The Next Generation of Search Marketers

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As I left NYC last week after another exuberant AD:TECH show, I couldn’t help but ponder the future of Search and just where this industry is headed. More importantly, I thought about the plethora of companies at the show that claimed that they were either, a) dedicated Search-only firms, or b) agencies that offered Search under an umbrella of other interactive services. A look through the list of exhibitors revealed that at least half of the 200+ companies in attendance mentioned “Search” somewhere in their company description.

As a marketer, how does one distinguish the leaders from the followers? I can only imagine the confusion, bewilderment and jaded view of what “Search” means that was inspired by walking through the exhibit floor and coming in contact with yet “another Search firm” (as I so frequently heard!!).

Well, folks, here’s the skinny: It’s only going to get worse. As this industry grows and matures, Search Marketers will grow and mature as well (hopefully). Some have been absorbed, some have been acquired and more will certainly crop up. In the future, you will see some Search firms stick by their tried and true methods, operating as so-called “defenders of the past.” Others will try to keep up with the pace, only to find that they never were truly equipped with the knowledge and technology power to succeed, forcing some of them to fade into the night.

And yet more than a few will thrive in the face of a growing industry, the growing sophistication of marketers, the elevated threat of competitors and the increasingly complex world we call Search Marketing. Call it survival of the fittest.

So, who are the companies that fit into the last category? How will they survive and why do you want to work with them? Here are a few of the attributes that identify those companies that will become leaders into the next generation of Search:

Adaptability — This industry changes as much as Brad Pitt changes his hair color. The strong companies will be those who are able to predict the needs of their clients and the rules by which the search engines play the game. These companies do not fear change—in fact, they embrace it, because it affords them the opportunity to showcase their internal strength and knowledge. Being able to quickly translate how the moving Search universe affects not only online strategies, but also bottom line ROI, will be of increasing importance going forward.

Technology — Those who have internal technology and backgrounds in data mining, manipulation and analysis will clearly have an advantage as the growth of Search continues. MSN’s new adCenter is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to innovation, and with the Search race heating up, those companies that have built their practices on data and statistics—rather than “gut feel”—will prove their weight ten times over. Search is about accountability, and with the convergence of Web Analytics and Search Marketing, smart marketers will know exactly what works…and what doesn’t.

Longevity — More and more, it will become important to weigh who’s been around for years against those that have crept up over the past few months. If I’m a company looking to outsource my Search activities, I’m going to want a partner that knows the industry, understands its nuances and history, and has a wide range of experiences and case studies to bring to the table. The companies that have been around for a while have been around for a reason, and that counts for much (though not everything) in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Integrity/Character/Trust— Sorry! I had to lump these three into one category because it is extremely critical that your Search firm possess all of these attributes, not just one or the other. I would estimate that 95% of the time, the first question a potential client asks is, “Tell me about your account management and team structure,” or some variation thereof. I cannot stress enough how important the level of experience and the integrity of the person working on your campaign can be; it can make or break your results—not to mention your relationship with your Search firm. I have spoken with many smart marketers who, unfortunately, are now working on reviewing their second or third Search firm because precisely these qualities were missing in their former partnership. God bless them for keeping the faith and continuing the search for a true partner.

As JFK so eloquently put it, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Words to live by, even (or especially) in the Search game.

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