The Central Role of Search in Digital Marketing

If digital marketing is a rainforest-like ecosystem, then search is the raincloud. Those of us in digital advertising are often pigeonholed into our tactical microcosms in which seeing the “big picture” can seem like trying to work a Rubik’s cube while wearing glasses that only distinguish the color red. Display media, lead gen, SEM and SEO each exists in its own world.

But I’m here to tell you that the “big picture” is not as foreign as it seems. The key to seeing it, in any endeavor, is the connection between the individual factors that make up the full experience. As I see it, the supreme connection point to all aspects of digital marketing is the search experience.

The beating heart of digital marketing is an audience and the key connector between online marketing tactics is audience flow. Where do visitors come from? What is the traffic-generating source? I would argue that for most digital marketing efforts, search is that source – even when it “isn’t”.

Here is my logic: from my experience, the most effective display opportunities exist on content rich sites that get most of their traffic from established organic search engine rankings due to their content investment. More often than not I see display advertising as a method to target search users one step removed for terms that I am not able to gain a certain ranking position on.

When my goal is lead gen, the sites I go to in order to generate leads are either getting their traffic from organic search due to content or by driving paid search visits directly to lead gen pages. I would even argue that email has a close tie to search traffic, as many email lists are generated through forms that are filled out by visitors who come to them via a site’s organic search rankings or through being directed there by paid search.

But what about social? A common thought is that social media is going to be the great displacer of search as the premier information and discovery resource of the internet. I would argue differently. The core function of search is to deliver immediate data on specific inquiries, while social is meant to share information whether it has been specifically requested or not. To me this difference is subtle but important. The best example I can think of is this: if you were interested in knowing the location of a restaurant, would you first post on Facebook asking your friends for the address and wait for someone to respond, or would you first type the restaurant’s name into Google? For most, it would always be the latter. Where social comes into play is when we want to share our impressions of that restaurant. The connection point between social and search is the dynamic between the sourcing of information and the sharing of information. More often than not, even in social environments, search is still the starting point.

In end, the big picture is viewable. The key is paying attention to the bridges that connect everything together. Within the digital landscape, integrated marketing is the future and search is the center of that landscape.


Brett Landry