Is Search Advertising the Worst Form of Advertising?

By: Chris Crum - April 28, 2011

What is the best form of advertising? Not search, according to a report published this week. In fact, Josh Shatkin-Margolis of AdAge goes so far as to call search the “worst form of advertising”.

Do you agree? Tell us what you think.

“Search-engine marketing (SEM) is the worst form of advertising,” he writes. “Sure, it’s able to get in front of the right audience, but who is really being persuaded by 130 characters of text split across four lines with no call to action? Giving SEM credit for being the form of advertising that drives billions of dollars in sales is like giving the checkout person at a supermarket credit for all the food sales annually. The checkout person does not persuade the shopper to buy Coke instead of Pepsi, and neither do text ads.”

“I’m not saying SEM lacks value,” he adds. “Placing your text listings in search engines, comparison shopping engines and other places users seek out does remind your customers: Oh, right, I remember them. They are who I was looking for.’ But, let’s be clear, SEM is only part of the equation, as it is not persuading users to chose you over your competitors.”

He goes on to discuss search retargeting with display ads, making some very valid points, based on the notion that search is indeed the “best form of targeting”.

Google Ads

We do know that SEO isn’t getting any easier.

There are certainly a lot more options for businesses to get in front of Internet users than there were when search advertising began to take off – namely social media marketing and direct advertising in social networks (Facebook).

Facebook of course has a very highly targeted approach to advertising, as it serves users ads based upon information from their profiles. Still, the ads have seen plenty of criticism over relevance. Of course it is still the advertiser that picks the categories they want to target.

Email marketing is still considered to be one of the most effective ways to reach customers and get them to convert. In fact, you might say email marketing is hotter than its been in years, with the rise of daily deal services like Groupon, Google Offers, etc. Let’s not forget that these services rely heavily on email.

Search has always been an attractive way to reach people, however, as you’re getting to the consumer right as they’re looking to buy, or at least researching a purchase. That’s why search will always be important (both SEO and Paid), even if consumers become less dependent on it for more online activities and information discovery.

SEO vs PPC is a classic debate. Which one is better? About a year and a half ago, we covered a session at Search Engine Strategies Chicago, where some top search experts discussed just that. Christine Churchill pointed to a study about conversion rates, finding that paid search came out ahead of SEO (just barely), but that it also came out ahead in average order value and average time on site. She also listed the following as advantages of search advertising:

– Gives immediate online presence
– Have a new site? Have ads in an hour
– Start getting ROI sooner
– No ramp up time
– Great for seasonal items or time sensitive promotions
– Great for testing
– Easily test effectiveness of new marketing message or site design change
– Quickly gather feedback
– Regulate traffic volume
– Sales pipeline empty? Use PPC to push traffic
– Overloaded? Pause campaigns or cut back spend
– Have limited sales season? Saturate market while demand is high

I’ll add another advantage. Paid search ads are not subject to Google’s algorithm, which changes daily – sometimes very drastically (see Panda update).

There is plenty of change in the search advertising landscape as well. Google is frequently making adjustments to ads. Just this week, they launched instant previews on ads (which could actually save you money).

We asked our Facebook fans if they think search advertising is the best form of advertising or the worst. The majority of responses said “best”. Join the conversation below.

WebProNewsDo you think search is the best or worst form of advertising?

Do you think search advertising is the worst form of advertising? Share your thoughts.

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • John Wiggill

    In my humble opinion, it’s hard to beat SEO because people are looking for your the information, products or services. It’s very targeted.

    The problem is… someone has to be interested by your subject line or headline or they will never click on your link.

    Most companies don’t understand how keywords work and they are very poor in developing headlines that will attract customers.

    So I say don’t blame the medium, blame the messenger.

    • Chris Crum

      There are certainly plenty of tools out there (provided by the search engines) to help them create more successful ads.

  • Souleye

    chris, thank you for the article but I think that anybody can say anything and try to find supporting evidence to it. businesses for years have been pouring millions of dollars into advertising campaign without the slightest means to measure roi. it was alright as long as it was keeping advertising agencies’ creatives busy and part of the money flowing into their coffers. the internet changed the paradigm and it got a lot of people worried. from the perspective of marketing, it’s hard to see anything more effective than having the solution to a problem and trying to get the attention of those who have the problem looking for a solution. search marketing is not advertising in the traditional sense. it’s almost like product placement. better still; product placement where consumers are looking for similar product. it can hardly get any more targeted.

  • crispy

    Not sure SEO v SEM is where the real battle is. If clients buy into one they tend to buy into the other. the real fight for “search” specialists is still proving cost-effectiveness versus other marketing opportunities both off and online

    • Chris Crum

      Agreed that SEO/SEM can complement one another, but budget balancing is always a concern.

  • CarolAnn Bailey-Lloyd

    Frugal is always best and SEO, done correctly the first time can make a huge difference between failure and success. Furthermore, SERP has always been an important factor into whether or not a brand, product or service gains overall popular recognition on the Net. If employed proficiently, SEM and SEO coupled with valuable data and rich content is certainly key for entrepreneurs and small businesses to effectively compete against larger name brands. All in all, it is in the eye of the beholder – and in the talent possessed to communicate in the space of a Website, a blog and across all tiers of social media networks. 😉

  • MarkFL

    Really interesting discussion point. In my view, PPC is particularly good for niche products where the consumer base wants something very specific and doesn’t want to trawl through inexact matches in the organic results.

    • Chris Crum

      The product would certainly play a role.

  • Louise

    I’m very new to website marketing. I’m not sure which way is the best way, but would love to figure out how I can advertise on Facebook. I am really pretty green at this, and it’s one of the things I’d like to do.

    • Chris Crum

      Here’s their “create an ad” page:

  • Bob

    The author is trying to shock people with a misleading headline.

    No, there’s no persuasive advertising value to 100 ads of text. The text ad is the “hook” and the advertising/marketing begins with the website it takes you to.

    And for all its hype, 85% of the PPC campaigns I have witnessed from small businesses fail.

    Because at the end of the day…people don’t like to click on ADs.

  • J. Medina

    Chris, thank you for posting your article. I think that the major issue is being able to balance SEO and the PPC, or should I say being able to effectively spend your PPC budget and have your SEM perfectly aligned with your PPC so your campaigns soar and your pocket does not suffer. It takes lots of research time and lots of campaign tweaking to get to this stage; some companies are not able to reach it at the desired project period since management wants to have positive results almost immediately, so they stop trying. It does not help that the competition is fierce either.
    Nevertheless, it is attainable if the right ingredients are used: effective keywords, targeting the right audience and using the ads to reach all possible customers without being too general.

    I agree with CarolAnn, it is in the eye of the beholders – we just need to make sure our ads are shiny enough to get their attention and for them to choose our product, for their benefits and ours.

  • Warren Redlich

    It depends on the type of search. I’m an attorney. If someone searches for “lawyer” then that’s so vague you don’t know what kind of lawyer they want or where. Or if they search for “car accident” that doesn’t mean they had one or need a lawyer.

    But if someone searches for “car accident lawyer in Albany NY”, then that client is looking for someone like me and I want my ad to rank #1.

    Compare that to buying an ad in a newspaper. Very few of the readers are looking for what you sell at the moment they get to that page. And even fewer notice the ad at all because they tend to tune the ads out.

    Of course SEO is great if it works for you. We do very well with that. But we do PPC advertising as well and I’m confident I’m getting bang for my buck.

  • John

    I belive SERP (SEO) and email marketing is the best way. PPC is a short terms fix and will never add real value to your website or your business.
    Facebook and Twitter well it is THE IN thing to do but cannot see it in long term.

  • Ricardo

    No, I don’t agree. The search engines are very importante for advertising our prodcts. Thyey help customers to reach us and purchase our goods.

  • Ricardo

    so, they are the BEST way of advertising. I, myself use them for advertising my services.

  • Tom Roberts

    He simply doesn’t understand that the ad isn’t there to persuade anyone to buy… that’s the function of the site/landing page. Both paid and non-paid search marketing can, and in many cases does outperform all other available marketing sources for a large segment of businesses.

    • Chris Crum

      Landing pages are definitely key. It will be interesting to see the impact of the instant previews.

  • Mathu

    Google is #1 Search engine and in my opinion , best thing to drain money from small businesses. Search engine advertising is the best way to flush the money to toilet especially for small business owners with a website .. N

  • Mark

    I think they left out one important advantage of PPC over SEO, which is no waste of money. Even if a PPC campaign is poorly set up, you are at least going to get a visitor (conversion is another story,) but people can hire a very poor SEO team and get nothing back for their $.

    Of course a well planned and managed SEO plan and PPC campaign would be the best combination for a marketing budget, imo

  • Anthony Wiley

    Hi this information is what I needed. Very informative and interesting. I will have to stick to search advertising because I have no money to budget. Take care, Tony.

  • Dale B

    Last month I began SEM and honestly have not seen a significant sales increase. Traffic from the ad sometimes equals, betters and falls below the “natural” traffic I get.
    I am new. I have been involved only 3 years and the website I am using to advertise a bit is only 6 months old.
    Personally, I think it is a good avenue. I need to build familiarity and trust. People see the website and this keyword averages 70-80,000 a month, they may not click at first, but eventually they will. People may click and not buy at first, but eventually they will.
    I am receiving more of a targeted audience for a specific market. If the potential customers visit the website and no one ever buys, then that is my problem. That is not SEM, Facebook, or any other paid advertising fault.
    Even though I hate paying for advertising, I will leave the ad run for at least 2 to 3 more months.
    I also am a firm believer in word of mouth advertising. I do my own SEO work for all the websites I own.
    I feel that building an internet business is like building a brick and mortar business. It takes time, constantly bettering things and thinking of ways to compete and beat the competition.

  • John Brumby

    Nobody should focus on one form of advertizing they should always use various forms including Search Advertizing. Articles that want to state this or that form of advertizing are bad are doing a harmful thing. They should rather focus on presenting a mixed portfolio indicating that there are downsides to every form of advertizing as well as good points. So a mixture of free and paid advertizing will reach different people according to what is being promoted.

  • Auto Loan After Bankruptcy

    Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to rank for more than a few search terms these days. Anyone wanting to get their name out there will need to use ads.

  • ClearSense

    To say that one form of search marketing is better than the other is simply wrong,as you state in a way 😉

    Marketers need to break it up into leads, branding, ready new clients.

    SEO and SEM is perfect for branding and ready new clients.

    Other marketing channels fits the bill for lead generation.

  • Brian W. Palm

    No, SEO is not the worst form of marketing and neither is PPC. The worst form of marketing is marketing that a business does not care about or pay attention to. The biggest problem in the industry is those that think that there is a battle between types of marketing instead of realizing that you need to leverage multiple forms of marketing to gain the greatest effectiveness.

  • Paul Tech

    I agree with advantages listed for search advertising. Far from being the worst form of advertising, it will remain a key marketing tool of most businesses. In fact, compared to Facebook ads, search ads are more targeted.

  • Robert

    From my experience I’ve found SEM to be a bottomless money pit and I glad I didn’t use my own money. Two scenarios here,

    1. Facebook sent me a coupon for $50. to run Ads. Figured I’d give it a try since it wasn’t coming out of my pocket. I ran 1 specific Ad on a product I know no one else was promoting at a low PPC. Needless to say FB insisted this was too low of a bid to be place because of competition or some lame excuse like that. Yes I did get a “few” visitors but no sales.

    2. Google also gave me aa AdWords coupon for $100. Created 3 campaigns. Again I wanted to stretch things out. Things I noticed, for a specific product they said something to the effect there were not enough searches for it to be listed. Another item was not specific enough. You can’t get much more specific than “Napa Wine Shirt” and their keyword suggestions were not even in the ball park. Yes again I may have received a few visitors but no sales.

    Both also suggested that budgets be increased, increased, increased. I imagine that’s called RAI “Return And Invest”.

    I’ve done better doing my own SEO and sales through good ‘ole generic searches. And evidently saved my self quite a few dollars doing so.

    • David

      I can understand where you are coming from – direct outlay of money for “instant” performance did not pan out, while time investment (SEO) for long term performance did.

      Of course what you did was not an “apples to apples” comparison. SEO is very much money intense as is PPC, whether its through an agency (so you are paying directly) or via your own efforts (which you are paying in time, which could be used for other, more profitable efforts) – whether you are aware of not, you paid money. However, you were patient enough for a long term view of your ROI with SEO but wanted instant ROI with paid – not something I would consider a “best practice”.

      Just like SEO, PPC does take time, though clearly not as long term based as natural. You need to plan the right keywords, creative and Landing pages, as well as looking into analytics and use the learning to improve the campaign. This is the same strategic view that is needed for SEO.

      Of course Paid alone is not for every business or every product, same with SEO, but they do work great together and any serious search marketing program should have both – there is a lot each complements each other on and a lot of data that can be used for both.

  • Peter Van Zelst

    The analogy in the orginal report with the supermarket checkout operator is good. Search Marketing is probably the most effective form of advertising when it comes to converting viewers/visitors to customers and generating an action, but it rarely creates demand. Hence the need for other forms of advertising to create awareness, generate interest and stimulate demand.

  • Mayte Castro

    There are certainly a lot more options for businesses to get in front of Internet users than there were when search advertising began to take off – namely social media marketing and direct advertising in social networks (Facebook).

  • Marcia Guillen

    I was thinking…

    but that it also came out ahead in average order value and average time on site. She also listed the following as advantages of search advertising:

  • Anti-PPC

    PPC (search) is the worst form of advertising around. Anyone that says it works is lying. No one clicks ads positioned on the right side of a page. We all read screens from left to right so why put the ads on a spot not likely to be noticed. Do real advertising that gets your stuff to actual people. Not this fake online ad stuff.