In the world of digital marketing, one thing is clear -- everyone uses Google. Google influences what is on the internet -- news, email, video, group collaboration, maps, shopping, photos, and more. It provides a better way to search and file and, as a result, has helped many companies create channels for successful sales and marketing campaigns. Plus, Google is incredibly easy to manipulate. However, it holds an untold power. Search engine advertising (aka, paid search) has cemented itself as a highly viable, cost effective marketing channel from early on. According to KISSmetrics, paid search is currently a $34 billion industry and without question a cornerstone of any sound marketing plan.
Historically, paid search has commanded the lion's share of effective marketing dollars -- and for good reason. Lead generation, measurable ROI, and brand awareness are some of the tangible benefits that companies experience. Investment in search engine advertising should continue; however, companies need not be fearful of diversifying their marketing strategies for optimum success.
A fundamental shift is occurring as the usage of mobile devices increases dramatically. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, as of February 2012, nearly half of American adults are smartphone owners. This means that while search size is growing, its share is in fact decreasing. The Google landscape is changing with the rise of mobile use, and businesses put themselves at risk by not adapting and evolving with the times.
Previously, a mere online presence might have been enough, but in 2012, it is increasingly important to ensure online efforts are designed to be mobile friendly. Consumers traditionally used their personal computers for search, with the majority of their activity taking place on a browser -- where Google's dominance is undeniable. Yet consumers now do the majority of their searching on mobile devices, where the majority of activity takes place outside of Google. Consumers continuously default to their favorite apps when using their smartphones; these apps are undeniably taking share away from Google.
As the shift toward online activity becomes mobile-heavy, the amount of real estate that companies have to work with is disappearing. In paid search, only one spot is available, while organic search places you below the fold. Consider the Google search page itself: Its relevance to our online activity is beginning to plateau. We have more activity in a different form with the huge uptick of applications on mobile devices. If a business were to still rely upon Google, the page on a mobile device is significantly smaller. The substantially smaller footprint with which to advertise has implications that cannot be ignored.
What lies beyond Google
At last count, more than 1 billion websites live on the internet. Beyond paid search, companies should consider other avenues to support their marketing strategy, including call centers, direct mail, affiliates, SEO, and local search. They need to create diverse marketing channels and focus influence from other resources. For example, hotels should focus on putting themselves on maps for local searches before anything else. Putting all the company eggs in one basket is risky and offers no ability to control search results. Successful campaigns must have the ability to reach new audiences and new consumers with more scalable solutions. This will help customer acquisition and the generation of greater profit margins.
The dangers of Google overreliance extend beyond Google losing its market share. Other areas of the customer acquisition chain are equally important. It isn't about purchasing more keywords but being more effective with sales efforts. Sales teams need to capture prospects and not let them go. Email marketing is effective when working from a database of prospects who have previously expressed interest.
It's important to remember that Google doesn't create demand; it organizes and captures existing demand. For companies to be successful in marketing, they must continually create demand. People are spending a great deal of time using social channels to sharing compelling content. Building alternative traffic channels through social networking and community building is crucial, yet requires continuous improvement to make it sustainable.
Businesses that are Google dependant need to go broad. Developing new apps and leveraging existing apps are ways to constantly remain at the forefront. Consumers are beginning to use search paths that don't necessarily include Google. Display advertising in local markets through Facebook and Twitter advertising are viable options considering consumers use social feedback to inform them. Devices are figuring out that the value of normal search can be achieved different ways.
As the digital landscape evolves with ever-changing policies and algorithms, so should digital marketing campaigns. The consumer backdrop is larger than Google. Consumers continue to spend exorbitant amounts of time online, and with the shift to mobile devices, companies must broaden their channels and holistically expand their digital marketing efforts. Historically, it might have made sense to be completely Google dependant, but now businesses should make concerted efforts to leverage additional marketing media, including applications.
If businesses are looking to maximize leads, then it's time to begin thinking about how consumers are searching for their services. Important questions need to be asked, including, "Can our customers easily access our content and contact information from a smartphone?" If not, companies are missing the mark in a big way.
Google still beats any channel offline. But in the new world of mobile, every app developer and mobile-friendly platform should be tested as a potential channel for your brand.
Ken Robbins is founder and president at Response Mine Interactive.
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