Read this before starting your search campaign

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Search marketing is a wonderful thing, and the power that the search engines have bestowed on advertisers is unprecedented. Never in the history of marketing have we been given such an efficient, accountable, non-obtrusive marketing channel. Never before have so many marketers been able to use this channel to achieve strategic business objectives. Yet it's also equally clear that search marketing can be hazardous, unrewarding, infinitely frustrating and financially unprofitable.

The mere fact that we've all been given new powers doesn't mean that these powers will be used wisely, in fact, because the process of managing search campaigns is so inherently complex, it's almost a guarantee that many marketers will enter the market unprepared and unequipped to deal with its tougher, more maddening aspects.

A lot of marketers believe that the search engines should be doing more to protect us from these harsher realities. Google and the other engines are all too willing to sell us clicks, and while they've generally done a good job in providing detailed recommendations as to how to run profitable campaigns, they're naturally disinclined to provide much information that might dissuade newbie marketers from buying clicks that don't have a snowball's chance in Hades of resulting in conversions. After all, the search engines' business is to sell you clicks, not conversions!

Perhaps I'm dreaming, but I'd like to see Google and the other engines run a big, flashing, neon-colored warning sign that would appear before any marketer was allowed to hit the "Start Campaign" button. Here's what I'd like to see on this sign:

Dear Marketer,

Welcome to the wonderful world of search marketing! Before you begin your search campaign, and before we start the highly pleasurable process (at least to us) of taking the lion's share of your marketing dollars, please acknowledge that you have read and fully understand the following points, to wit:

1. We, your favorite search engine, bear absolutely no responsibility for the success of your search marketing campaign. To be absolutely frank with you, it makes no difference to us whether you're making or losing money, as long as you continue to buy clicks from us. While our executives are often quoted at industry conferences saying that we are your "loyal partners," our most compelling loyalty is to Wall Street. Please don't come back to us in a month, or at any time in the future, complaining that you've spent a lot of money and have gotten squat in return. We're far too busy creating cool gizmos to be bothered with your campaign's problems, which, after all, are your responsibility, not ours.

2. The search marketplace is auction-based, dynamic, hyper-competitive, and opaque. You may think you know what you're going to pay for any given click, but we reserve the right to change the rules on you at any time, using our patented, highly secret, highly complicated algorithms that even a rocket scientist would have a hard time explaining. If you don't like the way we run this market, we welcome you to choose one of the other engines, but frankly, we're all running "black box"-driven marketplaces now, so you might as well stick with us.

3. We, your favorite search engine, are proud to offer you a range of highly sophisticated, laser-like targeting technologies, including geo-targeting, demographic targeting, dayparting, and (soon) behavioral targeting. These tools can give you an edge whenever you run into a competitor who's decided to systematically outspend you for the top paid search placements (which will happen more frequently than you'd like). We suggest that you employ these tools whenever possible, but before you start using them, be aware that even a single keyword can now have thousands of permutations. So before turning these powerful tools on, get used to the idea that you'll be spending the rest of your mortal days in front of your computer, continually tweaking these targeted micro-channels to provide maximum ROI.

I'm not losing any sleep waiting for any of the engines to provide this kind of warning statement. I do hope, however, that more marketers realize how treacherous and rocky the road to sustainable profitability is before they hit the "Start Campaign" button. Taking account of the steep challenges is the first step toward bracing oneself for success in the search marketplace, and the more prepared we are, the better we'll fare as search marketing continues to evolve.

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