There’s a debate going on at SEMpdx and throughout the search marketing world around the use of “search” and “search marketing” when describing what we do.

It is not a new conversation. We had it years ago at EngineWorks when deciding what our new tagline should be. At the time, this was probably in 2010, the tag was Power Through Search Engines and we provided High Performance Search Marketing.

A major reason for the change in marketing was to avoid the pigeon hole that having the term “Search Engines” in our branding inferred. We settle on Powering Online Performance and Data-Driven Internet Marketing. This did not get us away from what we did, but allowed for an expansion of service offerings.

The company was then acquired by ethology which does a lot of search engine marketing (SEO and PPC) but does not identify themselves as a search marketing firm but rather a digital marketing agency.

EngineWorks circa 2010
EngineWorks circa 2010
EngineWorks circa 2011
EngineWorks circa 2011










More recently another local agency decided to move away from identifying themselves as a search engine marketing agency when Anvil Media declared themselves a “business consultancy”.

The trend doesn’t stop with agencies, last year SEOmoz dropped the SEO and are now Moz. One of the long standing search marketing conferences, Search Engine Strategies (SES) recently rebranded as ClickZ Live events and the writing is on the wall for an overhaul in how conferences are programed. Andrew Goodman believes we are at an SEM Conference Crossroads.


So what does all this mean for SEMpdx and our signature event SearchFest?

One thing it has done is start (well, not exactly start as we have actually been talking about this for a while now…so let’s say further) further the discussion about renaming/rebranding SearchFest and/or SEMpdx. The conference has certainly gone beyond SEO and PPC (the original components of SEM or Search Engine Marketing) to include social media, content marketing, analytics, digital strategy and more. It is not a “search marketing” conference, but a digital marketing conference with a search marketing emphasis.

What does the SEMpdx Board Think?

Following our most recent board retreat and specifically after our Back to School monthly educational event, there has been significant discussion. Specifically, here are my thoughts and those from four other SEMpdx board members, Scott Hendison (aka Search Commander), Robert Frost, Tony Svoboda and Todd Mintz.

Scott Hendison

“Removing ‘search’ from our name feels premature, but yes a case could be made that I don’t know if I really ‘search’ as much anymore – instead I often ‘look’ or I ‘get’ because it’s at my fingertips now – Search sort of implies that it might not be there. Another acronym for SEM could be Sales, Education and Marketing…and that I’m screwed / pigeonholed with my company names Search Commander, Inc. and SEO Automatic ;( #FAIL”

Rosenberg note – maybe Scott should just be the Commander and Automatic 😉

Robert Frost

“’Search’ is still relevant. People ‘search’ for stuff or ‘do a search’ all the time. I will say that ethology is not a ‘search agency’ (see above), we are a ‘digital agency’. So there may be some value in ‘digital marketing’, but as far as SearchFest goes, rebranding now would be a mistake. ‘DigiFest’ or ‘DigitalFest’ just doesn’t work for me.”

Rosenberg note – a quick “search” finds that both DigiFest and DigitalFest already exist

Tony Svoboda

“After hearing Scott’s ‘get/retrieve’ angle and others, I think there is a distinct difference between commercial and non-commercial intent. Non-commercial (in general), items like directions or movie times or informational type of searches (like Wikipedia or TV show times or weather etc.) people do ‘get/retrieve’ that information, which is quicker to get because there are fewer providers and fewer steps to get that information. The ‘search’ process is shorter if you could call it that. I don’t remember the % of searches that are of this informational/navigational type but could be 25-50%.

Rosenberg note – last year Search Engine Land linked to a report that estimated 50-80% of search queries are informational (the report link is now a 404 and one of the comments states that it is likely outdated), in ancient times (2008) Search Engine Land reported that 80% of searches are informational, leaving 20% navigational and transactional.

Regarding commercial intent searches, people generally don’t know who provides the service or what specific products available they are looking for. Generally they are looking to find several providers/products to then start narrowing down their choices to make a final purchasing decision. They will compare offerings, pricing, features etc. It’s this type of online activity that might be more classified as ‘search’. And this ‘search’ process is generally a longer cycle, i.e. ‘searches’ could be done over several sessions, days, weeks, months before a person finally narrows down their choices and finally picks a provider or vendor.

To me ‘Search’ means both sides of the equation, the consumer side and the provider side. Each side is working to find providers or find consumers to ultimately get to a ‘purchase/sale’ of a good or service. The consumer is working to find providers and then compare and analyze their offerings to choose a provider. The provider is working to present their offerings with features/benefits to attract consumers.

For consumer ‘search’ can describe a process that spans over time and sessions and usually many different search keywords or following links to make sure a person has explored different ways to find providers or vendors.

For providers ‘search’ can describe the process of optimizing your website and offerings and putting yourself in the path of consumers (i.e. search results, links on other sites, citations, ads, social, etc.). Then attracting those potential consumers to view your offerings (website, products, etc.) and presenting them in a truthful way to convince people that they should choose you over other providers. Although ‘search’ may be an imperfect word for this side of the equation, in general commercial intent consumers initiate the ‘search’. There is ‘push’ marketing but I don’t really classify that as ‘search’. To me ‘search’ implies the mostly online activity both sides do to ultimately get to a ‘purchase/sale’ of a commercial product or service.

However, as board member and Search Commander, Scott Hendison would say, it’s still search, all of it has to do with searching online for something, whether it is through a search engine or not. Is having ‘Search’ in the name of the event scare people off or not properly represent the content?

Regarding ‘SearchFest’, I think we have more life it that name or the ‘Search’ part of it. Maybe something will come along that definitely describes the process better, but for now I think we’re fine. would be worth further in depth discussions with more board members.”

Rosenberg note – ask a question, get an answer…may be a long one 🙂

Todd Mintz

“I think the brand recognition of our name in the eyes of the public (both for SEMpdx and SearchFest) outweighs the changing connotations of what ‘Search’ or ‘SEM’ actually means.

records-21050_640Here are a couple examples:

Many people (myself included) still call new releases by musicians “albums” even though the physical album / record crashed back in the 80’s. The term is still widely used and understood. Most films aren’t on ‘film’ any more but are on digital media. We still call them ‘films’ and everyone understands the context.

It’s true that search is much more blended into general marketing and will continue to evolve that way. However, the focus of what we all do still involves the act of making it easier for a merchant to connect their goods or services with their audience. The merchant is still ‘searching’ for customers and even if our bag of tricks is less focused on technical wizardry and more focused on marketing, it’s still focused on the getting the merchant found when a relevant consumer is searching for them.

For the foreseeable future, ‘Search’ is still quite relevant to what we’re about.”

Rosenberg note – great examples, is SEO the cassette, tape or cd of the marketing world that eventually gets bypassed and forgotten?

My take

Over the past eight years SEMpdx has made great strides in establishing SEMpdx and Portland as a leader in digital marketing education, thought leadership and community development. We are a model organization that many other cities look to emulate. As Scott stated above SEM could mean a variety of things and that equity outweighs the potential misconceptions that SEMpdx is exclusively associated with marketing solely through search engines.

However, if you take the time to read the post linked above that provides Moz’ reason for changing their name, many of the same arguments can be made for SEMpdx (if you don’t know it is said with the acronyms SEM and airport code PDX, not sem—rhymes with pen—pex).

In regards to SearchFest, I am in the camp that thinks we need find a new name and brand for the conference. I think we need to get the Search out of SearchFest. But I admit that I don’t know what it should be and don’t think it has to happen tomorrow.


What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Is Search the Question?

  1. Mike – this post is awesome. I’m a little bummed you didn’t ask for my opinion but it’s probably a good thing as I would have taken this over. I’m passionate about this subject obviously.

    I – or actually Brian – had a good idea for a new name for SearchFest / rebrand. I won’t give it away in the comments but it’s so much easier than a word-soup type of thing. At least – it’s a good launching point for brainstorming.

    Anyway- great post & great comments.

    1. Sorry Ben, I thought about asking more people, even the entire board, but then we’d be looking at a novel instead of a blog post. Can’t wait to hear the idea you and Brian came up with!

  2. Good question Mike! One that I’ve wondered about for MnSearch since we started. Search has evolved. So much so that it’s not just about Search anymore. SEMpdx, and SearchFest, has been way ahead of the curve for including social, analytics, display, and other segments for a long time. I personally don’t think of you as just a Search association, but more than that. SearchFest programming is an example of the bigger digital landscape that you represent. Regardless of whether you keep to the original Search/SEM brand or change it, your future will be dependent on the quality of networking and programming events you produce.

    Best regards,


  3. I personally think it’s time for a change here. I’ve been attending Searchfest for years and the audience feels stagnant over the last couple years. I would guess this is in large part to the limited name. A new more broad name could increase the reach of the conference and breathe some new life into the audience.

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