Member Q&A: Search Marketing Skills

On October 10, 2023 search marketing

Over $6 billion was invested in the Australian paid search market last year representing 44% of the paid digital advertising market. In this article members of our Search Working Group look at the skills needed to get into the industry as skills needed for current search professionals and teams to keep up to date with the changing search market.


Gary Nissim, Managing Director, Indago Digital 

What would you say are the core skills needed for search marketing professionals in relation to paid search?

  1. Data analysis – paid search has a focus on numbers and metrics. You need to be able to manipulate and read that data. As part of that people in paid search tend to be extremely proficient in Excel
  2. Understanding cause and effect – optimisations, reporting, analysis, and planning all revolve around this central skill. As the role requirements become more advanced, higher levels of statistical understanding become needed to account for multiple factors and scenarios
  3. Problem solving – rarely do things go to plan or the successes from one campaign translate to another. This is both the best and worst thing about being in search marketing. If you don’t like problem solving this is not the right path for you
  4. Re-education – what worked yesterday is unlikely to work tomorrow and you’ll need to read what others search marketers are trying, re-educate yourself and test new methods. If you rely on what used to work, you won’t succeed
  5. Business acumen – All marketers need to understand the business they are running a campaign for;
    • The numbers that power success – Average Lifetime Value, Margins, Revenue
    • The customers it’s seeking – Demographics, interests, related products they want to purchase
    • The business’s unique selling points – Why them over their competitors
    • Seasonality and opportunity – When is the right time to push and are there market forces which we can take advantage of

What makes the difference between good and great in relation to identifying best practice strategies and driving results?

The most important practice needed to achieve great results over good results is having an open mind and a willingness to experiment.

Of course, you need to understand the basics and be well versed in them but if you remain there, you will be good at best. Nothing can be learned without risk, and an aversion to “failure” has probably halted growth of more advertisers than anything else. There will be a baseline of best practice that will get you to “good”, which are often either minimum thresholds of account setup or structure, but without constant testing and the risk that comes with it, a marketer will not be able to identify the important strategies and approaches that are unique to that client. Each client brings with it unique opportunities, whether due to industry, brand, or competitive factors, and these factors must be considered when developing a bespoke strategy for that client.

In paid search there are new products being launched, old products being sun-setted, and current products being augmented, monthly. Those who are first to test, build more data and learnings, are the people who will be great, driving the best results on the campaigns they run.

The IAB Search Working Group has pulled together a range of education and training resources for the market but how do you personally keep up to date with changes in the market &/or changes in benchmarks?

  • Search Engine Land & Search Engine Journal for search-specific product and trend updates.
  • Publisher newsletters and press releases (Google, Meta, etc.) provide information around upcoming trends, and case studies can provide strong evidence for testing and learning with clients.
  • LinkedIn is my favourite place for information. Barry Schwartz is a great person to start with, and search marketers love to chat and give away their secrets. Find the people you like (globally) follow them and expand your network as you go.

In a challenging economic environment many clients are very focused on short to mid-term performance, what suggestions would you have for brand focused marketers trying to ensure that paid search marketing is making the most of other advertising investments?

Search marketing in Australia is the most invested of all marketing techniques and for one main reason, its effectiveness. It is the only ‘demand’ based medium we have where a customer actively tells us what they want. Other channels might be campaign based but search needs to be always on.

To extract maximum value from search (in any economy) you need to;

    1. Use search to feed all parts of the sale funnel (awareness, consideration, action). Just because a keyword doesn’t convert doesn’t make it valueless. If we can introduce a potential new customer to our brand or website, value needs to be placed against that keyword. Many other mediums are valued on impressions alone, but often in search, impressions are provided with no value at all.
    2. Use search as a capture channel. Augment your search campaign to reflect your other activity. When or where you’re spending big on other advertising, double down on search and capture the interest you’re driving rather than have your competitors soak up that interest.
    3. Use search to measure your other advertising. Have you seen an increase in brand search, and does it correlate with your other advertising? Have paid search conversion rates, or other metrics like time on site increased? Even Mark Ritson, eventually triggered onto the fact that search should be used to measure brand strength and you should do the same.
    4. Understand that search does not sit in a silo. If you reply purely on search to fuel your website and or brand, you will quickly fail. Brand advertising greatly aids the effectiveness of search marketing and the two needs to be planned and executed together


Andrew Macdonald, National Head of Paid Search & Social, dentsu

What would you say are the core skills needed for search marketing professionals in relation to paid search?

I have worked with search marketers from different professional and educational backgrounds, and I find that there is no one size fits all skillset. At the core, search professionals need to have a good understanding of the client’s business, consumer behaviour and technical expertise in data & analytics. Many skills can be learnt on the job such as campaign structures, keyword research, ad copywriting, bid management and reporting.

Incorporating some knowledge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is beneficial, as it offers a greater understanding of the search landscape. It allows professionals to bridge the gap between paid and organic search strategies for a unified approach.

Beyond technical skills, I like to look for certain behavioral traits that can set a search marketer apart. Problem-solving ability is invaluable when addressing challenges that may arise in campaigns, such as low conversion rates or high costs. An experimentation mindset, coupled with a curiosity to explore new strategies and challenge conventional wisdom, fuels innovation and adaptation to evolving trends.

Effective communication skills are important, particularly for professionals working with clients or teams. The ability to distill complex data and strategies into simple, actionable insights with strong story telling is a hallmark of a successful search marketer.

In essence, the core skills for search marketing professionals encompass a blend of technical proficiency, strategic acumen, creativity, and adaptability. Coupled with a deep understanding of the target audience and business objectives, these skills enable professionals to excel in the ever-evolving landscape of search marketing. Staying abreast of industry trends and remaining open to learning is the key to sustained success in this dynamic field.

What makes the difference between good and great in relation to identifying best practice strategies and driving results?

The distinction between being good and great lies in the ability to strike a balance between mastering the fundamentals and embracing innovative approaches. I have always said to my teams that unless you get the fundamentals right, you will never build the trust with your clients and stakeholders to get sign off on the cool stuff. It all starts with a strong foundation.

Search has evolved a lot over the years and strong process and tools are important. Consider the importance of consistent quality assurance processes before campaigns go live. This ensures that all elements are error-free and aligned with the campaign objectives, instilling confidence in clients and stakeholders.

Budget pacing and regular optimisation routines are equally critical. Monitoring campaign performance, making data-driven adjustments, and implementing alerts systems help maintain efficiency and ensure that campaigns stay on track to meet their goals.

Robust reporting and data visualisation tools help convey results and insights effectively. Clear and insightful reporting not only informs stakeholders but also aids in making informed decisions for future strategies.

Ad platforms have become more complex over the years and are designed to extract value from the advertiser. Having the right auditing technology and process in place will reduce errors and achieve greater efficiency from your search campaigns.

Once the fundamentals are firmly established, this is where meaningful innovation comes into play. Value bidding, for instance, involves advanced strategies to extract the maximum value from advertising spend by aligning your measurement and bid strategies to the advertiser’s most profitable outcomes. In addition, building an experimentation framework enables the pursuit of incremental improvements, which, over time, can translate into a significant competitive advantage. This is becoming increasingly important as AI becomes more integrated with search engines and search advertising.

The IAB Search Working Group has pulled together a range of education and training resources for the market but how do you personally keep up to date with changes in the market &/or changes in benchmarks?

I work closely with our accountability team who regularly report on the latest changes to market supply, demand, and market forces in search. To stay up to date and extract insights, I use the following resources:

SMI to track agency investment in the search category.

Earnings reports provide good insights into the search market.

Key industry events (e.g. Google Marketing Live) for the latest product announcements.

Media resources – Search Engine Land, Insider Intelligence, WARC.

Podcasts – I wish I had more time to explore more podcasts, but there are 2 that I regularly listen to:

  1. Perpetual Traffic
  2. Marketing Artificial Intelligence Show


Rick Gove, Head of Performance Solutions, Google ANZ

Search advertising is undergoing some of the biggest changes in the last decade, particularly with developments in AI but also social and retail search, how will this change skills needed to ensure brands are making the most of changing algorithms and consumer behaviour?

With the growth of AI in the last few years, the strategic levers in paid ads on search are shifting:  as marketing professionals, we’re moving from analysing keywords, clicks and conversions as a proxy for determining impact toward identifying strategic business objectives as the primary signal for AI to deliver impact across investments.

This shift means that the core skills that carried many of us to this point are evolving significantly.  Here are a few key ways in which the requirements to make predictive AI work well is changing the marketing professional career profile.

  • Business objectives for predictive AI – Identifying business value ‘signals’ (e.g., 1PD or indexed financial values), forecasting appropriate budgets, and managing cross-functional teams that ‘own’ the ‘signals’ are critical to ensuring that AI-powered search advertising solutions drive business outcomes vs media outcomes alone.
  • Creative assets for predictive AI – Understanding the types of creative assets required in an AI-first world is fundamental to remaining competitive. For AI to work well, we need to understand how display, text, and video assets, among others, serve as a ‘signal’ for optimal AI-powered outcomes. 
  • Measurement and reporting for predictive AI – Linking search advertising to measurement and econometric models that are attuned to the increasingly fragmented, AI-powered marketing landscape we operate in today is key to placing the impact of search advertising in the right context.

As AI fundamentally enables a more strategic role for marketers in organisations, rewards are accruing to those with impeccable marketing and business fundamentals together with a willingness to experiment, learn, and dive in to navigate the AI-powered changes as they come.

For a handy reference on how to supercharge your marketing with AI from a Google perspective, please see this ‘AI Essentials’ checklist.