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Why SEM Is like Driving

If you’re thinking about picking new search engine marketing management, it’s helpful to start by asking what good SEM management actually does. If you don’t understand that, then figuring out what to look for — and how to pay the people you go with — gets difficult. To help make sense of a hard decision, we’ve decided to talk about how SEM is like driving a car.

Quick cars, maneuverable cars, smart drivers. Road conditions change. Traffic patterns change. The weather changes. When you’re driving, you need to be ready to make flash, smart judgments, and your car has to be immediately responsive to the steering wheel, the gas pedal and brakes and the road. The better you and your car are at responding to change, the safer you’ll be.

SEM is the same. Keywords bid prices change. New competitors appear. Old keywords become irrelevant, and new keywords become popular overnight. Good SEM management gets you quick, flexible technology and quick, maneuverable brainpower: it’s a highly responsive car with an expert driver. Which is exactly what you need in both driving and SEM — because in both cases, traffic conditions can get grim if you can’t handle yourself.

Keep your eyes on the road. Sometimes you’ll drive through long stretches when everything’s smooth. The road is straight, pedestrians aren’t around and you’re unlikely to see another car for another hour or more. You can drive the car with nothing but cruise control. You’re probably even OK to look down for half a second to find that map that slipped out of your hand 400 miles ago.

That is, of course, until a deer, another car, a sharp turn or whatever else it might be pops up out of nowhere, rams you from the side (or the front or the back) and you don’t have the time to get out of the mess you’re literally on a head-on collision with.

Again, SEM is the same. Just because it’s a pleasant drive, that doesn’t mean you can take your eyes off the road. And when the SEM drive is pleasant, you’re not necessarily paying for an expert driver to be there at that moment. What you are paying for is the car — the SEM technology — and the expert driver who’s alert at the wheel, ready for the very moment you’ll need them next.

That business model, by the way, isn’t so unusual. Even if you aren’t always the subject of a lawsuit, in the hospital or getting robbed, that still doesn’t mean that you want to bring in a new lawyer, get a new health insurance policy or get an alarm system set up in your warehouse at the very moment when you actually need it. You want everything set up long before — when everything is just fine — so you can be ready when things take a turn for the unexpected.

NASCAR: Not just for Camrys any more. People understand that, if they want to go 150 mph around a small, circular track, they shouldn’t do it in their Toyota Camry. And that they’ll probably need a few extra driving lessons, too. Because most drivers know they aren’t NASCAR drivers and a Camry isn’t a stock car.

But that’s not to say there isn’t a blurring of the lines. Watching traffic speeding down the raceway at 150 mph might still inspire you to try 110 mph on the highway. Or, in the other direction, reasoning that both a stock car and a Camry are both faster than a bicycle, you might conclude that a Camry and a stock car are the same.

But just because NASCAR drivers give a phenomenal performance — with seemingly little effort — that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do what they do. They’re the world’s best drivers, in the world’s best cars.

If you tried keeping at 110 mph on the highway; or if you decided to drive in NASCAR in your Camry; or, for that matter, if you decided to drive in NASCAR in a stock car, but didn’t have enough stock car experience — you’d see just how fast driving fast can really be. And you’d find out the hard way.

It’s all a matter of understanding where you’re driving. And it’s all a matter of understanding where your SEM campaign is driving, too. If your campaign is in NASCAR, you need to get the best stock car, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel. If you’re on a morning commute, all you really need is a dependable car and a safe driver.

And how do you know where you’re driving? Usually — and here’s the rub — your competition are the ones who decide for you. If they’re all driving in NASCAR, it doesn’t matter that you think you’re driving to work. They’re winning the race. And pushing your foot to the floor in your Camry won’t help you win that race: you have to get out, buy a new car and hire a new driver. Anything else won’t do.

And search, mind you, is a zero-sum game: everyone’s competing for a limited number of searchers. Either you capture the traffic that’s out there, or your competitors will. Which means that losing the race in search just isn’t an option.

So good luck with your decision in picking your SEM management. It could end up becoming one of the most important decisions your business ever made. Start your engines.

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