The Search

I’m not as obsessed with Google as many of my colleagues in the media, marketing and communications industries are. Still, in reading John Battelle’s The Search, I’m finding it impossible to ignore the extraordinary impact Google’s intent-based approach advertising model is having on traditional, i.e., context-based advertising. Users of Google AdWords and AdSense now number in the hundreds of thousands. What ad-supported mainstream media outlet can even count that high?

I was thus more than curious to see the story on Wired News yesterday in which Amazon-owned Alexa search engine opened up its resources to the public, in effect providing an alternative “ecosystem” to Google. Search pundit, author and publisher John Battelle was paraphrased in the Wired piece saying that the move, if it pans out as promised, could have a big impact on the search industry, and could possibly lessen Google’s growing dominance in web search. On his own blog, Mr. Battelle said the move by Alexa could “change the game.”

Now why should PR people concern themselves with the machinations of search? Aren’t our brethren on the legacy advertising side of the marketing mix the ones to worry about disintermediation? Other than creating ancillary offerings like search engine optimization (SEO), shouldn’t agencies be focused more on creating a content-based corollary to this new advertising paradigm? Can our industry deliver to our clients an intent-driven audience versus context-driven, i.e., placing a story on estrogen replacement therapy in Woman’s Day magazine or on “Oprah,” hoping that a portion of the readers or viewers will respond? Shouldn’t we be compensated based on the actions created by the placement, e.g., make a purchase, provide an e-mail, request more info, rather than just press clips and airchecks or worse, their “ad equivalencies?”

As Search Engine Marketing (SEM) evolves, our profession needs to stay focused on the prize, and nimble about getting there. We should be thinking beyond higher search engine rankings for our clients (and lower for their adversaries), and more about using search to deliver viewers, readers and listeners who already have expressed an intent to buy. Then maybe PR can become more valuable and less mysterious in terms of its ROI. More importantly, we should be better compensated for delivering transactions.