The very nature of search marketing is undergoing some dramatic changes, according to the latest Q4 2012 Forrester Wave report.

Search Marketing Becomes Discovery Enablement

Rather than trying to connect with customers via a single channel, such as a traditional search engine, search marketing is transforming into “discovery enablement,” which Forrester identifies as “collecting users engaged in all forms of digital discovery,” which includes social platforms and ratings/reviews sites. In the report: "The Forrester Wave: Search Marketing Agencies, Q4 2012", Forrester advises search marketers to also prepare for new means of customer discovery and engagement such as consumer devices that record behavioral data (such as baby monitors), new interfaces such as misspelled search terms (becoming more frequent with tiny mobile keyboards) and context targeting, such as using customer location to send specific personalized offers.

Multiple Vendors Provide Search Marketing Assistance

According to Forrester, more third-party search marketing agencies are offering services to evolve search marketing into discovery enablement than ever before. In particular, Forrester says these agencies can provide marketers valuable assistance in the areas of providing staffing resources, generating new ideas and offering capabilities beyond traditional paid search and SEO. Following is an overview of the seven agencies profiled in the report.

360i, iCrossing, Performics Stand Out among Search Agencies

Forrester singled out 360i, iCrossing and Performics as the leaders in the search marketing space. 360i received top honors for “strong paid search and social media capabilities” as well as a continued focus on education. Meanwhile, iCrossing received praise for “broad expertise in biddable media and content creation,” while Performics received kudos for far-ranging benefits including international scale and mobile and social support.

Covario, Impaqt and iProspect were all named strong performers. Forrester praised Covario for improving media, collaboration and copywriting while remaining strong in SEO performance. Impaqt fell a notch from being named a search agency leader last year due to its SEO and paid search offerings not “keeping pace” with the market. And iProspect was recognized for leading international and social media support, but had its rating hampered by mediocre search program processes and tools.

The one search agency contender this quarter was newcomer Acronym, which has top-level flexibility in account management and reporting but also falls short in areas such as social media, mobile and overall strategic vision.

Forrester used a combination of vendor surveys and online customer surveys to assess each vendor profiled in the report.

Google Provides Disallow Links Tool

Google, the leader in all things search (though Bing is making an impressive run at its supremacy), recently released a new Disallow Links Tool that seems to be a perfect fit with the changing search marketing landscape. The Disallow Links Tool allows site owners to disavow links to their websites that may be damaging their standing in Google’s search results. Google said that, if a site believes its ranking is being damaged by “low-quality links you do not control, you can ask Google not to take them into account when assessing your site.”

However, Google and third-party observers recommend marketers use the tool with caution, as indiscriminate application will likely result in damaged and/or diminished search engine rankings.

Numerous Problems Drive Marketers to Search Agencies

According to an article on the report in Search Engine Land, major problems afflicting search marketers this year have been driving more of them to agencies. These challenges include “problems advertisers are facing with paid search inflation, the difficulty of finding qualified search marketers, keeping up with algorithm or other changes and dealing with new search interfaces (voice, touch, etc.).” Thus many marketing organizations, even those with in-house search support are still turning to third party providers.