Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Dirty Little Secret of SEO

SEO is not a one shot deal. It's not a magic wand. What's more, it can ZAP marketing resources better applied elsewhere to boost sales. Optimizing a web site for high search rankings (Search Engine Optimizing) can be a slow and steady effort over time, or major investment up front with ongoing maintenance to match. Regardless, SEO as a marketing budget line-item must be cost-justified based on traditional marketing parameters, including its role in contributing to customer value.

Because SEO demands so many unique skill sets, in-house SEO is rife with just as many management and execution challenges as an out-sourced solution. SEO demands industry, product and sales knowledge coupled with writing, website development, and marketing management expertise.

Just like in brick-and-mortar retail, not every business can cost-justify the overhead of a prime real estate location. If not justified and held accountable like any other marketing project, SEO can become the proverbial bottomless money pit for B2B marketers.

Yet, because every business has clamored for first page search visibility ever since top management twigged to the idea that a website really can effect sales, SEO companies have sprouted like mushrooms with some very slick salesmanship - eager to match expectations with acronym-laced rhetoric and a hefty contract.

Alas, after signing and the honeymoon ends three months into a Search Engine Optimizing contract, many marketers are left wondering just what they got after lots of boilerplate SEO reports, to-do lists that never get done, and account reps that call less and less frequently. When will the magic kick in?

Or, on the other hand, an SEO project plays out the proverbial "be careful what you ask for" scenario. The SEO provider is successful in gaining top ranking for the client, but site visitors are not converting, leaving the marketer to play catchup while would-be customers and costly sales leads vanish.

So, how badly do we need yet another marketing tool like SEO?

A subset of the general category of search marketing, SEO demands a healthy investment in time and/or expense to achieve a reasonable return on investment. Place SEO in perspective before initiating a search optimizing program. Treat SEO as just one more arrow in the marketing lead-generating quiver that includes:
  • Search Engine Optimizing

  • Adword or "Click" advertising

  • Direct marketing e-Promotions

  • Integration with traditional advertising, PR, events, and other sales and marketing promotions
Planned properly within the scope of an overall marketing program, the right dose of SEO at the right time will yield a respectable ROI. An independent marketing services company that combines SEO, business marketing experience, and relevant industry expertise can ensure all pieces of a marketing puzzle come together. On the other hand, highly specialized SEO companies exist solely to get more eyeballs on a client site. Never mind that your site may be ill-equipped to handle new-found visitors, capture relevant visitor information, track traffic patterns, or otherwise encourage visitors to raise their hands and identify themselves as sales prospects.

How much SEO should you be doing?

As with any lead generating program, budget as much SEO as you can realistically handle. By that I mean working a plan, developing a conversion process, tracking and measuring against a target ROI. eCcommerce sites can clearly benefit from higher volumes of high quality traffic from both natural and pay per click campaigns. B2B sites without a direct ordering mechanism or other clarion call to action may have a harder time cost-justifying the resources required for an SEO program that consumes more than its fair share of a marketing lead generation budget.

The really big question comes back to your choices for implementing SEO. Realize that even legitimate third parties committed to providing the best SEO services will inevitably require more than your cash to make their services work for you. Improving a site's natural ranking with the major search engines (at this time these include Google, Yahoo and MSN) requires just three major things of your web site:
  • Tons of relevant, keyword-rich content

  • Lots of relevant links to your site (popularity)

  • Easy to follow site structure with relevant naming conventions
In other words, even when outsourcing be prepared to do more than write a check when it comes to both content and link-building especially if you are a manufacturer, technology products/service company, financial services provider, or other industrial company. B2B marketing departments will be tasked with developing much of the new site content, regardless of who does the final SEO. For SMB (small to medium business) marketers on a limited budget, the following proves to be cost-effective SEO choices:
  • Moderate investment in a site upgrade that includes SEO best practices coding.
Regular site content additions that improve a site's worth to prospects and customers.

  • Ongoing research and registration on important industry directory sites.
  • Well-planned click advertising campaign.
  • Integration of existing PR, article and lead generation programs into your website.

  • Add site analytics that work across all search engines - study what’s working and what is not.

  • Add staff capabilities as appropriate to handle one or more of the diverse components required for SEO.

Remember to fulfill the promise

Does your existing website separate curious visitors from sales prospects?
A business website can be both a destination to fulfill market information needs, and a revenue-generating tool. Its marketing function is to service existing customers and encourage new ones. Number one: it must "fulfill the promise" that drove the visitor to it in the first place. Just as your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) draws prospects, your site must work to inspire qualified visitor interaction. SEO is important, but the marketer must first get his marketing house in order.

EJW Associates offers powerful marketing solutions