Marketing Pilgrim's "Search Marketing" Channel

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Why This Search Marketer Expects More from Ask’s Ads

No, Ask hasn’t gone and done anything new with their ads lately. But I was struck the other day that, although many people may use search engines to find obscure trivia, that doesn’t mean that we search marketers should care.

We’re all about helping searchers find our sites or our clients’ sites. And (for the most part), we’re helping them find things they’ll buy. Things that will make our clients money.

Kato Kaelin ain’t it. If Ask wants to position themselves as “the free soft porn/D-list celebrity search engine we’ve all been waiting for,” the masters of trivia, that’s fine. But if they succeed, that means that there will be very little direct commercial value from natural Ask traffic.

We want search engines that people turn to for finding a [sony digital video camera]. We want search engines that people turn to for learning more about [best seattle restaurants]. We want search engines that people turn to for researching [viagra] (okay, I’d be more than happy if Ask took that one).

But unless you’re hoping to encourage people to search Ask to buy something like [kato kaelin poster] or [kato kaelin testimony] (or looking to buy Kato on eBay; I bet they have him), please don’t expect search marketers to sit up and take notice.

Is there value in noncommercial queries? Certainly. But there probably isn’t enough value in a search engine that prides itself on finding only the obscure trivia (even if it really doesn’t do that very well) for me to worry about marketing to them. Even if these commercials did succeed in getting people to switch to Ask, don’t you want a search engine capable of finding more than just to find pictures of scantily-clad women and long-haired men?

Unfortunately, their other advertising tactics may not be much better. A few weeks ago, the lovely Mystery Guest posted on SEOmoz about, among other things, why Ask’s algorithm ads don’t appeal to the average user:

I have no idea why the hell ads mention an algorithm. I can’t imagine anyone outside of the SEO industry knowing what that means (also, the commercials ridicule the guy who doesn’t know what the algorithm is. Why? Who wants to use a search engine that mocks them?). Most people barely grasp the idea that search engines are corporations – that they actually make money, and aren’t simply an index that comes free with the Internet (like the phone book. Wait, does Yellow Pages make money? They must. Through ads, right? Hmm … now I can’t tell if that example is apt or not). And most people I work with exclusively use Google. Most are not familiar with MSN Search (and we live in Seattle), and I know only a handful that use Yahoo!. So they really, really aren’t going to get that there’s an algorithm behind all of it. . . .

Perhaps the “tools” campaign didn’t work out so well for Ask, but somehow I don’t think that looking like tools is going to help improve your image, either.

Go ahead, call me “scared if [of?] weapons or powerful women yourself,” “cold to fantasy,” and a “paranoid femnazi,” or accuse me of having “feminist hangups,” and “lack[ing] . . . creativity and imagination,” but no matter how cute or spunky or funny you may think “chicks with swords” is, it’s just not going to help Ask. It can get us talking about the commercial, sure, but not using the search engine.

That is the goal, isn’t it? Or do they even remember?

  • Andy Beal

    Great stuff Jordan!

    You hit your stride with…”Perhaps the “tools” campaign didn’t work out so well for Ask, but somehow I don’t think that looking like tools is going to help improve your image, either.” ;-)

  • TextAdSearch

    ASK have been re-positioning themselves since they started. ASK Jeeves used to be heavily advertised in the UK but now nothing.

  • Pat Shaughnessy

    Great post! One thing about the mystery poster:

    “I have no idea why the hell ads mention an algorithm.”

    One might have made the same argument when intel came up with the now famous “intel inside” slogan to
    help solidify their brand in a very competitive commodity market.
    I submit that this worked pretty well. Don’t discount the rabble so fast–they catch on after a bit.