Ad and media networks are venturing deeper into the Wild Wild West, which is what search engine marketing (SEM) is called with its limitless, sometimes lawless, opportunities. SEM helps increase website visibility within search engines. Agencies such as Neo@Ogilvy and Universal McCann hired new executives last year to steer this discipline regionally. And Aegis Group Plc. will launch its global search marketing company called iProspect here, under their Isobar digital network.
The mother of search operations will, however, soon click from WPP Group’s global media giant GroupM, which is consolidating its search operation globally. Its search brands, such as 24/7 Real Media, Outrider (which provides organic search) paid search agency Quisma, Catalyst—in organic and paid search—should combine to forge perhaps the largest search firm under a holding company. Search services are expected to be seamlessly integrated with each GroupM media specialist brand globally; will a Mindshare Search, Maxus Search, MediaCom Search launch here? For clients, such consolidation promises the benefits of scale across geographies, tied in with the media buying and integration synergies that global media agencies offer. The question is, will advertisers choose to go to agencies over true-blue SEM specialists and independent interactive agencies to drive more qualified traffic to their sites, hike leads and sales, enhance brand visibility? Google, Yahoo, Microsoft have big-daddy search engines. However, most search engines and search marketers maintain that agencies may know media buying, but just don’t get the different nuances of search, be it organic, paid or now vertical search which makes project costs only higher. Agencies are felt to lack technical knowledge, especially in search engine optimization—defined by Wikipedia as the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a site from search engines via natural search results for targeted keywords. The earlier a site appears in the search results, the higher it “ranks”, the more searchers will visit that site. Agencies say their edge over SEMs rests in not throwing technical jargon and understanding brands. As one-stop brand stewards, they reason they can better synergize online and offline ad activities so that there is no dissonance in image. Besides, advertising and search are umbilically connected: Good advertising leads to more consumers searching for those brands online, and higher purchase conversions. Branded terms also tend to see more searches and purchase decisions.
Digital communications in India occupies about 2-5% of an advertiser’s total ad spends, which should leapfrog. Enough motivator for SEMs and agencies to work together more.