Paid Search Back-Checks, Slays Dragons, Asks for Little in Return

“Search isn’t sexy,” claimed one Yahoo! exec at a recent Panama launch event. Poor guy. He must be working in paid search, like me. Because he’s flat wrong to say search in general isn’t sexy.

Thinking in terms of myths and tales suitable to audiences of all ages, it’s clear that search marketing tells a fantastic, ever-shifting story. It helps some drop off to sleep at night. Others lie awake, quivering in their beds. Search is a realm full of gargantuan spiders and powerful robots; cloaking; and hurricane-like events with nicknames. There are black hats and white. A purgatory place called the “sandbox.”

Favorite recurring characters (some with Wikipedia entries!) like Danny, Matt, Marissa, and Vanessa. Some popular creators of the tales are well known, too: Jerry and David; Larry and Sergey. Some characters have evil nicknames. And the universe is controlled by a looming benign force of evil, from a centralized base of operations, usually a large, curvaceous low-rise facility (disingenuously called a “campus,”) filled with candy, table games, and furniture and/or spheroids resplendent in primary colors or purple.

By contrast, paid search’s cast of characters has names like Nick, Salar, Andrew, Kevin, Mona, Shuman, Sheryl, Zod, John, and John. Only a couple have stubs in Wikipedia. Most use their real names.

So it’s paid search, as opposed to organic search optimization, that suffers from a lack of identity, primarily because organic search optimization, as the incumbent in the space, has done a great job of inventing a mythology for itself. Paid search, maybe in a misguided attempt to be respectable, or maybe just because the power of incumbency is difficult to overcome, has told a much duller story.

Just look at us. Offline, in debating names for this column, we had all kinds of colorful ideas. But when it came time to put the pedal to the metal, we agreed on Paid Search. I jumped up and down when I heard this suggestion. It was about as exciting as a dry basement. Which, if you’ve had a wet basement, is pretty darn exciting.

Because I’m Canadian, I’d like to get the obligatory hockey, donut, or igloo reference out of the way. (I’m currently writing this in my office surrounded by skyscrapers – but whatever.) I opt for hockey. I’d like to propose that paid search is the Bob Gainey of advertising.

Bob Gainey was seen as the quintessential “all-around” player in his day as he helped the Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cups before going on to become a successful coach and general manager. Never scoring more than 23 goals or incurring more than 57 penalty minutes in a season, Gainey quietly grew his legend as a “dull” performer.

Paradoxically, the legend has grown so much, and Gainey has actually contributed so much, that Gainey, to observers in the know, is exciting. He’s top of mind to so many in the game that he basically has employment for life, if he wants it.

It’s hard to say whether it matters how much attention you garner in the broader world, if insiders know how good you are. Does paid search need to whip up controversy just to get noticed over more exotic forms of marketing? I don’t think so. That being said, by being part of a sexy industry (hey, search, don’t deny it, you are), paid search will be thrust into the limelight from time to time. There’s no need to either court attention or hide from it. Like Gainey, paid search is a solid team player (and the Montreal Canadiens are — or should I say were — the real story).

Of course, in all of this, I must be speaking somewhat facetiously, because as young as it is, paid search has truly been performing to Sidney-Crosby-like levels:

  • Paid search revenues continue to generate about 97% of Google’s revenues, which should clock in above $12 billion for 2007. Google’s market capitalization of $140 billion is comfortably ahead of Coca-Cola’s, and tops Daimler Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors combined. Without AdWords, the “GOOG” (in the sense of a publicly-traded stock that created a story of its own, and massive wealth for founders and insiders), simply would not exist.
  • Paid search topped a list of “most effective tactics” in a study released by eMarketer, ahead of email and even SEO.
  • The control offered by paid search platforms continues to grow. The ability to geotarget, to budget as little or as much as you like, and to create and test competing ad creatives, always among the core reasons to try paid search, continue to grow in strength and sophistication. Recently (with a little help on the creative side and using only Google’s keyword tool for keyword research) I was able to create a multilingual campaign inside of a few days, and it performed every bit as well as the campaign I created in my mother tongue.
  • The fact that advertisers can enable contextual (content-targeted) components to their paid search accounts has not only benefited advertisers, it’s created a new source of revenue for innovative startups, niche sites, and publishers of all stripes, from large players like news search engine Topix to well-known verticals like, to tiny blogs.
  • If we search advertisers get called for two minutes in the “sandbox,” our support rep is only a phone call away (even if they can’t always help).

It’s not all good, of course. Search engines are facing un-Gainey-like firestorms of controversy over issues like click fraud, click arbitrage, and excessive access to advertisers’ private business data. Most advertisers would rather these problems went away. Not being journalists, they’d prefer a less exciting fairy tale.

To keep the basement dry so to speak, I trust you’ll need some solid cutting-edge advice on the basics, Gainey style. How to skate, pass, hook and hold (mostly legally). We’ll try to offer a steady dose of that here – advice on solid targeting, keyword research, tracking results, copywriting, etc. Then there is some of the flashy stuff, like complicated new ad quality algorithms, trips to Panama, advanced features like dayparting and demographic targeting, that we’ll cover too (that’s after our flashy teammate, Guy Lafleur, takes our pass). And of course there’s the nasty combative stuff, like click fraud. We can’t leave the building for those debates, so the best thing we can hope for is to grab the other guy’s jersey, duck the punches coming in sideways, and talk some sense into the mob.

So until the next, hopefully more substantive, column: keep your basement dry. And no more sports analogies, I promise!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column | Search Ads: General


About The Author: is the founder and principal of Page Zero Media and author of Winning Results with Google AdWords.

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  • Mark Barrera

    I look forward to reading your column Andrew.

    Hopefully you can “sexy up” paid search for us ;)

  • AussieWebmaster

    A great start Andrew – I look forward to reading this column.

  • Leigh Hanney

    Thanks Andrew, solid post and some sound advice to come it seems.

    I’m an in-house search marketer, and for me, whether it’s Paid or Organic, both branches of the Search Marketing tree yield healthy fruit for the advertiser / site ownwer.

    So, great to see some specific coverage on Search Engine Land. cheers.

  • Erica Forrette

    I also look forward to reading future columns! I’ve read the Traffick blog for a while, and look forward to Andrew’s columns here – and hopefully some more good stuff from other PPC experts!


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