Change is inevitable. In the online marketing world, that inevitability manifests itself almost monthly. When I arrived at the stunning, one-percent catering, St. Regis Deer Valley for the Search Insider Summit, I came to talk search. You know, things like negative keywords, dynamic keyword insertion, and broad match modified. Turns out, however, that those traditional SEM topics didn’t play much at SIS. Instead, we talked about DSPs, voice search, mobile-enabled landing pages, and the integration of social signals into display ads. To put it another way, we really didn’t talk about search. We talked about digital marketing.

This is the state of “search” today – specifically, it’s not about search. Search engine marketing agencies are dead and have been replaced by SEMs who happen to apply quantitative analysis to a multitude of online marketing channels. At a minimum, the modern search agency needs to be proficient at:

  • SEM – including Google, Yahoo/MSN, and select second-tier engines;
  • Performance display advertising – including GDN, retargeting, DSPs, and exchanges;
  • Social – including Facebook PPC and mostly likely Twitter advertising;
  • Mobile advertising
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

Add to that several optional proficiencies like video, local, analytics, and SEO, and search engine marketers have a brain-hurting job these days. For the most part, I see this as a huge opportunity for agencies. Few in-house marketing teams have the budget to hire experts in all of these areas, and expecting one person to understand all of these practice areas will result in “an expert at everything who is really an expert at nothing.” The result has to be outsourcing – likely a combination of outsourced technologies (campaign management, DSPs, analytics, multivariate testing) and outsourced talent (one or many agencies).

The challenge for agencies will be to structure their internal teams to really provide expertise in each of these areas. While I definitely believe that the search-marketer mindset – one of rigorous, quantitative analysis – is perfectly suited to manage non-search channels, I do not believe it’s possible to have the same person in an agency simultaneously manage SEM, display, Facebook, and whatever else for their clients.

The model that will emerge is one of intra-agency segmentation – some SEMs will stick to paid search; others will become experts in display, social, or mobile. Together they will apply their analytical skills and understanding of consumer intent to drive profitable ROI across multiple channels. It won’t be easy, but then, if it was easy, why would clients need agencies in the first place?

David Rodnitzky, CEO
– Questions? Comments? Email us at blog at ppcassociates dot com.



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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.