Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Role of Search Engines

I’ve learned quite a bit in this course over the last nine weeks however the topic that probably has made the biggest impact on me is the one we explored during this last week and that is search engines. I knew of search engines prior to this course and had a general understanding that the first links in a search engine are usually paid for by companies wanting prime placement on a result page. This class opened my eyes to the different types of paid search engine advertising and the impact it can make on a company’s marketing efforts. Competition for search engine placement is fierce to say the least.

Search engines are becoming the modern day phone book plus so much more. Search engines just don’t provide contact information they provide access to a brand and everything it can offer. Search engines are somewhat like the ultimate index of anything you need to know about.

Marketing professionals need to understand how search engines work in order to maximize their web marketing efforts and their overall marketing program. Some companies spend a lot of money on improving their web site but relatively little on their search engine placement. A great web site isn’t much good if people can’t find it and access it.

The biggest eye opener for me was the difference between paid inclusion and paid placement. As Lesson 9 states “The difference between paid placement and paid inclusion is that with paid inclusion, the fee only guarantees a Web site’s listing within a search engine’s full index of possible results. In other words, if I’m Apple and I only purchase a paid inclusion from Google, while the site will definitely appear on the search list, there is no guarantee that it will rank at, or even near, the top of the list” (Lesson 9). Paid placement on the other hand guarantees prime placement in search results toward the top of the page. It is important for marketers to understand the difference because as many of my classmates pointed out in class this week; most web users don’t go past the first couple of pages of search results.

This puts small businesses in an interesting position because they can’t compete with larger competitors on media buys however they may be able to utilize search engine marketing to their advantage if they work smarter than their competitors. Some people feel that search engine marketing puts the small business at a disadvantage however I feel that search engines are the best thing for a small business because it gives them an opportunity to compete with large businesses on strategy and not just on money.

There are some ethical issues linked with search engine marketing which we learned about this past week. The first issue is that many customers don’t realize that companies are paying to be place first on search engine results. As Wouters states “WebWatch began reporting on the relationship between advertising and search engine results in 2002, when it released the results of a comprehensive national poll of 1,500 U.S. adult internet users. The survey “A Matter of Trust: What Users Want From Web Site,” showed more than 60 percent of respondents were unaware search engines accept payment to list certain sites more prominently than others in search results, a practice commonly known as paid placement” (Wouters).

This brings up an interesting dilemma of how much or how little should consumers understand about paid placement. My suggestion would be to put all paid placement sites all the way to the right hand side of the page listed vertically in order to differentiate the site from the main list of results. Google currently does a pretty good job of doing this but some sites do not and it can mislead consumers.

Search engine marketing is a very strategic part of marketing that I think is often overlooked by many small to mid-size marketers who may be able to benefit greatly from it.

- Patrick

Wouters, J. (2005, June 9). Still in search of disclosure: Re-evaluating how search engines explain the presence of advertising in search results. Consumer WebWatch. Retrieved January 11, 2008 from

Lesson 9. IMC 619. (2008). West Virginia University.

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