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What is Holistic SEM?

Published: January 20, 2012

Author: Sean Marshall

Yesterday marked my two-year anniversary at PPC Associates. What amazes me isn’t so much that it’s been two years but that it’s gone by so quickly. Being stuck in the wrong job can make one year feel like five. Thinking it over, it’s not too hard to figure out why these two years have felt like months – I enjoy what I do.
Running PPC on the agency side can be very hard, but it’s my belief that what makes it challenging is also what makes it interesting. Putting all the pieces together in a complex campaign is incredibly satisfying. The complexity is what gives an SEM control and, in turn, the ability to get these satisfying results.
On the flip side, I think that without this complexity, the job would be dreadful. Basic SEM tasks can get tedious as it is, and this is only exacerbated by lack of control. I can’t count how many times I’ve interviewed account manager candidates who feel powerless to affect change in their accounts (at their current jobs, of course). Given how hard the job can be, it only becomes harder if you feel like you can’t execute to the max potential. Whether this stems from lack of control over creative and copy or because you’re stuck with tired landing pages, it amounts to doing SEM with one hand tied behind your back. There really isn’t much middle ground – the job is hard. More complexity makes it more rewarding and lack of complexity makes it…bland.
Sadly, one-handed SEM is the norm in our industry. It’s easier to stay out of things like landing pages, but without that effort, programs suffer. Never mind how your agency rep or your internal SEM team might feel; your performance is undoubtedly taking the hit.
This is where holistic SEM comes into play. I was reading a piece by George Michie the other day; in it, he labeled “holistic” SEM as being the work of charlatans. Granted, there are a lot of agencies that claim to practice holistic SEM – and, in reality, most of them are full of it.
The reason the last two years have felt like months is precisely that PPCA practices holistic SEM. (If you aren’t into the granola-crunch vibe of the word, just call it “total,” “complete,” or “end-to-end” PPC.) When it’s done right, you feel like you have both hands to work with and a series of tools to do the job even better.
The old joke on Digg and Reddit is that the secret formula to internet stardom goes like this: 1) Make Video, 2) Go Viral, 3) ???, 4) Profits. Well, incomplete SEM is a lot like that: 1) Create Ad, 2) Get Traffic, 3) ???, 4) Profits. Holistic SEM is meant to replace the question marks with strategies and techniques to bridge the gap between traffic and profits.
We aren’t just talking landing pages and check-out flows – we’re also talking attribution (as George mentioned in his article and I discussed last week). It’s real easy to get caught up in the SEM-friendly math of publisher tracking tools, but the reality is that SEM isn’t the contributing factor to these profits.
Essentially, it’s not just about overcoming this “powerless” feeling of not being able to pull all the right levers; it’s also about doing it the right way. Having access to the tools is just step one. In a nutshell, holistic SEM is about knowing what levers to pull, how to pull them, and understanding how it affects ALL of marketing.
The times are a-changin’, and if you aren’t putting all the pieces together, your time will be up soon. I feel like I’ve wrapped up 90% of my blog posts with this warning, but it’s not like things are moving in a different direction since I first wrote it. Things are happening to the traffic you are driving. Whether it’s a cumbersome check-out flow or a lead-qual rep with now idea how to treat your PPC leads, there are friction and potential leakage everywhere. The holistic search marketer points out the leaks and works to plug them.
Is this a lot of hard work? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely. If you aren’t interested, there’ll always be search query reports to run.
Sean Marshall, Director of SEM

1 S Wacker Drive
Suite 2250

Chicago, IL 60606(650) 539-4124


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