As the World Cup has been winding down, I’ve been trying to figure out how merge my love of soccer and understanding of SEM into a functional blog post. I thought about backing into success (a la Team USA losing to Germany) but lost focus when the team was knocked out by Belgium. I considered exceeding expectations like France and Algeria (and the US too) through their respective group stages, only to watch them both go down vs Germany.


As I write this, the final has been set between Germany and Argentina. Given this week’s semi-finals, I think it’s only appropriate we focus on the final four teams. I give you : the final four of the World Cup as key SEM traits (and why these traits dominate the other).

Germany – Focus, organization and maximum efficiency. Watching Germany dismantle Brazil was both painful and exhilarating. Seven-goal feasts are rare in soccer, and watching Die Mannschaft take the hosts out with ease was the model of efficient football. These are the same skills every search marketer should strive for. Knowing the role of each cog in the machine, understanding how to react to different circumstances, making the necessary adjustments based off past tactical knowledge—these are all traits we should hope to develop in SEM.

The Germans showed no fear of changing their game plan and adapting to different opponents based on what they saw. It was the perfect mix of pro-actively positioning the team based on what was known (moving Lahm to right back to counter-attack the speedy Antoine Griezmann, putting Schweinsteiger back in midfield to counter muscle with muscle) and making reactive tweaks based on how the game unfolded (subbing in Andre Schurrle late in games to punish marauding, tired, left backs late in games).

Watching the game unfold, nothing seemed to surprise Germany. There was a process and counter-move to everything that they saw. While I strongly believe there’s an art to SEM (see: Brazil), sound process and having a repertoire of countermoves to different changes in performance and circumstances can keep getting you by.

Brazil – Art, flair and creativity. The Jogo Bonito has been a point of contention for the last 20 years. Whether to play beautifully or efficiently is something you’ll often hear TV pundits argue as the Brazilian team reconciles its current form with the glorified retelling of their past successes.

Ultimately, style lost. Though you might argue Brazil was missing their most creative player, Neymar, it was their lack of organization that did them in. You can write the most creative ad copy in the world, but if you’re buying the wrong keywords, bidding the wrong amount, and driving them to the wrong page, all the creativity in the world is useless.

Style mixed with organization is the ticket to success in PPC (see: Argentina) but if you’ve got the choice between the two, sound tactics will be more reliable.

Netherlands – Gambling and brute force. Going all the way back to the 2010 final when the Dutch decided to turn the match into American football, there’s been a perception that their brand of soccer is one of physicality. While you can’t overlook the creative flair and attacking prowess of Robben, Sneijder, and Van Persie, bruising midfielders and central defenders will be the lasting impression I take from Netherlands this go-round. Sometimes you need to be the bad cop with a client or just put in the dirty work churning through thousands of rows in Excel.

What they’ll probably be most remembered for is taking risks – notably swapping in Krull at the 120th minute just for penalty kicks vs. Costa Rica. Sure, the lad was 4” taller, but he’d only managed two penalty kick spot-on in 20 attempts for his club team. This was a massive gamble.

Sometimes marketers have to take risks and gamble on the unknown. Client redoing their entire site? Crazy idea for a new keyword? Shutting a test down before the stats are there (assuming they’d never get there)? There are many ways to gamble in search. The beauty of the Dutch game was they balanced their gambling with fundamentals. Their display against Argentina showed great organization, but ultimately, gambling on their lynchpin defender, Vlaar, to take the first penalty did them in.

Argentina – A little bit of everything. Bring up today’s Argentina team, and only one name comes to mind: Messi. The Flea has provided enough moments of flair and brilliance to Argentina’s side to carry them through to the final, but he would be nowhere without the organization of the team around him.

While they’ve played some weaker teams, it’s hard to argue against Argentina’s defensive record this World Cup – only conceding three goals the entire tournament, two of which came against a Nigerian side desperate to qualify while Argentina had first place in their group sewn up.

This combination is what makes Argentina a tremendous threat to Germany and the closest thing to the perfect search marketer for the purposes of this blog. It might seem boring, but they’ve gone through with a tight application of their process and just enough moments of brilliance to get the results. You don’t need to be brilliant all the time in search to win out. Consistency with some creative genius will work in almost all scenarios.

It’s not to say that Germany doesn’t have some creative talents like Ozil and Gotze, but if I had to hire one of these teams to run a search account, Argentina’s mix of talents would be what I chose.

It doesn’t hurt that I picked them to win before the tournament so….VAMOS!

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Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall is the CEO of Intended, an SEM agency founded in 2013 to provide industry-best service for SMB clients. Before Intended, Sean was the VP of Business Development of PPC Associates (now 3Q Digital). He is a huge Cal fan and has been known to win a buck or two playing online poker.