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On the perils of SEM navel-gazing

Yoo-hoo! Yes, over here! Take a look. This could be something interesting. Perhaps it is just me, but engaging in macro-level conversations about our industry is increasingly more difficult.

Questions on strategic positioning or disruptive technology are dismissed with “that would never happen.” More than frequently, the talk returns to a very tactical discussion on algorithm changes or ad platform updates. Granted, this knowledge is important. It also kept many a firm alive for the past few years as the rest of the world got up to speed.

Yet I would have expected the pioneers to evolve the conversation, dropping the bravado of being first for an exploration of how the industry will evolve. Heck, just admitting that it will evolve would be refreshing. I think you get the picture. In an effort to get the ball rolling, here are four of my favorite navel-gazing statements.

1. “No one gets search (except us)”

Just three years ago, this was very true. Few knew what search marketing was, let alone how to research, plan and execute on it. Thanks to multiple trade shows, articles, education programs, blogs and forums, anyone who wants to know how search works can.

Furthermore, other institutions, such as large agencies, technology plays and media firms, are actively hiring employees away from top search engine marketing firms. When half of your staff is now working for the other side, the “no one gets it” claim is a bit awkward.

Should we stop educating the troops? Of course not. We do need to swallow the bitter pill and accept that the revolution is here and that the most unlikely players do “get it,” some of them even more so than us.

2. “An in-house search team will never be as good as outsourcing”

There really is no reason why a firm couldn’t elect to hire the exact team an SEM agency puts on such an account. Sure, there might be a premium on salaries, technology and ongoing education, but it isn’t impossible. Many will suggest that an SEM agency’s years of experience is inimitable, but the rampant SEM job hopping suggests that such grand information management is not likely.

Of course, in-house execution is not for everyone. There are many reasons to outsource the service. Yet we need to be honest about that it is simply a buy versus build decision. We should also be very keen that as Google moves towards a platform sell, the value of an SEM will also change.

3. “The next big thing is _________ (fill in the blank with some minor tactic, algorithm change, update, etc.)”

The next big thing is likely to be something 99 percent of us can’t even fathom today. Next.

4. “Our bid management technology is the secret weapon”

While the clients might be getting good results, I think it is time that we collectively admit that managing paid search is a hard business to make money in (unless you are Google or Yahoo). While smart technology helps, we have created a bit of mini arms race. And we all know how that ends.

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