Warning: Sometimes a blog post is less an essay than stream of consciousness… and some people may get headaches from wading through such a post (see the first comment - sorry!). The rest of you have been warned. By the way, according to the wiki, “stream of consciousness” was first defined by William James, the brother of Henry James, my favorite author during my college days. William James grew up in NYC. I grew up 6 miles or so outside NYC. William James lived in the Astor house… and my family has some connections to the Astors. Funny that, eh?
If you are in SEO or SEM, a domainer or an advertiser or a big brand, no argument the future looks bright, but is is also tumultuous. Who controls the commercial future more, the domainers, the marketers, the market (users) or the search engines like Google?
The brands are the ones who spend the most on advertising, and those same brands are the ones who will eventually recognize that perfect-match domains are worth $200,000 or more. The budget-minded advertisers are buying traffic more than branding, which they can value with metrics and the buying of which they can adjust practically in real time. Two very different “markets” for the same PPC spend, and look at how they are currently bidding against each other. That can’t last (?) nor can the practically real-time management of that spend (made possible by the benevolence of the search engine/ppc provider). That can’t last either (?)
The SEO and SEM move the market, which does whatever it has been moved to do (direct traffic, search traffic, supportive cooperative promotion, etc). The SEM uses tools like PPC, while the SEO approaches the issue from a Judo-like perspective, influencing the search engine to influence the users for them. Of course they cross-over. They have to cross over.
What about domainers? They own the opportunity that exists outside of the search-controlled traffic, so obviously the future of branding involves domainers. Domainers feed a little off of search, and a little more off of SEM (SEM highlights the value of the perfect match domain, and promotions drive type in traffic to some extent). But aside from investment, the biggest influence they seem to have right now is in the traffic arena. They funnel a huge amount of advertising traffic. At the ad network’s discretion.
So in the end, who is in control? What’s the end game look like?
I think domainers recognize that they wield less influence as domainers than they do as publishers. Hence the move away from parked pages to a focus on development, which is fueled by many other factors (many of which are indirectly fueled by the same core issues of domains as advertising venues). SEM in my view has always been a tactical job, at the whim of advertising networks. SEM provides the man power and tools to utilize the ad networks efficiently, and manage the market in ways complimentary to that deployment of the advertising networks. No ad networks and SEM is “social media” and squarely in the realm of Public Relations and Advertising.
More complex tools and more need for ad networks means increasing sophistication of SEM (and increasing value added by SEM practitioners). And SEO? It’s all about search. As long as search engines are free and drive traffic, SEO will rule as much as that search-driven traffic rules. If you don’t need search referrals, you don’t need SEO.
It seems the user is in charge of the end game, no?
If users like search, SEO and SEM rule and we can expect some big changes in the way brands are competing with arbiters and others buying traffic from search engines. Domainers reap the rewards of their investments as brands buy domains, but not much reward from traffic except at the discretion of the ad networks. I doubt browser makers will continue to permit natural (type-in) traffic to find its way to the generic domains like it does now. If domainers build their own ad networks, they play traffic cop and optimize. If there’s enough traffic, will we see DNO’s (domain network optimizers) shaping the traffic funnels for optimal profits? Sure we will. The persuasion marketing people will be all over that.
If users find domains to be better than search, which would probably require a substantial adoption of good, generic and perfect-match domain names (”brands”), the publishers win the game. If YourFavoriteYellowPages became the perfect pseudo-search solution to satisfying Internet users involved in commercial transactions, who needs a search engine? Who needs more than ONE perfectly branded domain? If Google went all-paid, and users were happy, then SEO goes away, SEM becomes Advertising and PR, and domains are either everything (the brand) or a small piece (listed in the directory as a destination).
And when that happens, we shall see a renewed interest in FREE SEARCH, as people get tired of reading what MyFavoriteYellowPages says or they get tired of the way the Domain Network Optimizers keep funneling them to FriendFinder or ClassMates.com or other BigBrands. And the reason the search experience makes them happy? Because through FREE search, they find www.johnon.com and all the other “publications” that are new, fresh, interesting, or otherwise “refreshing”. When that happens, I suppose I’ll put ads onto johnon.com to try and make some pocket money.
Huh. The more things change, the more things stay the same.