Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Search Insider: A Framework For Enterprise Search Engine Marketing Strategy

A Framework For Enterprise Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Throughout the 50 columns that I've written over the last two years for MediaPost Search Insider, I've often noted that I'm an advocate of the holistic approach to search engine marketing, particularly for large enterprises.  There is only one search engine results landing page, but there is a huge dynamic in the way searchers utilize that page, which at its basic core contains PPC, natural search, and feeds.  Consistently, industry research data proves the depth of this user dynamic, which should cause enterprise marketers to act, capture and/or at least consider the full opportunity in the search channel.  Searchers across the engine landscape may use multiple terms, multiple engines and click across multiple placements.  Their varying search intentions are as complex as humans themselves.  There is also a general consensus among search professionals that search engine marketing is comprised of many different channels, tactics and elements.   The bottom line is that enterprise marketers are remiss to ignore the fact that a holistic strategic SEM approach is in order, no matter which mix of elements or tactics are utilized. 

My last column laid out thoughts on holistic SEM in a number of areas (' The Semantics of 'SEM Strategy').  This week, I want to talk more about the basic elements of the search marketing channel, as it relates to overarching enterprise search marketing strategy.  This is very basic information about SEM, but worthy of revisiting, as I'm still finding that many in the industry and on the client side are strategically polarized either towards paid search media, or natural search.   In effect, those that hold on to these notions have an incomplete view and practice of enterprise search marketing strategy.

The framework of basic SEM strategy

Here is a recap of the basic components of the search engine marketing channel.  They include:

a.       Natural search

b.       Paid search

c.       Contextual / content targeting

d.       Paid inclusion

This is the definition of "search engine marketing" outlined and followed by the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO), Forrester Research (see SEM Faq's), eMarketer (see David Hallerman's 2008 industry report), and Danny Sullivan (see SEW, Nov. 5, 2001), among many others.  It is not a matter of semantics, or really even up for debate.  By having a definition, we have a framework for developing a holistic strategy and a broad view of the channel, which becomes even more valuable when considering the aforementioned user dynamic. 

Within this framework lies hundreds of different questions to be answered, based on a subjective marketing scenario, in order to create an effective path or course of action to achieve a particular objective.  The answers may lead us in many different directions (inside or outside the box). Different experiences across various channels and campaign situations will help to define the course.  There are also many other underlying questions that shape the effectiveness of search strategy, covering areas as far and wide as social media, analytics, Web development and design, technical administration, client organizational structure, budget, etc.  Some are broad and visionary in scope, some are deep in the weeds, but all can impact the outcome at different levels.

Get there by deduction, not dismissal

One point I want to stress here is that the broad path is deductive, not dismissive.  Deduction takes all of the factors of the search engine marketing channel into account (natural search, paid search, contextual/content, and feeds), and shapes the strategic path to meet an objective. Through deduction, one might determine that the proper mix or strategy is paid and natural search.  Or the path might just contain one of the elements of SEM.  Being dismissive of a major search component takes nothing into consideration, and indicates a lack of meaningful thought or analysis of the big picture for search, or the situation at hand.

Search purism equals bad enterprise SEM strategy

Search purism is a common cause of a bad holistic enterprise search engine marketing strategy.  Purism ranges from the SEO who insists that enterprise marketers should never pay for traffic, to the SEA/media side, who say they should always pay for traffic (and that natural search is not worth the trouble).  The hole in this logic is the lack of balance, and lack of enterprise SEM experience.   Search purism is as much about search marketing strategy as buying banner ads on MySpace is about social networking.

Again, I said this would be a basic column, and it is.  Knowing these basics of SEM won't guarantee a perfect strategy, but hopefully it will send you down the right path to envisioning the big picture for the search channel.

Rob Garner is strategy director for digital marketing company iCrossing and writes for Great Finds, the iCrossing blog. He is president-elect of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association. Contact him via email at

Search Insider for Wednesday, July 2, 2008:

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