BusinessWeek Dissing Paid Search (Again)

Okay, BusinessWeek is beginning to get a little obvious in its campaign against paid search. In my books, they just received their third strike.

Strike One

An “expose” on the SEM Sweat Shop floor that showed a remarkable ignorance for the diversity of the industry. I responded to this little journalistic gem in a SearchInsider column last May. In it, search marketers were called “digital bricklayers”. Here was one quote:

“The work ranges from the slightly creative, such as … crafting sentences for ads to snag search traffic, to the rote — typing in descriptions of hamburgers for online menus.”

It was not wrong so much as one dimensional. BusinessWeek shows a tendency to paint the entire industry with a single brush.

Strike Two

This time BusinessWeek took on click fraud, with a similarly one sided perspective. They approached it focusing on the most egregious cases of click fraud, with examples of both perpetrators and victims. This is fine to draw attention, but they should also provide an accurate assessment of the overall problem. They used numbers that came from faulty research, like Outsell’s much quoted study and passed it off as an accurate assessment of the scope of click fraud with the slippery qualifier, “most experts believe”. They virtually ignored the balancing viewpoint of the engines themselves. Again, I dealt with this in another SearchInsider column and a follow up post. This is just one of many articles from BusinessWeek pumping up concern about click fraud. And most imply that the majority of the problem lies with Google and Yahoo.

Strike Three

The latest one indicates that advertisers are souring on search ads because of rising click costs and decreasing ROI. Again, they’ve taken a few cases and given the impression that it represents the entire industry. So, let me dive in again. Yes, PPC costs are rising. And yes, if you’re not tweaking your campaigns, you could find your ROI dropping. But here’s the thing. The advertisers finding this are the direct marketers. And as I’ve said over and over, there’s an inherent disconnect here. Direct marketers are looking at selling And their ads say as much. One of the advertisers quoted as complaining about the ineffectiveness of paid search in the articles was

Okay, let’s say I search for “best luggage” on Yahoo. Here are the ads that come up:


Hmm..apparently eBags isn’t that turned off sponsored. But let’s get to the disconnect. What are the chances that if I search for “best luggage”, I’m looking to buy right now? How interested am I in saving 60%? I’ll tell you, based on past research. Less than 1 in 10.  In fact, it’s probably less than 1 in 20. I’m looking to see what the best luggage is. I’m researching. And where will I click? Well, let me show you the number one organic result for the same search in Yahoo.


This is where I’m going to click, because it’s a much better match to my intent.

So, for those advertisers hell bent on jamming a purchase down a consumer’s throat, I have three pieces of advice:

  • Get to know how search works better
  • Get to know your consumers better
  • Get to know how your consumers use search better

If you do those 3 things, you’ll get a much better return than you will from desperately steering budget into different channels without putting some solid strategy and understanding behind your campaigns. The problem is not that search is getting less effective, it’s that marketers using it aren’t getting any smarter.

From the “Living in Glass Houses” Category

And finally, when I went to try to read this article on BusinessWeek, I had to click through an interstitial. When the hell will online publishers learn that these are incredibly annoying and detract significantly from the user experience? Give me a bushel of paid search ads, aligned with my intent, any day over one interstitial.

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