Is Search Marketing No Longer Sexy?

I started writing this article about the sexiness of search from the “green room” at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA — so in case you don’t already know me, you can probably surmise that I might be a geek.

Why was I at the Museum? That’s where the LiveRamp 2014 conference was held. Amid the annual event put on by the data technology company, I was inspired to step away from the noise and reflect. After a fireside chat with 30+ year CMO veteran Patrick Connolly, currently of Williams-Sonoma, I couldn’t get one particular idea out of my head: Is search still sexy?

The LiveRamp marketing conference was all about the latest trends and the future of digital marketing. There was a great deal of discussion around topics such as “audience accuracy” and a plethora of acronyms around marketing tactics like DSP, DMP and SSP and RTB. But SEO? It was absent from the Alphabet Soup.

The conference was mostly an executive crowd, and as far as I’m aware, there were over 1,000 attendees. That’s not a massive data point, but I think it’s an indicator that SEO is losing its allure in the C suite.

SEO Was Never Sexy To Begin With

Then again, according to an Altimeter Group study conducted back in 2012, SEO was way at the bottom of the Sexy scale to begin with. The study below was composed of 56 interview subjects: 25 from global fortune 500 companies, and 31 were agency employees, consultants and thought leaders. Check out how small SEO is on the scale.

Content types

I find it interesting that this 2012 study didn’t peg display and retargeting very high, and that social or mobile weren’t at the top.

Fast forward to today, and it seems marketers are all abuzz about these two marketing vehicles. And as evidenced by the conference sessions, it seems that improvements in audience segmentation technology and remarketing are suggesting that display and remarketing are going to be increasingly important in 2014, as well.

Of course, this makes total sense. Marketing is good. Targeted marketing is better. Today, understanding your target audience is age-old marketing 101 that’s coming back in style in a whole new way.

With all of the data at the hands of current marketing professionals, everything about the average web surfer’s habits, including where they go online and offline is available for use. It’s Big Brother for everyone.

Let’s talk about how an efficient, integrative SEO/SEM process works:

While SEO priorities in 2014 seem low on the totem pole and other targeted paid media is getting more attention lately, in my opinion, it’s a mistake for C-level execs to exclude SEO from broader, more sexy discussions about cross-channel marketing.

Case in point, with paid search, it is generally expensive to buy awareness keywords, especially when we consider that performance marketers traditionally focus on return-on-ad-spend (ROAS). Yet, this is where SEO can really shine. Furthermore, SEO strategies can go well beyond attempting to improve organic positions for high cost CPC terms. Here is one such strategy.

The Integrated SEO + Every Other Marketing Channel Strategy That No One Is Talking About

  • Build a list of high CPC keywords that will have an impact from a demand or conversion perspective.
  • Group this list into campaigns to target different types of audiences based on strategies that speak to different audience personas, aka cohorts.
  • This data is then handed over to the SEO team to determine the top websites that are ranking in Google for each of those profiles/personas.
  • Identify the top ranking websites (in SEO or paid results) that reach the consumers that search on those specific high-cost keywords. Use these SEO ranking results to refine your strategies around your display content efforts.
  • As part of the display strategy, marketers might also take steps to ensure they are deploying tracking that will allow them to improve targeting within paid social campaigns.
  • Plus, if email info is obtained, marketers can improve the relevancy of email campaigns, as well.

At SMX this week, I had a conversion with Tim Mayer, who is an expert in such strategies. Currently, Tim is serving as CMO of I asked Tim about his take on aligning SEO and other marketing vehicles, particularly with display, and here are a few additional points that he shared with me that are worth mentioning:

There are a lot of advantages to tagging your search clicks within your display ad server:

1. You can truly figure out attribution and who was the last click. This means you won’t end up paying out the CPA to ad networks when the last click was really a search click, as well as paying the PPC to AdWords. Often, advertisers run search and display in different silos and end up double paying for conversions!

2. Leveraging first-party cookies as a tracking mechanism, you will also enable longer strings of ad activity and better understand the impact of the many touches that happen prior to a conversion event. This will help justify the impact of upper [sales funnel] activities such as display.

3. Passing your AdWords Ad group id through in the tag is also a good idea as it can help you better recreate the customer journey/story with your data.

As you can see, SEO data can be used to improve paid search ROI by improving the way we target paid social, display and email campaigns. It’s a truly holistic approach to integrated performance marketing; yet, as far as I can tell, no one else is talking about this much.

Why is that? To me, this makes SEO very sexy, and I’m just trying to bring sexy back.

Chart image courtesy of Altimeter Group used with permission.