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How Search Marketing is Like Medicine

Posted on Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 by Print This Post Print This Post

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Search marketers and doctors – two groups of professionals that may not have that much in common. You generally don’t see them hanging out at the same cocktail parties.  And they probably didn’t take many of the same classes in college.   They don’t dress alike.   They speak their own languages with goofy acronyms that the other group can’t understand.  And one group had to spend years of their life toiling away in school, residency, clinical training, and continuing education classes in order to practice their trade and maintain their credentials.  The other group can rightfully begin work with an internet connection, a Google log in, and a credit card.

Search marketers are obsessed with performance metrics and margins.  Physicians are obsessed with the quality of patient care… actually many of them are also focused on making money.  Beyond the profit motive, there are many other similarities between the fields of search marketing and medicine, particularly around the use of data and statistical endpoints in diagnosis and treatment:

  • Data-driven diagnosis: In a hospital setting, clinicians monitor the lab values and vital signs of patients on an ongoing basis.  Systems are set up to alert clinicians when values fall out of range, indicating a potential problem to investigate.  Search marketers track a variety of performance data on their campaigns, and many account management tools can be configured to trigger alerts, or take action automatically, when keywords or ad groups fall under pre-established thresholds.
  • Multiple endpoints for analysis: There is never a single lab value or campaign metric that verifies the “health” of the subject.  Physicians must consider multiple lab values as well as a physical evaluation of the patient before making their diagnosis and recommending a course of treatment.  Similarly, search marketers must evaluate multiple campaign metrics – position, bid, CPC, CPA, CR, quality score – along with the competitive landscape and myriad macro-economic factors when determining what to do next.
  • Multiple treatment options: The health of a patient or an SEM campaign depends on the treatment the physician prescribes or the actions the SEM manager takes to improve the campaigns.  And in each case, there is rarely only one intervention for the specialist to consider. Each specialist must use data, research, and their own experience to determine which treatment option is most likely to yield the best results in this unique situation.
  • Continuous innovation: Healthcare specialists are constantly given new tools to improve outcomes for their patients.  Government approval of new medications, treatment interventions, and dosage levels are a regular occurrence and clinicians must quickly determine how these innovations affect their treatment protocols.  Search marketers face a similar challenge.  Google alone launched a host of new features and products in 2010 – e.g. Google Instant, Caffeine, Places – and constantly rolls out new advertising and optimization tools in AdWords. Search marketers are expected to quickly assimilate these changes into their standard operating procedures, and determine when it makes sense to incorporate an emerging channel into the media mix.
  • New Research: Ongoing clinical trials and clinical effectiveness studies are an integral part of healthcare quality improvement.  Many of these studies are supported by grants, and most are subject to a rigorous peer review process prior to publication in a relatively small number of journals.  In search marketing, the majority of new research is privately-funded and is typically published in a disparate set of blogs and industry trade publications, most of which have minimal oversight of the data collection, research methodology, or tabulation of results.
  • Integrated teams: In addition to the physician, most clinical care settings include other roles (e.g. nurse, nurse practitioner, and pharmacist) that must coordinate their activities in the ongoing care of patients.  Similarly, within a search marketing agency, various specialists (e.g architecture specialist, linking and promotions specialist, content writers, and analysts) must communicate and collaborate in the ongoing management of their campaigns.
  • Time management. Go into any busy clinic or hospital, and you’ll rarely see a physician spend more than 15 minutes with any one patient.  Office-based physicians see patients according to an established schedule, but unanticipated changes in patient status can mean a constant re-shuffling of priorities, or a 2 AM call from the hospital.  Whether they work on a single brand or have multiple brands under their purview, search marketers must balance their time between the campaigns just getting started, in a state of active monitoring, on life support, and in need of acute interventions.

While the individuals that go into each field may be cut from different cloths, the practice of search marketing and medicine really isn’t that different.  And many of the issues and challenges that search marketers face today – data management, balancing quality and cost, incorporating new innovations —  are already being addressed by healthcare quality improvement (QI) organizations.  In a future blog post, we’ll consider how we could use some of these QI principles to improve the results of our search marketing campaigns.

Until then, leave a comment and let us know what other similarities you see between search marketing and medicine – or your favorite doctor joke.

About Alec Green

Alec serves as Mother Hen of The Search Agents, making sure contributors mind their P's and Q's and never write the seven words you can't say on television. He's been called a "social media hater" who longs for the days of door-to-door selling and advertising in the phone book.

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