By definition Search Engine Marketing refers to both paid search and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The former is based on a pay-per-click advertising model as companies bid on specific search terms or in the case of Google, AdWords, to get a more visible placement within search engine results. SEO refers to a series of Web site design processes by which companies tailor the content, keywords and messaging on a Web site to improve its rankings in search engines. SEO by nature requires a commitment on the part of companies to continually compete for top rankings in their chosen search areas. SEO is never a one-and-done proposition, but a continual re-fueling of sites with fresh content to keep its rankings up in search engines.
Between paid search and SEO, many companies are hedging their bets on both, hoping on the one hand that paid search will eventually pay off, but getting the majority of their hits and leads from organic searches, mostly from Google and Yahoo.
Strategy Lessons Learned
From the small business owners I’ve spoken with on this topic, which include the owner of a local HVAC service company, charter flight service, a chain of retail stores and a components manufacturer, here are their lessons learned in balancing both sides of the Search Engine Marketing spending equation:
- The majority of marketing budgets for every small business I spoke with is now dominated by paid search, with the average being between 50 percent to 70 percent of their online budget, and nearly 30 percent of total marketing budgets. The smaller the company, the higher the reliance on paid search and the higher percentage of total spending.
- SEO is overtaking spending on banner ads for one manufacturer. They’re focusing on training existing Web team staff in these techniques and investing in education throughout marketing on how to create content that is optimized for search engines in the first place.
- The most aggressive company on SEO that I spoke with is devoting 10 percent of all marketing budgeting to becoming globally known in their specific manufacturing area. They are a components supplier and are actively competing with Chinese, Taiwanese and European manufacturers. Their best leads come through non-paid Google search results. It’s interesting to note that this manufacturer also cancelled all banner ads on industry sites and didn’t see a drop-off in lead generation either.
- One retailer said that unless they can get on the first three pages of AdWords ads in Google for their specific keywords, it’s a waste of money. He said that when their own company’s ad fell below 30th or 35th place because of both keyword inflation and competitors’ moves in AdWords, traffic dropped off quickly.
- A charter flight service said that the majority of their Web site hits, and how people find them, is 75 percent attributable to hits from within Google search results, and only 25 percent come from advertisements. This company uses WebTrends, and also has conversion tracking enabled in their Google AdWords account.
- Conversion rates and other measures of performance in B2B companies often are not to the last mile; that is to say they don’t really capture sales. For B2B companies, their conversion rate is a white paper download or opt-in for a webinar. Yet for the owner of a series of retailing outlets, they are measuring conversion rate by how many online coupons are redeemed in their stores. Conversion rate for this retailer is visitors who purchase due to the Web-based coupon divided by total visitors. The coupon is the call to action and is only available on their Web site.
- Turning clicks into leads is easier when the lead originated from a Google search versus an ad. When I asked these friends who own these businesses to quantify it, they couldn’t, yet their pipelines have ongoing opportunities and pending sales based on prospects who found them through search more than ads or paid search. For the components manufacturer, it was on average a 2 to 1 ratio with less than 50 deals in the pipeline, a small sample size but a telling percentage.
Paid Search and SEO Dispel Myths of Market Saturation
With telemarketing and other forms of lead generation sending signals that their markets are saturated, manufacturers especially are turning to the Web to get new leads. Most troublesome about these existing approaches to lead generation is the mistaken perception of market saturation they give off from a lack of results. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities in their markets, the prospects are just using different means to find potential solutions to their problems and this is especially true in B2B markets.
Finding prospects starts with a paid search strategy for many companies and evolves into SEO. To get maximum results from these combined strategies, companies need to commit to make SEO a part of their marketing strategies for the long-term; there is no one-and-done approach, but rather a continual building of content that is relevant to prospects.
Consider the fact that Google spiders the Web regularly with an emphasis on link popularity and freshness of content. Google qualifies a site by the links the site has from 3rd party sites, the popularity and surrounding text of these 3rd party sites, and only views the visible text on a page. Search engine results shown in blue at the top of each search page are driven by the top bidders for specific keywords.
Yahoo on the other hand also spiders the Web to create an index, uses a human-edited index and sells the spaces at the top of search pages through Overture, and organizes entries by placing them in subject categories. Yahoo also visits sites and evaluates user suggestions as well.
Bottom line: Generating leads and closing sales is the ultimate measure of the success of Search Engine Marketing, and those companies getting results are balancing investments in paid search and SEO to find prospects that were unreachable through traditional lead generation techniques.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a member of the Cincom Manufacturing Business Solutions Team and a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. Mr. Columbus also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of fifteen books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.