The Search Engines: Friend or Foe?

How do you think about the search engines? For most of us there is no easy answer, since we all have a number of different relationships with them.

  • As internet users we’re all slighly in awe of their technology and thankful for the free service they provide.
  • As business people we’re either stunned at their growth, power, and execution (for Google) or lack thereof (for Yahoo and MSN).
  • And as marketers we appreciate the new channel they’ve developed and the new tools and information they provide as we all learn to take advantage of it.

But as search marketers, we need to keep a much more objective view. These are vendors who are trying to sell us things. They want our money. They want  to increase their profits.

They Want Your Money, That’s Their Job.
This doesn’t make them bad. That’s their job. But ours is to be skeptical, responsible, keep as much of our money as possible while getting the highest possible return from that we do spend.

When they develop and release new technology, they very well be genuinely trying to improve their service to end users, or to us advertisers. But they may also be working to cut their costs or increase their profits.

The same is true when they change the algorithms that control when your ads run, how they’re ranked, or how much you’re charged. They might be fixing or improving, or they might be just taking a larger slice of the pie for themselves. Often it’s a little bit of both.

Over the past few years there have been dozens of changes to the PPC game that have made it more complex, more opaque (as Kevin Lee reiterates in a very interesting ClickZ article this week), and more profitable for them.

This means they’ve made it harder and more expensive for you.

That Nice Man Gave Me A T-Shirt
But search marketers, like everyone else, seem to love to love Google, and to a lessor extent Yahoo. They’re great companies, impressive success stories, filled with nice people, they give away nice chotchkes and throw great parties at conferences. It’s hard to not think of them as friends, corporately or personally.

But from a business perspective, they’re vendors who want your money. Powerful vendors who work with levels of secrecy you’d accept from none of your other vendors. (Have any other vendors who don’t explain to you how much they charge you for each item you buy or tell you what you’ll pay the next time you buy it?)

In many ways I think they’ve got us all snowed. Congratulations to their PR and communications depts.

I point this out because their communications seem to paint every move as benevolent. Most discussion of the engines positions them as independant brokers simply working to intermediate between advertisers and end users.

Their motives aren’t questions nearly enough. There is not nearly enough push back to the increasingly aggressive and advertiser unfriendly changes they’re making month after month.

With Friends Like These
The most troubling of all their actions is when they mix education with positioning. That is to say, when they try to tell advertisers how to live with the latest bad-for-advertisers change to the rules or algorithms, and put a happy face on it when they do it.




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