Take Responsibility For Your Seo/Sem Program

On this date in 2006, I am prepared to declare that SEO/SEM works! The number of companies (both large and small) that have figured out a workable, ongoing, ROI positive strategy is impressively large. That being said, the number of organizations who are still stumbling along is disappointingly huge as well.

Rather than touting the successes, let's examine why so many companies haven't graduated from Search 101--and in many instances, doubt the viability of this fantastic marketing channel.

I have found the largest recurring issue to be poor internal buy-in and communication within an organization. Unlike with many forms of marketing / advertising, there needs to be buy-in and cooperation from three (and sometimes four) distinct departments within a company for search to work. These include: marketing, IT, senior management--and in some (non-e-commerce) environments, a sales team.

From an SEO standpoint, if IT never finds time to implement the SEO-related advice that they are presented with, then there is little opportunity for organic improvement. Similarly, if the marketing / copywriting group doesn't zero-in on boosting the keyword- rich content on the site, then improved architecture is of limited value.



On the SEM front, campaigns have multiple variables that need to be tested and tweaked as well. Budgets need to be sufficient to allow for several months of experimentation and analysis in order to hone in the strategy. Too often, when very short-term results are not realized, the program is shelved or cut back to the point that it never has the opportunity to develop and flourish.

Other common threads in poorly performing programs include:

1. Keywords. Many businesses feel they have a strong handle on the most appropriate keywords for their site. That's not always the case. It's vital to take a step back and reassess the words being employed. Are there narrower phrases which might lower the volume of traffic, but boost the ROI of the campaign in a meaningful manner? It's not uncommon for words to be incorporated into a program for ego, rather than ROI, purposes.

2. Engine Selection. Although there is no clear-cut pattern, some paid placement campaigns perform better in Yahoo than in Google. For others, the reverse is true. Furthermore, MSN's new demographic "targeting selects" provide additional ways to tailor your audience. Time should be invested to revisit each campaign with each engine, along with their budget allocations. There are likely ways to fine-tune the marketing mix to achieve a more favorable result.

3. Landing Pages for Paid Placement. Bid prices continue to escalate, and new competitors are always springing onto the page. Besides the creative text written to stimulate a click-through, it's critical to objectively evaluate the page(s) that the traffic is being directed toward. Does the page speak to the specific interest of the search? Is everyone being sent to the same page (likely the home page) or are custom landing pages being utilized? The tighter the correlation between the keyword that was searched and the landing page, the better the results will be.

4. Competitive Analysis. One of the most impressive aspects of search is the ability to investigate the competition, in terms of both SEO and SEM. From an SEO standpoint, it can be very beneficial to not only see what keywords a competitor appears to be optimizing for, but also for the trade-offs being made between User Experience and Search Engine Spider / Crawler Experience. On the SEM side, paying to be in the No. 1 spot isn't always the most effective strategy. What are the chief competitors doing, relative to the folks who may only be there temporarily?

Today, there are simply no more excuses. Search has excelled past the milestone of "proof of concept" and has evolved to being an integral part of many companies' marketing strategies. For those companies that have graduated from Search 101, there will always be opportunities to fine-tune their efforts and nurture their programs to even greater results. For those who have been left on the sidelines, it's become increasingly imperative to enter the arena, with a thoughtful long-term perspective.

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