The Tricky Intersection of Social and Search

First published September 20, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

People don’t trust search ads. At least, 64% of people don’t trust search ads.

Apparently, search is not unique. According to the same research, nobody trusts ads of any kind. That’s not really surprising, given that it’s advertising. Its entire purpose is to make us suddenly want crap we don’t need. Small wonder we don’t trust it.

But you know what we do trust? The opinions of our friends.

Nothing I should have said up to this point should come as a shock to anyone reading this column. The only thing I found mildly surprising here was that we had such a low level of trust in search ads. Typically, search advertising is better aligned with intent and less hyperbolic in nature. But, apparently, we marketers have bastardized even the purity of search to the point where it’s less trusted than TV ads (gasp!)

So, to recap, we don’t trust ads, we do trust friends. This seems to present a simple solution: combine the two so that pesky advertising can bask in the halo effect of social endorsement.  You’ve been hearing about this for many years now, including several Search Insider columns from my fellow pundits and myself.

So, given that we’ve been testing the waters for sometime, why haven’t we got this advertising/social thing locked down yet? Why are Facebook stockholders wailing over their deflated portfolios? Why are we still stumbling out of the starting gate in our efforts to marry the magic of social and search? This shouldn’t be rocket science.

In fact, it’s more complex than rocket science. It’s psychology; it’s sociology and at least a handful of other “ologies.” When we talk about combing search and social — or for that matter, any type of advertising and social — we’re talking about trying to understand what makes humans tick.

If we talk about the simplest integration of the two, where social acts as a type of reinforcing influence that is subordinate to the primary act of searching, it’s not hard to follow the train of thought. We search for something, and in the results, we see some type of social badge that indicates how our social connections feel about the options presented to us. In this case, intent is already engaged. Social just serves to grease the decision wheels, helping us differentiate between our options. This type of integration can easily be seen on Google (Plus integration) as well as vertical engines such as TripAdvisor or Yelp.

But that type of integration doesn’t really fire the imagination of marketers and get their market acquisition juices flowing. It’s just hedging your bets on a market that’s already pretty easy to identify and capture. It does nothing to open up new markets. And it’s there where things get muddy.

The problem is this niggling question of intent. Somehow, something needs to activate intent in the mind of the prospect. It’s here where we truly need to be persuaded, moving our mental mechanisms from disengaged to engaged.

To do this, you need to reverse the order of importance between the two channels. Social recommendation needs to be in the driver’s seat, hopefully engaging and moving prospects to the point where they initiate a search. And that’s a much bigger hurdle to get over. Once the order is reversed, the odds of success plummet precipitously.

Here are just a few of the hurdles that have to be cleared:

Trust – Whichever channel is chosen to deliver the social recommendation, it has to be received with trust. This factor can be affected by how the recommendation is presented, the social proof that accompanies it, the aesthetic value of the interface, and the recipient’s attitude towards the channel itself. There is no lack of nuanced detail to consider here.

Alignment of Interest – When the recommendation is delivered, it must be of interest to the recipient. This relies on an accurate assessment of context and intent. Whatever the targeting channel, there has to be a pretty good chance of delivering the right message at the right time.

Social Modality – So, let’s assume you’ve figured out how to get the first two things right – you are using a trusted channel and you’ve done a good job of targeting. You’re not home free yet. Here’s the thing – we don’t act the same way all the time. We adapt our behaviors to fit the social circumstances we are currently in. There are predetermined modes of behavior that we conform to. It’s why we act one way with our coworkers and another way with our children. It’s why it’s okay to tip a waiter in a restaurant, but not okay to tip your mother-in-law after Sunday dinner. This modality is carried over from the real world to the virtual world of social networks. And it’s very difficult to determine what mode a prospect may be in. But it can make all the difference in the success of a socially targeted advertising message.

The Fight for Attention – This is the big one. Even if you do everything else right, your odds for successfully capturing the attention of a prospect and holding it for long enough to generate actual consideration of your product are not nearly as good as you might hope. You’d probably do better at a Vegas craps table. It all depends on what the incumbent’s intent is. What brought her to the online destination where you managed to intercept her? How critical is it that she finish what she’s currently doing? How engaged is she in the task at hand?

With the first example of search/social integration (search first, social second), the odds for success are pretty high, because intent has already been established. You’re just using social endorsement to expedite a process that’s already in motion.

But in the second example (social first, search second), we’re talking about an entirely different ball game. You have to derail the incumbent intent and replace it with a new one. Think of it as the difference between pushing a car downhill that’s already started to roll, and pushing the same car from a standing start up the hill.

No wonder we’re having some difficulty getting things rolling.

Search and the Age of “Usefulness”

First published April 19, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled over the recent changes to Google’s algorithm and what it means for the SEO industry. This is not the first time the death knell has been rung for SEO. It seems to have more lives than your average barnyard cat. But there’s no doubt that Google’s recent changes throws a rather large wrench in the industry as a whole. In my view, that’s a good thing.

First of all, from the perspective of the user, Google’s changes mark an evolution of search beyond a tool used to search for information to one used by us to do the things we want to do. It’s moving from using relevance as the sole measure of success to incorporating usefulness.

The algorithm is changing to keep pace with the changes in the Web as a whole. No longer is it just the world’s biggest repository of text-based information; it’s now a living, interactive, functional network of apps, data and information, extending our capabilities through a variety of connected devices.

Google had to introduce these back-end changes. Not to do so would have guaranteed the company would have soon become irrelevant in the online world.

As Google succeeds in consistently interpreting more and more signals of user intent, it can become more confident in presenting a differentiated user experience. It can serve a different type of results set to a query that’s obviously initiated by someone looking for information than it does to the user who’s looking to do something online.

We’ve been talking about the death of the monolithic set of search results for years now. In truth, it never died; it just faded away, pixel by pixel. The change has been gradual, but for the first time in several years of observing search, I can truthfully say that my search experience (whether on Google, Bing or the other competitors) looks significantly different today than it did three years ago.

As search changes, so do the expectations of users. And that affects the “use case” of search. In its previous incarnation, we accepted that search was one of a number of necessary intermediate steps between our intent and our ultimate action. If we wanted to do something, we accepted the fact that we would search for information, find the information, evaluate the information and then, eventually, take the information and do something with it. The limitations of the Web forced us to take several steps to get us where we wanted to go.

But now, as we can do more of what we want to online, the steps are being eliminated. Information and functionality are often seamlessly integrated in a single destination. So we have less patience with seemingly superfluous steps between us and our destination. That includes search.

Soon, we will no longer be content with considering the search results page as a sort of index to online content. We will want the functionality we know exists served to us via the shortest possible path. We see this beginning as answers to common information requests are pushed to the top of the search results page.

What this does, in terms of user experience, is make the transition from search page to destination more critical than ever. As long as search was a reference index, the user expected to bounce back and forth between potential destinations, deciding which was the best match. But as search gets better at unearthing useful destinations, our “post-click” expectations will rise accordingly.  Whatever lies on the other side of that search click better be good. The changes in Google’s algorithm are the first step (of several yet to come) to ensure that it is.

What this does for SEO specialists is to suddenly push them toward considering a much bigger picture than they previously had to worry about. They have to think in terms of a search user’s unique intent and expectations. They have to understand the importance of the transition from a search page to a landing page and the functionality that has to offer. And, most of all, they have to counsel their clients on the increasing importance of “usefulness” — and how potential customers will use online to seek and connect to that usefulness.  If the SEO community can transition to that role, there will always be a need for them.

The SEO industry and the Google search quality team have been playing a game of cat and mouse for several years now. It’s been more “hacking” than “marketing” as SEO practitioners prod for loopholes in the Google algorithm. All too often, a top ranking was the end goal, with no thought to what that actually meant for true connections with prospects.

In my mind, if that changes, it’s perhaps the best thing to ever happen in the SEO business.

Reinventing AIDA

First published April 5, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Last week, my column was about how branding differs between search and more traditional brand channels like TV and print. It came from a recent client conversation I had. Rob Schmults from Intent Media added a well-thought-out, on-the-mark comment that deserves a follow-up. There are three points in particular I want to dive deeper into.

“ I think part of the problem in attempting to do so is that branding is all too often an end in and of itself rather than a means.”

Absolutely. Most sales and marketing happens in dozens of disconnected siloes, with little thought about how the actions of one silo affect all the others. Each silo measures progress by its own metric and set its own agenda. The problem is that all these different initiatives are aimed at the same target, but there is little thought as to how each initiative can impact the prospect.

For the past year, I’ve been thinking about how to approach marketing by starting first with creating a common understanding of the buyer’s motivations and behaviors, and then mapping a decision landscape so we can begin to understand the path the buyer takes through it. Much of my writing over the past two years has explored various aspects of this landscape: things like the role of risk and reward, and how they affect the emotions drive our buying decisions.

If branding becomes disconnected and “an end in and of itself,” it starts to lose touch with the chain of “means” that translates brand awareness into action. I saw a particularly acute example of this in a recent meeting: a brand agency presented research showing each point of movement in its unaided brand awareness metric translated into X of additional revenue. I didn’t dispute the finding, as I believed it to be true. What was missing was the long chain of interdependent “means” taking us from there to here. It was like saying that each inch of rain translated into X increase of revenue at the local farmer’s market. We’re jumping from “A” to “Z” without worrying about the 24 intervening letters.

“SEM is clearly a means — it’s a step to driving a conversion event (typically a sale).”

As I mentioned last week, presence on the search page is very often a critical intermediate step between the lofty heights of brand-building and the nitty-gritty of bringing cash in the door. In fact, if you take the time to understand how search is typically used in the purchase process with your typical buyer, it typically falls into the “no-brainer” category, because the prospect has intent and is completely open to being persuaded. Which brings me to Rob’s next point:

“Branding has value, so the war Gordon describes doesn’t have to end with total victory and branding’s extinction.”

As effective as search is, it’s a channel with built-in limitations, including available inventory. If there is no awareness, there is no inventory. People can’t search for something they don’t know exists (at least, not yet). Branding creates awareness, which, if the dots are connected properly, eventually turns into intent. And when intent is present, search is very effective at converting that intent into action. The chain then is Awareness – Intent – Action, which is a variation on the venerable AIDA branding model: Attention – Interest – Desire – Action. If you combine the two you end up with Awareness – Interest – Desire – Intent – Action, or AIDIA. You need branding at the front end, to create awareness, spark interest and create desire. You need search at the back end to allow prospects to act on their intent and discover how to take action.

It’s interesting to note that the original AIDA model jumped all the way from desire to action without much explanation on how to get there. Given that two of the steps –“interest” and “desire” — seem pretty similar, it’s odd that there is such a huge chasm between the domain of branding and the ultimate transaction itself. The AIDA model was definitely biased towards the front end of the marketing process.

I think what digital has done, especially through search, is to provide much more granularity and clarity on the many steps you can take to get from desire to action. But, as Mr. Schmults reminds us, none of these steps is “an end unto itself.” They’re part of a journey. They depend on each other. And each is passed through by your prospects as they travel down the path of purchase.

To come full circle, that was my original point. I’m not calling for the abolition of branding. I’m just asking that we take the time to understand the journey our customers take, and be there at each step.

 

There is No Floor on Search Spending

First published March 29, 2012 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

I was asked an interesting question by a client the other day:  “What is the minimum spending threshold for paid search? Below what level does it not make sense to invest anything?”

A little context is in order here. This same client had been through a vigorous round of budget discussions, where the digital and branding teams were fighting for the same bucket of dollars. They were trying, with almost no success, to compare effectiveness of digital and branding on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The brand team’s tactic was that they couldn’t give up any budget because they were already at minimum spending levels. Even a dollar less would drop them below the level required to hit the reach/frequency minimums dictated by the agency handling the media buys.

The answer, of course, is that there is no minimum when it comes to paid search. Each click you buy generates a potential lead. But the reasoning behind that answer speaks to the unique nature of search, when compared to traditional brand-building channels.

Online Branding is a Different Beast

Search vendors have been trying to prove the brand-building effects of search for years now. I’ve been personally involved in some of the earliest of these studies. And I’m here to tell you, branding is much different in an online environment than it is in the traditional worlds of print and electronic media.

When you use research to create a direct comparison between two different alternatives, you have to control for variables. If you don’t, the results are meaningless. If you’re trying to measure the brand lift of search, you have to use traditional brand awareness metrics — which, as I said, have significant methodological challenges.

The biggest challenge, identified by more sophisticated research approaches such as neuroscanning, is that most market research doesn’t really take into account how the brain works. And it’s here where the brand impact of search really can leave its more traditional counterparts in the dust.

The brain can interact with potential marketing messages in two different modes – a “bottom up” mode or a “top down” mode. The “bottom up” mode is how most traditional advertising works. It interrupts the brain, whatever it’s engaged with, and temporarily sidetracks the brain long enough to hopefully leave a “brand imprint” that will stick in long-term memory. Often, this is done at a subconscious level.

And therein lies the problem with most brand-awareness metrics. By their very nature, they have to engage the conscious brain and suddenly you’ve muddied the mental waters to such an extent that it’s almost impossible to get a true picture of the impression the brand left. Traditional brand impact research is a crapshoot, at best.

It’s this subconscious impact that has created the “minimum buy” hypothesis. If you don’t hit a potential target with enough impressions to make even a slight ding in their mental armor, you have wasted your entire budget. It’s the “Chinese water torture” approach to advertising.

But search engages the brain in a “top down” mode. We’re actively engaged with the task at hand, which means that no interruption is required to implant the brand impression. It’s immediately loaded into working memory, and we’re ready to act on it. That’s why there is no such thing as a minimum search spend. Each click bought has the potential to work, because there are no mental barriers to break down or attention to grab.

Sometimes the Truth Hurts

Ironically, in this particular budget discussion, the effectiveness of search turned out to be its downfall. We didn’t have the same “minimum spend” argument as the branding agency when it came to moving ad dollars from one budget to the other. But, when the dust settled, I took some solace in knowing that while we may have lost the battle, the effectiveness of search will eventually prove triumphant in the war.

The Challenge of Social

First published December 1, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Every quarter, I fill out an online survey about digital marketing trends. One question always shows up: “Are you looking at social as a replacement for search in your online marketing strategy?” I always answer no, and to myself, comment that it’s a stupid question asked by someone who obviously doesn’t know much about online marketing. But now I wonder  — is it really such a stupid question? Aren’t many experienced marketers asking themselves exactly the same question?

The Social Graph (or Network, or whatever you want to call it) should be the single biggest opportunity in marketing history. But marketers are stubbing their toes by the millions in trying to step over the threshold into the golden glow of the online social party. It seems it’s incredibly difficult to figure out.

Search, on the other hand, was easily pigeonholed as a direct-marketing channel. Search was so easy to “get” for marketers that Google turned it into a self-serve model and became the fastest growing company in history as a result.

For marketers, I suspect, the very ease of search has caused it to be considered a limited opportunity. Social, on the other hand, seems virtually limitless. It expands into hundreds and thousands of fascinating, if somewhat cloudy, opportunities to connect with customers. As I said, in theory, social seems like a marketer’s dream come true. But in practice, it’s an unwieldy animal to wrestle to the ground.

Here’s just one example of the challenges inherent in mapping the online social landscape.  Pitney Bowes felt there was tremendous potential in social to foster deeper engagements with its customers, building long-term loyalty. But rather than jump headlong into it, Pitney Bowes decided to test its assumptions through a survey of those customers first. The result? Social may not be all it’s cracked up to be:

“These findings will give decision-makers pause for thought,” the report (from the survey) stated. “Businesses can be forgiven for getting swept away by the hype of surrounding social media and wanting to invest in such activity as soon as possible. … But results show that those businesses tempted to lead with such techniques will quickly find themselves out of step with customer thinking.”

So why is social so awkward to leverage effectively? I suspect it’s because the exact same things that make social so promising also make it incredibly unwieldy to manage.  It’s part of our lives, which means we’re engaged, but what we’re engaged with is rarely what an advertiser wants to talk to us about.

Marketers get caught up in the concept of participation rates and usage. Facebook has one of the highest reaches of any online property, second only to Google. Alexa estimates that almost half of the total Internet user population (about 49%) uses Google regularly. Facebook is just behind at 43%. But if we look at time spent on site, Facebook comes it an about 25 minutes a day, compared to 13 minutes a day for Google. If we were using engagement as an indicator of marketing potential, this would have us salivating like a St. Bernard over a fresh bowl of kibble.

But the reason I don’t trust engagement as a metric is that it doesn’t consider intent. And intent is the key difference between social and search. The reason search excels in marketing is that it’s all about intent, and what’s even better, it’s about identified intent, neatly labeled by the search query. In the history of marketing, it’s never been easier than this to intercept a motivated buyer.

I don’t mean to minimize the value of a well-managed search campaign, but compared to other channels, it’s pretty difficult to completely flop on a search campaign. The same is not true for social. To illustrate, let’s step back and look at this from another point of view, one that removes some of the hyperbole that surrounds online social.

Let’s say you’ve just decided to sell your 2007 Honda Civic. As you’re backing out of your driveway, your neighbor flags you down and asks you how you like your Honda, and if you know where she could buy a good used one? From your perspective, this aligning of the planets seems too good to be true, but it’s similar to what happens on a search engine millions of time every day. It’s the power of alignment with purchase intent.

But let’s take a different tack. Let’s imagine that as you drive down the street, you see that one of your neighbors is having a party. In front of their house, there are at least 12 cars parked, including four Hondas. “A-hah, “ you say, “a perfect gathering of potential Honda buyers, with at least 33% of them showing a preference for Hondas” (note: if this is what your internal dialogue actually sounds like, you should consider an extended leave from work). You ring the doorbell and begin to work the crowd. The only problem is, no one came to the party to buy a Honda. Not to mention the obvious question on everyone’s mind: “Who the hell invited you?”

If your goal is to unload your Honda, I know what scenario I’d be betting on. It almost seems ludicrous that we’re even considering Scenario B as a substitute for Scenario A. Yet, every three months, I get that survey asking me if I’m thinking about it.

I know — it doesn’t make any sense to me, either.

Don’t Typecast Search as “Direct”

First published September 29, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

We should have taken it as a sign of things to come.

The panel I was moderating at OMMA Global, with the highly provocative title “The Evolving Role of the Search Marketer,” was in a tiny room that seemed to be an afterthought of whoever planned the meeting space layout in the Marriott Marquis in New York. You actually had to walk through another, much larger room and go through a door tucked in the back corner. If one of the show organizers hadn’t been personally guiding me, I might never have found it.

The second sign was equally hard to miss. Outside the “secret” door to my session was a small standard that indicated that this was the “Direct” marketing track.

Okay, relegated to the back closet and in a track that restricted search to being a “direct” channel — so far things didn’t bode well for the insightful voyage of discovery I was envisioning.

Nevertheless, we forged ahead with a very enthusiastic audience (who were no doubt glad to just have found the session) and a very seasoned panel of search veterans (Rob Griffin, Havas; Dana Todd, Performics; Michael Verghios, Mindshare; Scott Brinker, ion Interactive). And we weren’t five minutes into the session before we started talking about search being pigeonholed as a direct channel.

In the beginning, we search marketers had no qualms about the “direct” label. As advertisers began demanding more accountability for each and every ad dollar, we were perfectly positioned to benefit from the budget migrations. Dollars poured into search, propelling Google to glowing financials quarter after quarter. We proudly evangelized the measurability of search, eagerly thrusting forth dashboards with a laser focus on ROI.

And it worked. We rode the wave through most of the last decade. Even when the economy ground to a screeching halt in 2008, search bounced through with nary a scratch, due largely to its credentials as the most effective digital direct channel. While marketing budgets as a whole were slashed, search budgets either stayed the same or grew marginally, thanks to the continuing inflow at the expense of other channels.

But somewhere in the midst of that giddy party, someone should have whispered in our ear, “Be careful what you wish for!” It’s like the actor who gets typecast in a role — just as Michael Richards seems doomed to be stuck in Cosmo Kramer’s persona, we may never shake the “direct” tag. We’re stuck at the direct marketing table –quite literally, in the case of the latest OMMA conference.

But, as we discussed in our session, that shuts the door to the huge potential of search to connect and inform all manners of marketing. Increasingly, consumer intent is playing out across a digital landscape and search is the “glue” that connects many of the dots. If search gets a seat at the strategic table, we can provide vital input into consumer behavioral trends, budget allocations and attribution models, targeting strategies and much more. Search remains the clearest crystallization of buyer intent available at any time in marketing history, anywhere. That’s what made it such a phenomenal direct channel, but its potential reaches beyond that. Its power remains only partly tapped as long as it’s considered solely a direct tactic.

Here’s one example. Prior to the recession, Google and other engines were struggling to break out of the direct box by commissioning research showing the branding power of search. My company did some of this work for them. We created search scenarios and then used standard branding recall metrics to measure brand lift. Sure enough, we found significant lift with effective placement on a results page. But the problem was that we were using the wrong yardstick. We were trying to measure search using metrics pioneered in other, less efficient media.

The true power of search, when it comes to branding, is positioning a brand in a critical place during the key consideration process. As buyers, we use search to help us compile a mental list of options to consider. If brands are present and prominent, they’re not only included, their credibility as an option is enhanced. But if they’re not, even if the buyer is aware of them, they run a real risk of being dropped from the consideration set.

We shouldn’t have been measuring search as a branding channel on the same footing as TV or magazines. It’s not. It’s actually even more exciting than that. Search is positioned at the critical branch in the decision path, where it can either significantly amplify the effects of those branding channels, or wipe out all their efforts in one fell swoop. That’s how potentially powerful search is.

But we may never get the chance to tell that message, which must be heard at the planning table where the overall strategies are drafted. You won’t hear us, because we’ll be over here at the direct table, somewhere in the back corners of the Marriott Marquis.

Is it Time to Relabel ” Marketing?

First published September 15, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Last week, I asked the question, “Is the word ‘search’ the right label for what we do on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other engines?” When Internet search debuted in the early 90s, it was probably pretty accurate. But today, the concept may have passed the label by.

And, if that is true, then the same is probably true for “search marketing.” The main gist of my argument last week was that the word “search” implies the expenditure of a significant effort with no guarantee of a successful outcome. But today, more than ever, we look to these engines to connect us with information and functionality. We want to “do” things when we click through to the other side of the search results.

I also said that it was difficult to find any one label that covers all our intentions when we turn to a “search” engine. In the beginning, when the Web was one large bucket of ill-formed data, “search” worked as a universal label. But that’s not true today. Now, the Web is becoming increasingly structured, and a search engine that excels at bringing order to unstructured data often falls disappointingly short when it comes to actually getting stuff done. In trying to be the universal Swiss Army Knife of the Web for many common tasks, Google (or Bing) doesn’t do any of them particularly well, we’re starting to find.  For many tasks, a dedicated and specialized app often does a far better job of meeting our expectations.

Again, this starts to define the conundrum currently facing search marketers. When the label we used was “search,” our job was simply to make sure our sites were “found.” Within the parameters defined by “searching” (to explore in order to discover), our job was straightforward: reduce the exploration effort required on the part of the searcher by moving our sites into a more “discoverable” position.

But what if we substitute some of the other labels I suggested last week for the word “search”? Suddenly, our job becomes much more complex.

Let’s start with “connection.” In this case, buyer s already have an idea that the right online destination exists, so they also have a preconceived notion of what they would find there. In game theory, this is called “expected utility.” In this case, our job is not simply to make the site easy to find, but also to make sure it’s a relevant match for our prospect’s expectations. If it isn’t, we may capture the click but miss the conversion. And that puts a whole new spin on search marketing. To understand how to create a “connection,” we have to understand what happens on both sides of the click: pre-connection and post-connection.

This requires us to delve into our prospect’s “frame of mind.” Again, the words used here provide a clue for what’s required as a marketer. A “frame” colors our entire view of things. There’s even a term for it in psychology: the “framing effect.” It’s categorized as a cognitive bias, which means that our frames determine our reality. To be successful “connection” marketers, we have to be familiar with our prospect’s “frame” of reference. When we are, we can provide a relevant and persuasive post-click path.

But “connection” wasn’t the only alternative label I proposed. What about “action” or “fulfillment?” Again, both ask us to substantially stretch our horizons as a marketer.

“Action” is an even more determinant label than connection. If we’re looking to take “action,” each step interposed between the end goal and the prospect is another level of frustration. Here, our job as “action” marketers is to remove as many of the steps as possible between intent and action. Actions are usually well defined and specific. We should be equally as specific in the alternatives we provide our prospects. Our calls to action should be a clear invitation to “do” things.

“Fulfillment” is a little tougher nut to crack. To be “fulfilled” can take several forms. Is there an emotional component? How would the prospect define “fulfillment”? Is the post-click result a step towards fulfillment, or does it take a prospect all the way there? A successful “fulfillment” marketer should be part psychologist and part clairvoyant.

Given the challenge we have in even attaching a label to what it is we do, it’s no wonder that recent analyst reports are all reporting a common theme: the best search marketers are expanding into other services. We’re expanding beyond “search” into “social,” “mobile,” “local,” “display” and other channels. It’s not so much that “search” is passé, rather it’s that “search” isn’t really the right label anymore. I’m not sure that “social” or “local” are any better. Personally, I think the perfect word, whatever it turns out to be, should clearly identify “why” people are online rather than “what” they’re doing online.