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SEM: Buyer Beware

We were yapping around the office about an unnamed site we know that reported to have 11 million uniques this past month. Given what we know about this industry, we all agreed that this meant that they were buying precisely 11 million uniques worth of traffic each month. Actually, I speculated that they were buying 10 million uniques worth of traffic and got the remaining 1 million through SEO. Regardless, that was the quick and dirty analysis of their business.

And, in case you can't tell, that was not a positive analysis. Without saying it, we were all in agreement that this was not a winning formula. So why is that? Why is it that these two particular forms of marketing (SEO/ SEM) for this particular type of business (media) just has disaster written all over it?

If I opened a corner store or a restaurant and I spent some money on a TV or newspaper ad that had the effect of increasing my customer count wouldn't I be excited and optimistic? That's despite the fact that those type of advertising are unmeasurable and really hard to target.

Maybe its just a conversion. If I bought the restaurant ads that brought in new customers, once I had them in my shop I know my world famous chicken picatta (or whatever) would indelibly stick in their ribs and taste buds that they would come back for more and more. Or at least some of them would. They would convert to "free" customers. And that would make me happy. So I would be optimistic.

So why doesn't SEO/ SEM bring up the same optimism. Is it because of the mechanism of going through Google? (I've written in the past about how SEO/ SEM might actually be harmful to brand building). Or is it because a web site isn't built for conversion of SEO traffic? There's no virtual chicken picata served to capture the customer. Or is it both? Or is it that Web sites in general are really, really hard to advertise. I'm not sure there's an effective offline channel (TV, radio, billboards, etc.) either.

Either way its odd for me to think that there is a legitimate form of marketing out there that sounds like bad news for a company to use. I thought marketing was supposed to be a good thing....


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