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Is Search Becoming Commoditized?

Published: April 18, 2012

Author: Sean Marshall

Is search becoming commoditized? Product features that were once the exclusive domain of advanced platforms (e.g. Excel web queries, 3rd-party feed integration, out-of-stock monitors) are now commonplace. As Google has started to adopt more of these features within AdWords, and more people blog (ahem) about best uses and practices, SEM techniques have become less and less differentiated and the space more commoditized.
While the human – creative – element remains, we’ve gotten to a point where very little sets technology providers apart anymore. Having evaluated dozens of solutions and watched various clients go through the same process, I’ve realized that most decisions come down to price and aesthetics. In case of ties, the business will likely go to the company you already have a relationship with. If these aren’t the hallmarks of commoditized products, I don’t know what is.
Keeping up with Google is one of the greatest challenges facing tech vendors today and still creates situations where only select vendors might offer a certain feature. But the fact is that these instances are becoming fewer and farther in between. Sitelink integration was probably the last time there was a significant disparity between what could be done in AdWords and what most platforms supported.
Image credit: news.softpedia.com
If every tool does the same thing and anyone can access them, what good are experts anymore? A few weeks back, our CEO, David Rodnitzky, wrote that the search agency is dead. Considering what’s happened to PPC technology, I’d have to agree. Looking at search in vacuum, there is no secret sauce (again, creative aside). The next great challenge is to consider search as part of a complex marketing mix and the tangled knot that is attribution.
Search marketers have spent the last 10+ years trying to create processes that simplify day-to-day search. While these optimizations to process have been geared to make search marketing better, commoditization should be an expected outcome. That’s my take; what’s yours?
Sean Marshall, Director of Search Engine Marketing

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