—and their bottom line. That doesn’t mean you can’t do both.

Paid search is a science. That’s true. But when done well, it also requires creativity and passion and, yes, art. At its core, marketing also has always depended on both art and science. So, to answer the question, “Is paid search part of marketing?” I’d say of course it is. At least if you do it right.

Do you want to learn more about how to improve sales, increase conversions, and reduce the costs from your search marketing? Then take a moment to check out our Biznology Jumpstart Workshop: On-site Search Marketing Training. Taught by three Biznology search marketing experts, you’ll learn how to make your search marketing work for your business. Interested in learning more? Check it out.

[* – FOOTNOTE]: To provide just one example, most paid search spending in the Travel & Tourism sector—Google’s third-highest spending industry on AdWords, including several top online booking sites among the highest-spending advertisers overall—is managed by highly centralized teams, while the travel product consumers want to find are widely-distributed geographically. Many travel companies often rely on automation (as opposed to increasingly large teams), to ensure coverage for all the possible long-tail searches consumers use when looking for their next vacation, leading to these kinds of terrible ads Vic rightly points out.

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Tim Peter


Tim Peter built his first website in 1995 and loves that he still gets to do that every day. Tim has spent almost two decades figuring out where customers are, how they interact with brands online, and delivering those customers to his clients’ front door. These efforts have generated billions of dollars in revenue and reduced costs.

Tim works with client organizations to build effective teams focused on converting browsers to buyers and building their brand and business. He helps those companies discover how marketing, technology, and analytics tie together to drive business results. He doesn't get excited because of the toys or tech. He gets excited because of what it all means for the bottom line.

An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, web development, search marketing, and analytics, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results. He is a member of the Search Engine Marketers Professional Organization (SEMPO), HSMAI, and the Digital Analytics Association.

Tim currently serves as Senior Advisor at SoloSegment, a marketing technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to improve engagement and conversion for large enterprise, B2B companies.

Tim Peter’s recent client work covers a wide range of digital marketing activities including developing digital and mobile marketing strategies, creating digital product roadmaps, assessing organizational capabilities, and conducting vendor evaluations for diverse clients including major hospitality companies, real estate brands, SaaS providers, and marketing agencies.

Prior to launching Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, a full-service e-commerce and internet marketing consulting firm in early 2011, he worked with the world’s largest hotel franchisor, the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm, and a major financial services firm, developing various award-winning products and services for his customers. Tim can be reached at tim@timpeter.com or by phone at 201-305-0055.

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