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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Is Search Engine Marketing Art or Science?

Posted by @ 10:04 pm

More and more, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is starting to become an important part of the marketing mix for every company – whether it is a Fortune 500 listed company right down to small retailers with a website. Search engine marketing is not just an important part of internet advertising, but a major component of the overall marketing strategy. It is moving from the realm of being a “niche” marketing tactic, handled by the online marketing coordinator, to being handled by the more senior marketing people in any organisation – who I deem to be traditional marketers.

Search engine marketing is a phrase that has been coined to describe the process of acquiring search engine visitors and driving them to relevant pages within a particular website. Traditionally this has been done using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics, but more recently (say in the past three years) through Pay for Placement (P4P) tactics, such as Google AdWords.

Many of the traditional marketers that I talk to regarding search engine marketing fail to grasp exactly how powerful a medium search is. Whilst they may be grasping the concept that getting visitors to a website should increase sales (or leads if that is what they are trying to achieve) they do not necessarily “get” the powerful testing abilities that are available with Search Engine Marketing and e-commerce in general.

They also fail to focus on the ability to monitor ROI at a near real time basis and therefore, effectively modify a campaign based on this feedback.

What I have seen traditional marketers do well, is developing quality websites and the associated copy for those sites. This seems to be especially true for people who have a strong exposure to direct marketing or come from a direct marketing background. On the flip side, search engine marketers who have come from a technical background tend to lack these creative skills.

On one side you have a very scientific approach to search engine marketing, which is as carefully planned and scripted as any formal software development process. The other side is all about the creative elements.

So, the question I pose is:

“Is search engine marketing and the associated tactics (SEO, P4P bid management, paid inclusion, web analytics) a science following a logical procedure or an art form?”

Personally, I say that search engine marketing is both an art and a science. Why? It is both an art and a science because it requires an understanding of the “science” of searching (the algorithm) and an understanding of the many tactics which can be employed. The sheer amount of jargon, acronyms and technical terms also firmly push it towards being a science. The science can also be extended to the website to improve conversion through the use of A-B testing, customized landing pages.

The “art” comes from the need to be creative in implementing many of the tactics of science. This is where a creative mind is required. This includes:

  • writing quality ad copy that is appealing to the searcher;
  • developing highly converting landing pages that rely on quality copy and strong calls to actions to convert users;
  • being creative in choosing keywords and their various permutations and combinations (misspellings, synonyms, acronyms, product nick names etc).

In order to have a successful search engine marketing campaign, there must be a balance between science and art. The two disciplines which are at either end of the creative scale, should create abrasion, as they are in conflict with each other.

I firmly believe that unless your SEO specialist and your marketing department are arguing, neither is doing their job effectively. I.e. marketing will want to keep website copy clean and punchy, whilst the SEO specialist will want keyword rich copy – and lots of it.

For effective search engine marketing, that creative abrasion must exist. There is no such thing as simple art or easy science. As my parents and teachers told me many times whilst growing up, anything worth doing is not going to be easy. This is most definitely the case with SEM, SEO and driving sales through the web.

To quote Einstein:

“When the world ceases to be the scene of our personal hopes and wishes, where we face it as free being, admiring, asking and observing, there we enter the realm of Art and Science.”

That is exactly how Search Engine Marketing needs to be looked at – with an admiring, observing and constanly asking mind seeking a balance between Art and Science.

Discussion (5 - comments)

According to me, and I’m a scientist by blood, SEO can only be defined as a science. The dictionary definition of science is:-

sci·ence (s ns)
1. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
2. Such activities restricted to explaining a limited class of natural phenomena.
3. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.
4. Knowledge, especially that gained through experience.
Now try telling me that SEO is not a science as, apart from Statement 2, it fits the definitions perfectly.

By BB - August 23, 2005

I agree, today it’s a science. With things changing so quickly I am forced to prepare for tomorrow and tomorrow, I am not so certain.

By Anonymous - August 23, 2005

Excellent. It just happens that I just put together a little course based on this idea. I have a strong database, analyst, software development background, now starting a small business.

By Anonymous - August 25, 2005

The term “SEO is not an exact science” is using by Search Engines Marketers who do not fully understand how search engines works. Read the proof here

By Anonymous - August 16, 2006

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by said: Is Search Engine Marketing Art or Science?: via @addthis [...]

By Tweets that mention Is Search Engine Marketing Art or Science? | ineedhits -- - May 18, 2010

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