Since 2003 I’ve been blog­ging on SEM, and for most of that time I’ve tracked queries that lead peo­ple to my blog. In addi­tion to learn­ing that off­hand ref­er­ences to Michael Jack­son songs can lead to tons of unwanted traf­fic, I’ve learned a great deal about what SEM buy­ers are look­ing for. In this blog post I’ll list some of the types of SEM-related queries I’ve seen, and com­ment on what the queries say about search marketing.

SEM Ven­dor Queries
’ppc man­age­ment [ven­dor name]‘
’Google rec­om­mended bid man­age­ment tools’
’[ven­dor name] com­peti­tors’
’[Ven­dor 1] [Ven­dor 2] [Ven­dor 3] [Ven­dor 4]‘
’top SEM firms’

It’s per­haps no sur­prise that when peo­ple respon­si­ble for SEM at an adver­tiser or agency are look­ing for SEM tools, they go to search, but what is sur­pris­ing is how lit­tle objec­tive con­tent they find. Do a search for any of the above queries, and what you’ll find is that aside from industry-specific blogs such as mine, there are no inde­pen­dent third party reviews on SEM tools to speak of. Not so for more mature tech­nolo­gies such as CRM, data­bases, indus­trial sup­plies and web host­ing. Per­haps some­one should take this bull by the horns? Any­one? In the mean­time, SEM tech­nol­ogy buy­ers should post on forums such as Web­mas­ter­world, SearchEngineWatch and Dig­i­tal­Point­Fo­rums ask­ing oth­ers what expe­ri­ences they might’ve had with Ven­dor X, Y or Z. Also, if you’re going to set­tle on the right solu­tion, see who is & isn’t adver­tis­ing on the SEM-related queries you’d expect them to, and keep in mind that irra­tional SEM bid­ding by SEM ven­dors is a sign they prob­a­bly won’t take good care of your own campaigns.

SEM Sales Rep Queries
’Chris Zaharias Omni­ture’
’Anil Kamath Effi­cient Fron­tier’
’Kevin Ryan Motivity’

No doubt the SEM buyer is try­ing to learn about the SEM sales­per­son they have met or will meet, but more impor­tantly, I think SEM buy­ers want to know that the peo­ple they’re speak­ing to out SEM tools actu­ally know what they’re talk­ing about, par­tic­i­pate in indus­try con­fer­ences and dis­cus­sions, and have enough knowl­edge of the space for their view­points to be worth con­sid­er­ing. Over the years I’ve had many, many busi­ness rela­tion­ships start with peo­ple com­ing to me and say­ing, in effect, ‘I wanted to get your opin­ion on your and other solu­tions because I keep see­ing your name as I research the space.’ Horn toot­ing aside, this really means that most of the peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing SEM firms in pre-sales dis­cus­sions don’t know enough about the space to be trusted as capa­ble of giv­ing accu­rate assess­ments of their and other ven­dors’ solu­tions. And fur­ther, these SEM cred­i­bil­ity searches make clear the unfor­tu­nate predica­ment SEM buy­ers face: there is no objec­tive source of SEM ven­dor reviews.

SEM Cam­paign Man­age­ment Queries
’his­tory of bid man­age­ment’ — sur­pris­ingly, there are quite a few stu­dents of the space, but very lit­tle in the way of Wikipedia entries or his­tor­i­cal SEM arti­cles. This will change, but only if SEM buffs do their part.
’Google match types’ — prob­a­bly the most fre­quent query I see, reflects con­sis­tent indus­try con­cern that the match types Google defaults to are not the ones that best serve advertisers.

Expanded Broad Match’ — like­wise, you never see peo­ple search­ing for Exact or Phrase match ; those match types work the way you’d expect them to, whereas EBM is much more chal­leng­ing for adver­tis­ers to understand.

Auto­matic Match beta’
’search query length’ — I’m see­ing more of this query lately, per­haps because peo­ple are see­ing shrink­age of the long tail in their own campaigns.

SEM opti­miza­tion algo­rithms’ — not as rare a query as you’d think, shows that buy­ers know SEM sys­tems’ math is an impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion.
’ppc dis­tri­b­u­tion fraud’

AdWords account hijacked’ — lit­tle has ever been writ­ten about what is actu­ally a very reg­u­larly occur­ring PPC-related crime, but hardly a month goes by with­out some­one on an SEM dis­cus­sion forum claim­ing that their account was hijacked and new cam­paigns added that drive traf­fic to a fly-by-night affil­i­ate program.

Per­haps just as inter­est­ing are the SEM queries you don’t see. Why aren’t peo­ple search­ing for
’best SEM user inter­face’
’SEM buyer’s guide’
’what to look for in SEM solu­tions’
’SEM ven­dor reviews’

Because the major­ity of SEM solu­tion buy­ers are first-time buy­ers, most don’t know what they don’t know and just assume that if they research the ven­dors that con­tact them, they’ll do fine. That couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth, though, as SEM firms are noto­ri­ously good at — lo & behold — using search to iden­tify prospects and will take advan­tage of novice buy­ers like you wouldn’t believe. So as an SEM solu­tion buyer, rec­og­nize the lack of objec­tive infor­ma­tion, talk to as many other buy­ers as pos­si­ble, and know the ven­dors from mul­ti­ple view­points online and off.

Chris Zaharias
Chris Zaharias

Hi Guy, Historically, SEM-related sites have faced a challenge in their coverage of the SEM tools space. On the one hand, most of the participants on these sites are SEM consultants who tend to de-emphasize the importance of technology in SEM management, yet SEM vendors pay most of the bills, both in terms of advertising on these sites and booth space or sponsorships at the conferences these sites promote. As a consequence, SEM sites tend to shy away from SEM tools discussion because their most active participants won't accept discussions that emphasize the importance of tools and the limitations of man-hours, and because they don't want to risk offending their paying customers. These discussions need to happen, though, as search advertisers clearly recognize the need for technology to augment their SEM work.

Guy Hill
Guy Hill

Hi Chris. Very interesting article. I love "log analysis" (or SQ analysis, etc.). Always fascinating. I think you make a very good point about independent SEM tool review, etc. I was just talking w/ an editor of an SEM-related site, and I specifically asked if "harsh" or "controversial" reviews or articles would be desirable? I'm wondering if this is an "advertorial" violation... as in, "if I bash a vendor or class of vendors, would that mean a reduction in ad spending by those vendors to my publication?" That could very well be part of the problem. Good editorial content is always priceless. We all need to learn. Cheers to you, and thanks. [Guy Hill