Navigating Common Search Marketing Rebuttals

We’ve all been there – trying our best to articulate the unique value that search engine marketing represents to a newbie or inexperienced client or boss. Despite the fact that search marketing is a relatively mature space, I still find myself balancing equal parts strategy and education when attempting to have a meaningful conversation about it.

So let’s assume that we’ve succeeded in convincing the appropriate decision-makers that search is awesome, that our consumers are actively seeking information related to our products and services, and that we can intercept prospective customers at key moments of purchase consideration with the right strategy. We’ve succeeded, right?

Maybe not (yet).

Avinash Kaushik first identified a decision-making dynamic he refers to as the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) effect. Essentially, poor decisions are often made because the smartest people in the room acquiesce to the direction dictated by the highest-ranking people. That direction is often misguided and based on faulty information and/or misperception.



In my career I’ve seen this more often that I care to admit. The silver lining is that, in my experience, I consistently hear the same handful of rebuttals. Anticipating these areas of concern will better position you and your ideas for approval.

IT owns the website, and our hands are tied. This is the most common rebuttal to performing SEO. More often than not, it’s the client who doesn’t want to expend the energy required to effect any change across the website, given some rigid internal policies. But anything is doable, and it’s typically true that some JavaScript tag-based Web analytics technology is in place across that same website. Clearly, someone makes changes to the website and someone else is responsible for understanding how visitors interact with Web content and offers. Point those facts out, and take the time to assess what the competition is doing. There is no greater motivator than identifying a competitor who is reaping the benefits of search because they’ve decided to pursue the opportunity there.

One of my mentors once told me that all problems are solvable. And among our search problems, this one often proves to be minor by contrast to others.

I don’t click on the ads, and I doubt our customers do either.

I touched on this briefly in my column last week on personalized search. Many people internalize their own experiences across the Web and apply it broadly to how they believe everyone else experiences it. While I actually don’t believe anyone who says they never click on sponsored search results (and there are studies that back me up in my belief), the reality is that Google has built a multibillion-dollar empire from people who do click on its search ads.

The easiest ways to sidestep this rebuttal is to ask for a pilot phase -- earmarking a small amount of money to fund a search experiment and assess its viability. Competitive intel works wonders here too (I’m a fan of SEMRush and SpyFu for ad hoc competitive analysis).

OK, I’ll commit to PPC, but I’m not bidding on my brand terms! Another common mistake is avoiding brand terms altogether because of the belief that a company is already prominent in organic results for those queries. While that may be the case, the argument for pursuing brand terms in PPC is compelling. For starters, a presence in the sponsored results provides a second brand impression. And beyond that obvious benefit to the brand, it means that we’ve been able to secure more of that digital shelf space. There are only a finite number of search results (organic + sponsored) for a given query, and it’s better to own more than one.

The sexier reason for pursuing brand keywords in paid search is control. Advertisers control the message and call-to-action across both the ad and landing page environment. Across the organic results, they have to rely on the engines to determine which page(s) is most appropriate to the user’s query. For brand terms, this is often the website’s home page or another top-level page, and those pages are often devoid of explicit calls-to-action. With PPC, we can very carefully sculpt the user experience, encouraging engagement and conversion.

We’ve done all this before  -- and it didn’t work. I’m fond of saying that success with search marketing isn’t only possible, it’s probable. If something doesn’t work, stop doing it. If users don’t engage with Web content, investigate whether a company has the right keywords and assets. If ROI isn’t strong, consider reducing bids or pursuing keywords further along the long tail.

Essentially, if you’ve done this before and it didn’t work, you were doing it wrong.

1 comment about "Navigating Common Search Marketing Rebuttals".
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  1. Bert Shlensky from stretchandcover , February 17, 2012 at 2:58 p.m.

    this is really good. basically organizations refuse to focus on facts

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