Search Marketing, Up Close and Personal

  • Categories:

    Agency Life, Search

  • Date:

    January 30, 2018

Search Marketing, Up Close and Personal

Agency Life, Search

I’ve worked in this field long enough to remember when people didn’t really talk about search marketing, even though search platforms have been around since the early days of the World Wide Web.

We’ve come a long way since those primitive days of the 1990s, when most people watched TV on cable, nobody owned an iPhone and Google was just a search engine. In fact, experts predict that the SEO industry alone will grow to $79 billion by 2020 (Search Engine Land).

All that growth equals the need for more digital marketing experts — pros who understand the nuances of paid search, programmatic display, mobile or video campaigns, and SEO and who know how to leverage those disciplines to help their clients reach the right people online. Mack Duehring and Carolynn Wilcox are part of the brains behind the search services we provide to our clients here at Wray Ward. I talked with Mack and Carolynn about what they do, what makes search marketing pros tick and what will happen next for this fast-moving field.

What do search marketing pros do for a living?

MD: First, “search marketing” is kind of a misnomer, because that’s only one part of what we do. 

CW: You can boil it down into three areas: SEO, paid search and programmatic display. All three complement each other. By generating a comprehensive plan incorporating each of these tactics, we can effectively reach potential customers at each stage of the buyer journey.

Analyzing the data available to us and studying our audience’s pain points enables us to not only create effective advertising — it also tells us where we can most effectively reach our audience with that advertising. That’s especially critical when trying to determine how users are searching and where we can place display ads to make them contextually relevant to the page’s content.

MD: As SEO specialists, we maximize website traffic by making sure they’re optimized for search engines like Google. We deal with a lot of data analysis, especially when we perform search audits. Paid search involves getting brands to show up in the search results when people search for their product. We also spend time on the programmatic display side, an area that’s growing as companies get more comfortable with it.

CW: We can learn a lot from analytics. Say Client A wants to better understand their audience. I can pull general interest categories, identify the audience and determine weak areas or unique opportunities.

Organic search is, of course, a huge part of our jobs. Clients are becoming more interested in organic search, because it’s the best way, especially from a content standpoint, to futureproof a business. That’s particularly true as search engines continue to improve and focus more on the user. But organic search is a long-term investment, not a quick fix. Companies that recognize that have a lot to gain. 

Why is the search discipline growing so quickly?

MD: Today, we have more tools and opportunities to reach audiences in new and creative ways, especially on the programmatic side. In the past, we may have reached people who could possibly be interested in the product. Now, we’re reaching people who are ready to interact with the brand — and we’re able to give them the right ad or message, in the right place, at the right time.

CW: The internet was a luxury when I was growing up. Today, it’s a necessity. Increased access to the internet equals a greater need for search. 

MD: Mobile is a huge factor, too. We don’t crack open encyclopedias anymore. We hop on our phones and go right to Google. 

CW: From an organic perspective, we also have many more opportunities to reach people. Display, on one hand, is an awareness-level tactic. But organic search reaches people when they are searching for information or have a question, need or problem to solve. They may not know exactly what they want to learn, do or buy, but search helps them along that journey as they figure out what they need or want.

Writers can write content to address people’s problems and get their brand in front of them. In the meantime, because the brand addresses a pain point, it establishes trust.   

Do you think search marketing will plateau? Will the growth ever stop? 

MD: I don’t know how high it can go, but it will never stop. The landscape changes so frequently that we’ll always need search marketing pros. Google, for example, focuses on the user and providing the best experience for that user. Every couple of months, they introduce a large-scale algorithm update. Companies need search experts to help them navigate that landscape. I think searches will become even more valuable and more targeted — not just toward search terms, but the context behind them. Brands that want to show up will always have a moving target. 

CW: For me, the growing popularity of Google Home and personal assistants like Alexa and Siri is another interesting factor. How will voice search change things? What will people get when they ask Alexa to find the closest Indian restaurant?

Why is it important for brands to invest in search marketing?

CW: Futureproofing. One hundred percent.

MD: People don’t lie to the search bar. They need solutions, and they’re not holding anything back. That means that if you invest time and money in search, you’ll reach people in the moments when they need and want you. 

What about programmatic display?

MD: Unfortunately, programmatic has become the boogeyman of digital marketing for some people. I think the fear factor is overblown. In a nutshell, we’re trying to reach people when they’re consuming certain content in the right mindset. That’s why programmatic display can be incredibly effective — it allows companies to reach their targets before those targets even realize they need them.

What are common skills or traits of a search marketing pro?

CW: It requires a lot of analytical thinking. We aren’t entirely left-brained. We have to be a little creative, too. But our creativity lies more in our ability to be resourceful, because our industry is so dynamic. We have to be curious. We have to ask great questions. We have to want to know more, even if we’ll never know it all.

MD: It takes a certain kind of person who is wired a certain way. We have to be comfortable with what the data tells us, even if it goes against our gut. Thankfully, we can measure a lot of what we do. We have to be able to disregard our ego and trust the data. OK, this part of the plan isn’t working. Here’s why. Here’s how we’re going to fix it. For example, we’ve worked with clients who were convinced females 35-44 were their target demo, but we were able to show their target is really a 50-50 female/male split.

CW: Empathy is an important part of any marketing career. But search pros have to balance that empathy with analysis, data and rational thought. 

Do you have a typical day? 

MD: No.

CW: I don’t think so. Our jobs have so many different components and demands. But I love those days when I get to wear headphones. That means I have a direction, and I can go out and execute it.

What are some of your search team’s best strengths?

CW: We’re great at data analysis. And we’re resourceful. We also understand the value of communication. We gather a lot of insights, but it’s what we do with them that matters most. How are we sharing them with the digital team from a UX perspective? With the Client Engagement team from a brand strategy perspective? 

MD: We’re well-versed in multiple areas. For example, there are a lot of people out there who are great at SEO or paid search or programmatic, but I think it’s rare to find people who can wrap their head around three distinct fields.

What do you like most about your job in search marketing?

MD: I love the data analytics. When we do audits and put together strategies, that’s when we really get into who we’re trying to reach and how they’re engaging with campaigns and websites. I also enjoy working with creatives, because they’re deeply programmed to make things aesthetically pleasing.

CW: I love being able to see the results and know if I was successful. And when our work is successful, it’s intrinsically rewarding. 

MD: Well, that’s one of the best and worst parts, because our work is so measurable. The key is understanding how to take those times when things don’t work and use them as an opportunity to improve. 

Also, I enjoy that there isn’t really an end point to our work as long as we’re supporting a client. That means we’re always learning and optimizing.

CW: I also love that search can inform so many other facets of marketing. We can determine the most successful messaging before our clients spend $10,000 to put it on a billboard. We get the satisfaction of proof that the things we do for our clients are working.

As we mentioned earlier, analyzing the available data allows us to learn about our audience and how they’re finding us. We also have the ability to deploy and test messaging in a quick, efficient manner, meaning we can easily and measurably test which creative and copy are most likely to drive success.

This adds up to a gold mine of insights that help us all effectively optimize ads across channels and marketing efforts.

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