Last week I was putting together an online campaign for a client of mine. And during the course of this, I engaged with a couple of pretty large firms specialising in “Search Engine Marketing” or “SEM”.

Five minutes into conversations with the folks at these companies, I got the feeling that everything they did in SEM, involved Google and only Google. A bit surprised and thinking I was nuts, I probed further asking ‘so what else would you do, besides covering Google?’

Amazingly as I had suspected, they didn’t offer anything more than Google. Google Adwords was what they’d use… something which I or anyone could, if you logged into the relevant place on google and signed on with a credit card!

‘We also monitor it for you…’ one of the SEM firm reps told me sensing my surprise. ‘Yeah right, I thought, you’ll just send me the reports which google sends you and call that monitoring?’.

This got me thinking, and it got me worried.

Admittedly Google is the biggest force in SEM in the world today. And optimising your site for Google, is like taking out a life insurance on your online campaign. But does it make sense for companies to put all their eggs in one basket… that too, blindly as these folk were suggesting?

I decided to probe a bit further and remembered a book I’d bought a couple of months back and hadn’t got down to finishing – The Search by John Battelle. The book is about How Google and its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture.

I pulled it off my bookshelf and flipped open a page, like I always do, as if looking for a sign or a celestine hint... and unbelievably, there was the sign – on Page 155!

Google Giveth, Google Taketh Away said the subhead, in the chapter called The Search Economy.

The section went on to describe how way back in 1999, a gentleman named Moncrief built a huge business from nothing, simply by selling his products online, and by optimising his site for Google’s search engine. Then one morning in 2003, just before the big holiday season when his sales would peak, he woke up to find his business wasn’t showing up on Google anywhere!!

It later turned out, in order to foil search engine spammers Google frequently tweaked its search engine algorithms. And while doing away with illegal search engine spamming, unfortunately the change in the algorithm also swept Moncrief’s business out of the Google search results!

To cut a long story short, in order to get back into Google search results, Moncrief ended up buying ads on Google, as against the free ride he was getting through top results in natural organic searches. But by the time he was back up and running, his main business season was over and his business took a big hit.

Now this may have happened four years back, and we’re today better equipped to handle the unpredictability of the internet, the key message I got was this when you put ‘your everything’ into the capable hands of the world’s best, you are also leaving ‘your everything’ to its mercy.

If tomorrow it decides to rock the boat by changing the way it operates, will we be ready and equipped to manage the change? And do we  have other options which we can turn to?

I believe while we all work hard to optimise our sites brilliantly, and pay good money for our brands to show up alongside organic searches and in the right context, we also need to think really hard about other options.

Even though we may never ever use them.

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