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Ride the Search Rollercoaster or Exit Now

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search-rollercoaster

There are two common reasons for a practicing SEM to get OUT of search immediately:  1) You’re a semi-effective Web 1.0 “provider” who is not studying, and have no stomach left for screaming corners where one of the the only givens is unpredictability. Stay in search and you’ll hurt your company or clients. 2) It’s time to cash out of your agency or business while search is relatively easy to understand.

Saga of the Trusted Web 1.0 Provider
Recently we participated in a discussion regarding ridiculous search marketing scam artist jerks that prey on unwitting businesses. There is an equally dangerous, albeit more insidious, class of SEM “providers” who seem legitimate but have not kept up with critical developments in our industry. There are at least two in our city. These Web1.0 clowns, circa 2004, used to be capable of fooling all but the savviest CEO or client. Typically they are one-person shops, IT lifers, or clueless advertising agencies. However, corporate SEM consumers are wising up quickly as 2008 approaches.

aimClear is often contacted by prospective clients who are disillusioned or downright pissed off at their current search marketing agency or solo SEM practitioner. The latters’ websites were pretty but since they did not assertively adapt to the challenges of personalized and universal search, are suddenly minimized or have disappeared from the organic SERPs over the last 6 months.

Read it and Weep

The sad stories are freakishly similar. Typically PPC budgets are ballooning way out of control to take up the slack caused by missing organic prominence. Plummeting ROI represents the allegorical “all eggs in the Google basket on change-day” doomsday scenario. The eggs are now splattered all over the floor and on the advertiser’s face. There is NO excuse. Search marketers were warned.

Catching Up with Failure

Because of the importance Google places on a site’s longevity, it’s taken a while for older Web1.0 sites to be outed. Even these sites become unfortunate victims. At the mercy of marketers too myopic to evolve, they have no RSS feeds, no social media strategy, no organic conversion tracking, they stuff keywords, participate in reciprocal link programs, have little recurrent content, don’t understand millennial PR, think meta keywords are important, haven’t a clue about the challenges of tracking offline conversion, refuse to change from expensive custom-CMS applications not plugged into the blog linking grid, use ancient analytics, suck up to territorial IT fiefdoms, and (like deer in digital headlights) wonder what the hell is going on as panic sets in.

Obsolete search marketers still counsel the uninformed, usually long term, clients into 2004 KPIs: traffic count metrics and Web Position type SERP-scraping organic prominence measuring reports. “Rankings on the brain” is a terminal affliction these days and we meet the victims in cold calls to our agency.

No Excuse
The search marketers handling these accounts should be embarrassed and will likely be squeezed out of existence along with the weak-ass sites they handle. There is no excuse. We were all warned. Search marketers who were asleep at the switch are obsolete already.

A Smart Man Who Understood the Universal & Personalized Game Changer

My brilliant friend sold his boutique e-commerce category site early this year for a prodigal sum. He and the team deserved it. They were 3X INC 500 award recipients, late 90’s pioneers in CPM banner buys on Alta Vista, they built early Overture auto-scrape bidding tools, were early adopters of shopping feeds, became recognized technical innovators, and used homemade analytics to track organic prominence and ROI by late 1999. The CTO was a true innovator. The company was sparkling. With custom manufacturing facilities in China, a staff of 50+, an incredible CMS integrated with inventory and CRM, 7 full time engineers, rapidly expanding sales, they also had a killer brand and URL.

Stay the Course
Of course, there had been many opportunities to sell the business over the years but my friend, the CEO, always resisted. He stayed true to his concept of growing his hot little e-tail category site to one of the best businesses of its kind in the world. Over the years, one by one, they navigated major Internet environment shifts, including Google’s astronomical rise to power.

After months upon months of informal conversations with potential business-buyers, they sold, packed up the tent, cashed out, and walked away mid-flight. They were not specifically planning on selling. Granted, he also had a feeling the market was at a peak and would be seeing a slowdown/recession in the next year or two, but key was a great offer that came along at a pivotal time in the Internet’s history.

Impending Changes
I asked my friend why he would decide now to part ways with a business he lovingly shepherded to fruition from a hole in the wall one-person strip mall shop. His explanation was razor sharp and scared the living hell out me. “Universal and personalized search were about to remove the ability to absolutely track organic prominence and succeed in the organic SERPs, he explained.” He did not want to face the challenges of doing business on the Internet absent the ability to track absolutely…time to cash out and let the next generation of search marketing scientists deal with this nasty paradigm shift, which he felt difficult to surmount. He was right.

“Universal and personalized search were about to remove the ability to absolutely track organic prominence and succeed in the organic SERPs”, he explained. He did not want to face the challenges of doing business on the Internet absent the ability to track absolutely.

Get Off the Train
In 2003 pundits preached the impending RSS explosion. The forums at Search Engine Watch were buzzing with adapt-soon-of-die banter, ablaze with prognostication suggesting that every major media outlet, publisher, and even common websites would soon market by new-fangled feeds. Last year at SES Chicago we were warned about personalized and universal search. Last spring, verticals like news, video, and maps began squeezing everyone even further out of the organic SERPs.

 

These are but a few of the astronomical changes that often take place in search. The meaning for my solo SEM practice (then) and our search marketing agency (now) was and is crystal clear. Search marketers unwilling to learn and adapt will likely not survive. Umm, they’re not surviving-they suck. They’re killing their companies or clients.

Be a Hard Core SEM
Search marketers be strong! Study hard. Ride the rollercoaster with eyes wide OPEN. Change with the times. Navigate the curves. Go to your decision makers and clients to explain the ramifications of what’s now and what’s next if you want a seat at the table. Help your people understand the significance and risk of nearly overnight obsolescence. Study your ass off and be ready to quickly adapt. Do not get comfortable. Do NOT get comfortable. Comfortable search marketers puke all over everyone else on the rollercoaster. We know this because your clients are calling us. :)

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16 Comments

  1. Todd Mintz on November 27, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Right on…but realize that where search is today, there is so much going on that we can’t be rock stars at everything making necessary the need to specialize in certain areas of SEM (and work with others that are strong where we are weak).

  2. Marty Weintraub on November 27, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    Right, the notion of “specialists” has become important. In the early days of search 1 person COULD do it all. Now there’s way to much to think about-even for “full service” agencies.”

  3. Ad Tracker on November 27, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    Great article, Marty! I actually understood almost all of this one ;)

  4. Marty Weintraub on November 27, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    @ Ad Tracker: You’re too modest.

  5. Steaprok on November 28, 2007 at 1:21 am

    Hey Marty, another great , thought out and insightful article. I agree, within the last couple of years, we can literally see the SEM field breaking apart into niche specialties. With the more generalized firms falling by the way side, due to lack of flexibility.

    ofcourse, there are exceptions, but in general I do see the industry, segmenting, and in the process leaving the (meta tag and directory/ Old school ) SEO’s in its wake.

    Thanks again…

  6. Marty Weintraub on November 28, 2007 at 2:36 am

    @ Steaprok: Thanks for the kind words. We appreciate your insight. Glad you stopped by.

  7. Michael D on November 28, 2007 at 6:24 am

    Each word you wrote for everything I have not done yet feels like a punch in the stomach. Must stay strong and keep eyes open. :)

  8. Marty Weintraub on November 28, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Michael, you do great work! Cut yourself some slack. :)

  9. Jeff on November 28, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Marty, great article. A bit of a roller coaster in itself ;)

    You’re right on with this insight. It’s time to scale or get out. Certainly managing campaigns has evolved 2 or 3 times over in the past 18 months. You cannot effectively manage things by yourself anymore. Running a simple paid search campaign requires 2 or 3 helping hands. Client interface, campaign specialist, onsite landing page guru, analytics tech, etc etc… Segmentation and specialization are raising the bar and certainly creating a new level service.

    Buckle up…

  10. Marty Weintraub on November 28, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    @ Jeff: I feel you pain man. :) Thanks for stopping by.

  11. David Saunders on December 1, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    New visitor – how did I not know about this blog?

    Great post – This is one of the reasons I turn down so many in house SEO (whatever) jobs all these big agencies that approach me really do have their heads up their arses – one of the most oft asked questions “Do you know how to work with WPG?”….

    Nuff said…..

  12. Marty Weintraub on December 2, 2007 at 12:37 am

    @David: He He. Thanks for your perspective. :)
    Marty

  13. David Saunders on December 2, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks Marty – my main dislike/hate etc is that these big local design shops/SEO agencies/clowns make a boatload more than I do for literally lying their arses off to unsuspecting folks who eventually come to me “on a budget”

    I think if I was a thief I’d be retired now ;)

  14. Tony Wright on December 3, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Great post – just found your blog. I think one thing to point out, however, many times the problem with an SEO program is not the SEO performing the service, but the process the agency is utlizing. SEO process is even more important now than it has been in the past. However, I see more and more SEOs “shooting from the hip” and coming up with great ideas that they either can’t or don’t have the time to implement. For instance, just doing a one time social media push can be effective, but deadly for an SEO agency. This tactic can create an initial rush of traffic that will set client expectations that will not be fullfilled unless a dedicated and disciplined ongoing strategy is implemented. And this type of strategy takes alot of time. Usually more time than an agency has allotted for the particular client. Profitiability is a slippery slope in SEO, and most agency’s pricing structures don’t support true profitability.

  15. Marty Weintraub on December 3, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    @ Tony, thanks for the perspective. I think you’re on the mark.

  16. Mel66 on December 4, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Great article, Marty. “Keep up or get off” is a necessary mantra for any industry, but it’s crucial for SEM. Thanks for the collective wake-up call!

    Melissa

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