Over the past couple of years, a growing chorus of marketers has said that search engine marketing has plateaued. There are no ways to grow such as by new inventory or new optimizations. Search is played out.
There are signs, however, that search is about to gain three big and valuable new sources of inventory. Each will require new approaches from marketers, even as they leverage their core SEM capabilities.
First, of course, is mobile. Google’s ongoing investment in Android is driven by a belief that mobile is a massive new search landscape. For marketers, figuring out how to tap into a search platform with more localized intent represents both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge in that they can’t just port their existing campaigns. An opportunity in that they can exploit new angles around offline, immediacy, and location that are less prevalent in the rest of SEM.
Second is retail search. Amazon quietly opened up its own product search engine to advertising and has quickly built a billion dollar business. Other retailers are starting to follow suit with help from companies like my own. The volume of searches happening on retail sites is not only substantial, but offers even more granular intent than what’s typically available from general search engines. And it represents an important new source of revenue to retailers acting as publishers.
Third is social. Increasingly, social platforms seem to look to search — with its ability to expose consumer intent — as a means to build up their monetization potential. Whether such search offerings will represent truly new inventory, or merely shift share from the search engines remains to be seen. But if nothing else, it will bring SEM into the places where consumers increasingly spend their digital lives.
This flood of new inventory will drive additional innovation and opportunity. Offline business that spent little or no time on SEM will drive foot traffic via mobile search. Experienced search marketers will find they can now target more granularly and deeper in the funnel, while still achieving scale as SEM spreads to retail sites. And perhaps the growing doubts about social marketing will be reversed. Not because social display magically starts to work, but because social search creates a viable medium for marketers.
For search marketers, it’s time to shake off the inventory blues and start to tap into these new and important sources of consumer intent. Search is far from played out.
Prior to co-founding Intent Media in 2009, Richard Harris was Senior Vice President, Strategy and Distribution at Travelocity. He led the Travelocity Partner Network, which grew to over $2B in sales during his tenure. In 2000, Harris was a co-founder of Site59.com, an innovator in online travel technology and merchandising. He served as Site59’s Vice President, Strategy and Business Development and then as CFO through the company’s acquisition by Travelocity in 2002. Earlier in his career, Harris worked at the Boston Consulting Group and Orion Consultants.