Search versus Discoverability: What is your Search Strategy?

by Massimo Burgio, May 2010

As I often say, it is good to serve at the SEMPO’s Board of Directors, as I can have very good exchanges with some of the smartest minds in the search and online marketing industry.

A couple of months ago (maybe a little more) fellow SEMPO Board Director Duane Forrester asked a question: Search or Discoverability? What’s your search strategy? I believe Duane is in the process of writing a(nother) online marketing book, and the search versus discoverability topic surely seemed to be of some interest to him.

A good conversation grew around the topic, in a closed circle of emails with inputs from Dana Todd, Sara Holoubek, Jessica Bowman and Chris Boggs among the others, so I offered my 2 percent to the conversation, too.



Today I found that old thread and decided to copy and paste my input on the matter, so to share it with you all – I would like to get your comments and your opinion on the search versus discoverability discussion; feel free to get in touch or tweet about this article.

Here we go – enjoy the reading!

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Rock on – I like the question.


In my opinion it is all a matter of positioning and target audience. Some “things” (businesses, events, organizations, brands, products) are not meant for a broad publicity, and do not need to be visible to everybody, but are meant to be discovered – by the right audience.


Some examples? The first that comes to my mind is, of course, the Burning Man Festival and year-round community, but this can be applied also to products (niche-specific products such as specialty medical treatments or specialized construction or boating gear etc), organizations (i.e. Rotary Clubs, Masonic groups, exclusive Golf clubs, Museums Donors Funds, etcetera), businesses (highly specialized products and services) and brands (cult underground clothing brands, cult alternative music bands or film productions, etc.).


Basically, there is a whole word out there who doesn’t need to be slapped into everybody’s face – in advertising terms, they will never buy Superbowl airtime nor outdoor advertising. These brand, products, organizations, etc. need to be discovered – not to be visible to everybody.


In marketing-advertising terms, this can be achieved thanks to the recommendations and trust circles generated by the 2.0-social world (discovery by trusted input) or (and) thanks to search marketing, of course! =) Search marketing (SEO and SEM) can definitely fit both needs, allowing to achieve either the largest possible audience (full-on visibility) or a very niche-specific, long tail target (can I call “meet the demand” a “piloted discovery“?).


Then of course, from the advertiser standpoint, a big deal of other efforts must be put in being, not only search marketing – as I mentioned before, a strong presence and interaction with the right communities in the social media space (and also offline) is due for niche marketing activities, in order to help the right target audience find their way to the brand/product/organization through a trusted discovery process.


On the contrary, the right strategy for those who want to achieve visibility is to go broad cross-channel with a bold communication – then again, setting up some conversation-enabler channels with this broad audience in order to narrow down to the conversion is a must, and this should be step two after the visibility blast.   Long story short, echoing something said in the thread – in my opinion visibility and discoverability are not the same thing, they depend on the brand positioning and on the target audience, and need different online (and integrated offline) strategies to be put in being successfully.


In my personal hands-on experience, beside of working with huge brands, I do a lot of volunteer work for many alternative music/cultural organization, and basically all of them are following the discoverability strategy rather than blasting visibility, and it really works fine…


I also help big brands with ultra-targeted campaigns, which is pretty much the same thing, but difficult to sell… the weird thing is that the majority of big brands still prefer to waste their ROI in top visibility rather than discoverability, and they still don’t get the good old concept of targeted campaigns

So, what is your experience with search versus discoverability?

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