Doing Search? “Stop it – it’s not clever”

In the kick-off keynote at last month’s Digital 2013 in Glasgow, Chris Thomson from ComScore made this statement:

Doing Search [search engine marketing/optimisation]? Stop it, it’s not clever. Do something else instead.

Stop Search

It’s a bold statement that you might expect me to poke fun at (especially when it comes from a company associated with interruptive advertising).

While that is almost tempting, let me instead explain why I – a man who has done a fair bit of search in his time – lean towards agreeing with Chris.

Why I agree


  1. If your business relies on search then Chris is absolutely spot on – reliance on search is really is not clever in any shape for form.  Inconvenient truth: if a change in Google’s algorithm could bankrupt you then one day you’ll be bankrupt.  That’s primarily because search engines actually want to rank sites that people are finding without search engines – if search is the only way a site is found then by definition it is not a good site and therefore doesn’t deserve to rank.
  2. Google has created a machine that is deliriously genius at extracting the largest possible margins that you can give away, either directly to AdWords or indirectly in terms of price reductions to attract the cost-conscious consumer.  I suspect that this is the heart of Chris’s argument: if you reach customers directly then price becomes less of an issue.
  3. Everybody does SEO now; it’s no longer an easy win. There are other methods of marketing that are easier simply because fewer people are doing them.
  4. Google is a whole lot cleverer than you or I and is getting more so all the time.  That means optimising for the algortihm is becoming more and more expansive when compared to optimising for the customer.  This is why seeing SEO as a strategy is wrong – it isn’t even really a tactic any more.  Our SEO strategies focus on driving customers and prospects through non-search routes. Why? Because those are the signals that Google looks for, and you go on to achieve ranks as a side effect.


Why I disagree


  1. Chris’s statement ignores the potential for search engines to reach customers before they are in purchase mode.  At this point they are not concerned about price and this means there is an opportunity to develop a relationship that may prevent someone shopping around.
  2. If you genuinely offer something different to the competition then you can avoid getting caught in price battles and a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of margins, and search can still send profitable traffic. Likewise if you can make money and charge less than anybody else then search remains the gold mine it always has been.
  3. Many will turn to search to review what’s out there shortly before purchase anyway, so can you afford to not be there?
  4. There are many companies who do not have the ranks they “deserve” as a result of technical issues or simply not maximising the positive signals generated by current activities. It’s not uncommon for easy wins to be achieved in this situation.
  5. Search is now ubiquitous.  The rewards for getting search right are bigger than they’ve ever been.
  6. If we broaden our definition of search a little algorithms are only increasingly going to come into play – think email prioritisation algorithms (like spam filters but for low relevance emails instead of just unsolicited), Facebook’s Edgerank (that’s the algo that determines if a user sees your not-paid-for status update or not) and Google’s predictive search product “Google Now“.  Optimising in these situations will improve bottom line performance and what’s not to like about that?


In short

Search is still a clever strategy; you’ve just got to be more clever about it.  [symple_button color=”blue” url=”″ title=”Search is still a clever strategy; you’ve just got to be more clever about it.” target=”blank” border_radius=””]Tweet this[/symple_button]


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2 thoughts on “Doing Search? “Stop it – it’s not clever””

  1. Hi Tim,

    This was a really interesting article. I think SEO will still work wonders for businesses that want a good ranking in search engines. The techniques used need to evolve though.


    • Attacat Tim says:

      Absolutely Richard. Certainly won’t find anyone here believing SEO is dead but what you will find is emphasis moving much more towards good solid marketing first and foremost with SEO the secondary objective.

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