Monday, November 3, 2008

Search Insider: Warren Buffett, Search Marketing Guru?

Warren Buffett, Search Marketing Guru?

WARREN BUFFETT IS WELL-KNOWN FOR his investment savvy, and also for his folksy wisdom, which successfully boils down complex subjects into morsels that most people can understand. Buffett has never been invited to be a keynote speaker at SMX or SES, but many of his pearls of wisdom directly apply to SEM.

Here are a handful of popular Buffetisms that I've taped up in my office cube, because they're so relevant to major issues in search engine marketing today:

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." All too many search marketers -- including big brands -- have had this truth kick them in the teeth after contracting with an "anything goes" SEO firm. And yet we as an industry have done nothing to police our own marketplace to get rid of them. Bruce Clay estimates that there are now 200,000 SEOers out there: I can't vouch for this claim -- but it's clear that there are more than enough bad ones to ruin reputations for the next three centuries.

"Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it's not going to get the business." Do searchers care about brands? Of course they do, or traffic on branded terms wouldn't be so incredibly high. The question is this: what's at the other end of the click? A generic message (which is all you get when you use an all-SEO strategy) or, using PPC, a message special enough to "get the business"?

"Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken." All of us run the risk of growing complacent, just because our ROI is somewhere in the black. But habits -- some of the worst ones -- have a habit of creeping up on us. I was reminded of this saying when I read that 25% of heavy search spenders were still using Excel to manage bids. These people have a bad habit that's leading them down a primrose path to mediocrity.

"The important thing is to keep playing, to play against weak opponents and to play for big stakes." The search marketing environment is going to get tougher and tougher, but there are plenty of weak opponents with stupid "chains of habit" militating against efficiency. The good news is that by embracing best practices (including automation) you can outmaneuver weak opponents. The stakes couldn't be higher these days!

"Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." However you're managing search, you probably could improve it, but not if your agency or in-house team is holding you back. If you can't move this organization to excellence, you have a fiduciary responsibility to cut them loose. A little pain now will prevent a whole lot of agony later.

"In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield." Far too many marketers manage their search campaigns using yesterday's keyword prices and conversion rates. Historical data has value, but the ability to predict where the PPC marketplace is going - and, equally importantly, to act accordingly and in a timely manner -- provides far more value.

"I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over."  Keep this one in mind when you decide whether to fight a pitched battle for #1 placement on a high-traffic SERP. You might be far better off looking for smaller gains on longer-tail keywords, 2nd-tier engines, or by using day-parting or other segmentation technologies.  

"Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." Everybody in the keyword auction market is paying to play there, and nobody's expecting keyword prices to drop anytime soon. But some marketers don't even scratch the surface when it comes to realizing the full value of their investments. Are you fully leveraging the data you get from paid search to inform all other marketing (and CRM) aspects of your business? Don't think of paying Google for clicks: think of paying them for marketing intelligence. You'd be amazed at how many marketers fail to draw this distinction.

Steve Baldwin is editor-in-chief at Didit, an agency for search engine marketing and auctioned media management based in New York. You can reach Steve at

Search Insider for Monday, November 3, 2008:

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