UK based e-consultancy holds periodic round tables meetings with agency and client side search marketers to discuss issues in the industry with a report published afterwards. The most recent September report, which highlights a number of search engine industry developments, SEO challenges and tactics motivated me to write this post. Many of the issues in the report are on the minds of in-house and agency marketers world wide.
Here are a few of the issues discussed and my own thoughts as they relate to each with a nice little rant at the end:
Market trends show that 2/3 of UK companies are planning to increase SEM budgets in the next 12 months.
I know from personal experience this number or something very close to it in the U.S. is true because right about now is when many companies start planning budgets for next year. We’re hearing across the board that companies have gained more confidence in search marketing and are exploring how to scale. This is good and bad news for SEM agencies as it instills confidence to bring things in-house. However, those SEM agencies that are capable of providing strategic direction as well as meaningful and proactive perspectives about where the industry is headed, will continue to be retained.
Now is as good a time as any for agencies or in-house marketers to show their stuff, ie draw attention to the results achieved so far and share a vision for the future of the industry as it relates to the client or company. At least provide some strategic direction for 2008-09 so stakeholders can get a sense of what to expect and be better prepared for budget justifications.
There’s now better and more measurable ROI
The e-consultancy round table discussion offered that SEO and pay per click are increasingly used in concert and tracking conversions on SEO is much easier with improvements in affordable, or in the case of Google Analytics, free web analytics software. I think better ROI measurement has also meant an increase in the need for education about what performance indicators are currently most important. Many marketers still have “rankings on the brain” disease.
If a web site’s assets are optimized and promoted thoroughly, (text, image, audio, video, RSS, news, local, mobile, etc) then “rankings” are only going to measure activity that occurs on the standard search engines (Google, Yahoo. M Live, Ask.com). A focus on rankings will miss the preliminary indications of web site traffic from other sources such as blog search, image search, social media sites and even email or offline promotions. Not that rankings aren’t important, but they really do need to take a back seat to traffic, engagement and lead generation/sales.
Speaking of Social Media
With all the noise about social media, marketers need to remember that the winning formula for search and online marketing at it’s core is about optimizing content, promoting that content, participation in networks, measuring results and making adjustments. Repeat.
Search marketers that have been testing various social media promotion channels already have a grip on optimizing multiple media types and the channels to use for promoting them. The benefits include direct traffic, link attraction and increased footprint on search engines that have implemented unified search.
Unified or Universal Search Challenges and Opportunities
For companies that aren’t in the business of producing content in different media formats, there is a challenge in justifying the creation of such content without knowing for sure if it will have a positive return on effort. Of course, a solution to that situation is no different than companies that are not prone to adding text content to their web sites. If those organizations want to compete in the new forms of search, then they’ll need to find the creative and visionary resources (in-house or with a consultant) to help them create a content plan that takes advantage of nuances in optimization (image optimization vs video for example) and the processes to create, promote and measure effectiveness.
On the flip side, there’s a ready made opportunity for companies that already (some unknowingly) produce the kinds of content in formats that give additional exposure opportunities. A company with a blog that includes, optimizes and promotes images and video as well as news and manages their local search visibility is going to benefit from universal search. Taking inventory of digital assets, goals and matching them with the appropriate promotion channels will allow such content creation to achieve even more of the desired outcomes.
The opportunity with landing page optimization
As described in an earlier post by guest author Jon Miller of Marketo, there’s a tremendous opportunity for PPC marketers to improve conversions or lead generation by optimizing landing pages both for users and for search engines. However, many companies don’t have the budget to coordinate a combined PPC and SEO initiative and with larger organizations, different departments and content sources may prove to be a collaboration challenge without a common understanding of the benefits from a combined effort.
Link building is dead. Long live web site promotion.
Researching, pitching (or buying) and acquiring links continues to be a productive SEO tactic. The reality however, and this will be even more apparent in 2008, is that link building alone is not a winning online marketing strategy. Search marketers need to put themselves in a broader mindset as “marketers” and leverage promotable content as well as a plan for the ongoing creation of promotable content of a web site on an ongoing basis.
Optimizing content and solving inclusion issues are the first steps. Engaging in an ongoing process of creating, promoting and measuring promotable content with analysis and adjustment is what will enable web sites to be the kind of competitive and in some cases, dominating, search marketing machines they aspire to be. Just like the relationship between rankings and traffic, link building is a by product of web site marketing, not the end goal. Linking is a subset or tactic of overall site promotion and SEO consultants that are limited to link building alone are in for a long road ahead.
Be proactive with your online marketing
To continue doing the kind of search engine optimization many web sites and marketers have practiced the past few years could be characterized as just plain lazy when you think about it. Research keywords, optimize tags and content, solve indexing issues, get a steady stream of links and just watch the traffic pour in because that’s how search engines work. It’s what the search engines tell you to do.
Proactive SEO or online marketing means going after it not just with search engines but with any of an array of relevant marketing/communication channels. Sure, many consultants pay lip service to ongoing link building and social media promotion, but there are many who rest on the efforts of on-page optimization and linking basics.
The SEO moniker has grown on me even though it’s a bit of a misnomer. I still say “SEO” when I mean “online marketer”. Will the nature of SEO ever change so much that it’s no longer called “SEO”?
With so many changes in the industry, I can see the value of a regular roundtable “sharing of the minds” meeting to stay on top of what’s current.Â But don’t most experienced search marketers do that anyway? ‘
In my time marketing web sites online, I’ve found that the most successful SEOs have always been great “marketers” and lateral thinkers. They are MacGyver-ish problem solvers that thrive on multi-tasking, knowing the only constant in the industry is change. They’re competitive, accountable and politically/socially savvy in the ways that make them exceptionally productive and dangerous to the competition. They’re both technical and creative and that makes them uniquely talented for this industry.
Find a search marketing company that truly honors these characteristics as an organization and you’ll have found a competitive advantage for the long haul.