The 10 Universal Mistakes Marketers Make in Search Engine Marketing

First, introductions: I'm John Tawadros, vice president of search engine marketing firm, iProspect. I've been been invited to contribute a weekly column on search engine marketing (SEM).

I'll be discussing important search marketing strategies ranging from natural search engine optimization (SEO) methods, to paid search advertising. I hope to provide useful, actionable strategies, examples and analysis of industry news that merit your attention.

The 10 Universal Mistakes Marketers Make in Search Engine Marketing

#1: One-Sided Strategy:

Many marketers still believe that a paid-search only strategy or a natural-only SEO strategy constitutes a "complete" SEM campaign. A recent iProspect study showed that 60 percent of searchers click on the natural search results while 40 percent of searchers click on paid ads.

A major online medical journal refused for years to allow Google to spider its archives for fear that it would crash the server. When the property finally allowed Google in, its rankings in Google exploded and it received some 200,000 click-throughs on hundreds of new keywords each month.

If you're executing a one-sided strategy and ignoring Google or Yahoo's! natural search results, how much traffic are you missing? At the same time, if you're not buying paid search ads, you could be missing a similarly significant portion of your audience.

If your strategy consists of either paid or natural SEM and not both, it's time to expand your campaign to capture your entire searching audience. Every search in your space will introduce a prospective customer to you or to your competitor. Time's a wastin'!

#2: Failing To Determine Conversion Values:

Whether your Website produces leads that are passed along to your sales force or transactions that take place on your website, you need to know the value of each conversion on your site if you hope to keep your SEM campaign's return-on-investment (ROI) in the black.

We see large companies spend thousands monthly on search advertising without understanding the value of their conversions.

If this is you, stop.

Identify each conversion on your website. Each conversion matters and can be valued. Maybe it's someone downloading a white paper, signing up for an e-newsletter or perhaps something as innocuous as printing out a coupon. Some pharmaceutical companies measure the number of search referrals who visit a product indication page and who click on the "print this page" link. They can estimate that some percentage of these individuals print the page to share it with their doctor and ask for a prescription.

Even if you don't have perfect confidence in your numbers, you can true them up going forward as you gather more conversion information. What's most important is to identify and track the right metrics.

You could discover, for instance, that one in every 100 people who sign-up for your e- newsletter buy something after receiving a few months of communication. Depending on the average value of those transactions, you can estimate the value of each e-mail newsletter sign-up. Again, your initial estimate doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be the first step.

#3: Bidding With Your Heart and Not Your Head:

As detailed in #2, failing to know the value of each conversion on your site leads to universal mistake #3, bidding on keywords in pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising in excess of the ability to deliver a positive ROI.

We most often see companies do this with branded terms or keywords that they feel define the space they are in. What is most frustrating is that these keywords sometimes (not always) produce very low conversion rates, and are often so broad that the traffic they draw to the Website will include as many unqualified clicks as qualified prospective customers.

Know your conversion rate, predict your campaign's conversion rate, and do not allow vanity to drive your bids above your campaign's ability to deliver a positive ROI.

#4: Failing To Control Your SEO Process Internally:

Submitting your Website to "link farms" (sites that exist to link to other sites) can get your site penalized by some search engines. A well-intentioned Webmaster not familiar with search marketing tries to "help" you by blasting your URL off to these link lists using software he downloaded. Suddenly, your rankings drop because your site has been kicked out of a major search engine. It happens more than you think.

You must educate staff in all departments so that their "proactive" behavior does not cause havoc.

#5: Failing To Involve The IT Department In The Early Stages Of The Campaign:

Companies sometimes fail to involve their IT teams in the early stages of their search engine marketing campaign planning, and the IT department's already overburdened development schedule delays the campaign.


Failing to include IT resources early can cause lengthy delays in seeing results.

#6: Building A Search Engine Unfriendly Website:

There are website design elements that make it hard for a search engine's crawler to index your site's content. Companies still build Websites with Frames, Javascript, text contained in graphics and other Web page design elements that make it difficult for search engines to index the site.

Elegant Website design can comfortably co-exist with search engine considerations- you just have to do some advance planning. Often when an SEM firm optimizes a client's site for Google, the optimized site is virtually indistinguishable from the original. Only the underlying code has been changed.

#7: Losing Your Search Traffic By Failing To Consider Search Engines In The Re-design Spec:

The scariest words an SEM firm ever hears from a client: "We just relaunched our Web site!" In many cases, the new Website will set the SEM campaign back months. Page names have changed, pages are designed in a way that decrease their ability to attain rankings, so rankings and search referrals decline suddenly.

The time to engage an SEM firm is before you build your new Website. With a little advance notice, your SEM vendor can ensure that a new Website is introduced with little, if any, impact on the rankings and search traffic.

#8: Bidding On PPC search Without Sufficient Cookie Latency:

Not everyone who clicks on your paid search ad will buy on their first visit to your site. Think about your own buying behavior. Do you buy things the first time you see them? (Okay, chocolate doesn't count!)

Search is no different. Sure, the first visit may be a click on your search advertisement, the second on a search for your brand name, and the third visit by typing your URL into their browser, then they buy.

If you do not cookie your visitors and set the latency for some amount of time (some companies go out as far as 365 days), you will not be able to properly assign the conversion to your paid search advertisement.

Track all conversions back to the original source. You will soon discover you can justify larger bids on certain keywords.

#9: Assigning Search Marketing To A Low-Level Staffer:

The most successful SEM campaigns have higher-level sponsors. Depending on the size of your organization, the SEM campaign can wither and die if the campaign's manager does not have the "juice" within his or her organization to get different divisions to take the actions necessary to make the campaign successful. Search engine marketing costs real money and drives real ROI. Give it the attention it deserves, and be sure someone with enough authority is governing the campaign.

#10: Failing To Understand Your Conversion Rate Before Engaging In SEM:

According to almost all studies on the topic, most Websites have a conversion rate of just 1-2 percent. Some 98-99 percent of all visitors who arrive at sites leave without taking the action that the site owner wants them to take.

If your Website's conversion rate is low, know that it can be improved. You will just have to pursue a conversion enhancement strategy in a systematic and intentional way.

PPC search advertising bid prices on many keywords are rising to the point that some companies cannot afford to be in the top positions. Your competitors may have been bidding and refining their strategy longer than you.

If you're not measuring your site's conversion rate for each of the conversion types you offer, start. Then develop an organizational commitment to improving your site's conversion rate.

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