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The evolution of modern search marketing

What is sometimes underplayed by search marketing agencies and departments, and often overlooked from the outside, is that there is real science behind it

Whether it is the early twentieth century propaganda model distilled into embryonic radio and television advertisements or the psycho-social research that still impacts the marketing of major film releases, the creative nature of advertisement is always underpinned by a real knowledge of the market – otherwise it just doesn’t work, creativity for its own sake (in advertising at least) is most often doomed to failure.


Though SEO may well have begun (as one anecdote, in a 1998 book entitled Net Results has it) as a result of a website designer for band Jefferson Starship’s response to being berated by the band’s road-manager (who couldn’t find the website through a search engine) – finding that repeatedly including ‘Jefferson Starship’ in black on a black background took the website to number one for the keywords in a matter of moments, but the manner in which SEO is conducted, and the variety of things it now includes in its remit has necessitated a development in keeping with that of advertising on traditional media.

Digital and traditional marketing are becoming ever more closely entwined as time goes by. As an industry, search marketing has been required to learn, in a much shorter time, the lessons of its elder marketing siblings in television, print and radio. Whether this is Prospect and Decision theory’s influence on A/B site trials, or the effect of the Emergent Norm, Deindividuation and Social Identity theories in determining how best to reach large cross sections of specific demographics with a campaign, the industry has gone from being a niche sector, an afterthought in the marketing process, to a vital part of any marketing strategy.


In this regard, McDonalds – one of the world’s most recognisable brands – recruited (back in September 2015) a number of YouTube ‘vloggers’ to host a weekly show in order to engage millennials, while AOL has added to its video platform purchase of adap.TV for $405M with the purchase of Millennial Media, a programmatic advertising company (which utilises algorithms to automate the purchase of ad-space using consumer data).

All of this is the end of a process which began in the infancy of marketing and which will bear further fruit as search marketing agencies and in-house brand departments continue to merge with traditional marketing in brand building and consumer outreach.

Man has been called the reasoning animal but he could with greater truthfulness be called the creature of suggestion. He is reasonable, but he is to a greater extent suggestible.

Walter D. Scott, Psychologist (1869 – 1955)

Old timey radio image

From the early days of radio in the 1920’s, companies began a process of personalisation that has continued to the present and which can only continue to develop. The method they employed? Sponsorship of programming which reflected their brand and, though the earliest examples of advertisement, on posters and billboards (such as Kodak’s ‘You press the button, we do the rest,’ of 1888) had firmly established the profitability of the slogan, it was with the personalised ‘call to action’ (a phrase any SEO practitioner will be more than familiar with), that advertising really began to find its feet as a cultural influence.

By associating their brands with cultural phenomena which their demographics naturally sought out, they were able to interact on a personal level with their consumers, beginning a dialogue that has been ongoing for a century.

Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.

Marshall McLuhan, Philosopher (1911 – 1980)

Budweiser Frogs Image

Whether it’s Camel assuring the early 20th Century that you’d ‘walk a mile for a Camel’ (though not, perhaps, in one go – depending on consumption), or Volkswagen urging 1950’s American consumers to ‘think small’, or even Budweiser’s animated amphibians calling out for Bud-weis-er at the end of the millennium, there has always been an attempt to either capture the spirit of, or create a zeitgeist. This has almost always taken the form of improved content and better targeted demographics. It is this that has been leading inexorably to an arena in which, realistically, only online advertisement can compete.

The sphere of search marketing benefits from one of the largest readily available data sources possible. This places it a country mile ahead of other forms of marketing in terms of its ability to target the right people at the right time – and it is this which is leading to the next stage in the evolution of search marketing.

Audience to data image

What digital marketing is now capable of doing is competing in a world where people do not have to see anything they do not wish to. Consumers can and shall continue to be able to build a world of media and online interaction bespoke to their needs, interests and opinions, and while there is talk of banning ad-blockers, or erecting pay-walls, what marketers must not forget is that since the beginnings of their trade, there has been a constant battle between marketer and consumer. It has been a marketer’s responsibility to make consumers want to listen to their message – and it has never been accomplished through legislation.

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Search marketing has gone, in less than 20 years, from a method of gaming search engine results to a genuine creative force in marketing, one with measurable results, fantastic ROI and, more importantly, the potential to get even better. It has learned the lessons of its elder siblings and has entered the age of personal, bespoke digital experiences, with engines at full power.

Want to see how search marketing can benefit your brand? Contact us today, or find out more about the practice from our catalogue of high quality resources for all levels of experience.

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