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SEO & SEM: The Winners are the Thinkers and Experimenters

Posted on October 18, 2010 | Filed in Articles

If you perform an internet search for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM) companies or service providers in almost any country or major city, you are sure to get a couple thousand companies that claim to perform SEO services. And mostly they all do deliver some form of search engine optimization. But is the result useful to the purchaser of these services?

The problem today with SEO and SEM is that both are complex topics. Performing basic SEO and SEM is easy but will usually result in no business advantage unless performed scientifically and over a period of time. Far too many SEO service providers provide one-time services ranging from $9.99 onwards that make little or no sense but which do satisfy the basic definition of SEO. These services consists of adjusting a few keywords, a few meta tags on websites and creating a few inbound links and generally satisfying some of the basic tasks of the business of SEO. There are similar problems with SEM. There are far too many companies, including large ones, that are happy to manage SEM budgets while providing very poor feedback and information that allows a customer to make scientific adjustments to their advertising budget and how it is spent. Essentially these companies take an advertising budget and advertise on exactly the same search engines and content networks where a client could have expended their advertising budgets themselves.

The only difference is that the client is now losing some money for using a middleman.

The typical company will spend a few bucks on SEO per year with little or no improvement in traffic and will blindly spend their SEM budget on a marketing plan that is not constantly monitored. I have come across many cases where an advertiser on Google or Yahoo advertises their services in a geographic location that they have no chance of servicing. Recently, I came across a Florida car dealership’s advertisement showing up in New York city based searches. This type of advertising mismatch seems to indicate that the advertiser is more or less wasting their advertising budget.

On contacting this dealership’s marketing department informing them that they should not be throwing their money by incorrectly running these advertisements, I received no reply. Which indicates to me that this business was not in sync with their online marketing campaign.

To succeed with SEO and SEM and to mine the web for sales leads and customers, one has to have an effective SEO strategy that is then expanded with an effective SEM strategy. The strategy has to be implemented over a period of time rather than a one-shot approach. The strategy has to evolve based on data gathered and  has to be opportunistic.

For example, if you have a fixed advertising budget where the objective is to get as many leads nationwide as possible using this budget, one has to be pro-active in examining how traffic tends to click on internet advertisements and the correlation of the cost per click versus many variables. These variables can be location, time of day, keywords, advertisement position etc.

The objective should be to pay the lowest amount to get the maximum number of sales, inquiries. One easy way to weed out unproductive visitors/clicks is to make the advertisement very specific. For example a shoe manufacturer who only manufactures shoes sizes 10 and above, should clearly state in their advertisement that the advertisement applies to only people with shoes sizes 10 and above. More often than not, advertisements are too generic. Visitors click on their advertisements, cost the advertiser money and reach the website only to find out that the product was not intended for them. The same is true about differentiating with price. For example if a CPA provides  tax services but charges triple the amount as that of a typical CPA, he/she should try to indicate that that is the case and there is a reason for it. For example this CPA could be a tax appeal expert and has represented several millionaires. It is preferable to stop people at the gate rather than let them into your website and then let them out thereby costing you money in wasted clicks.

Another example of effective SEM is to be aware of local conditions. For example how many advertisers for luxury services turned off their advertisements in affected areas after hurricane Katrina? How many advertisers turn off advertisements before long weekends where people tend to be engaged in other activities and postpone making real decisions till the next working day? For SEM and SEO success, an advertiser has to have an intelligent person with an IQ that allows that person to make assumptions based on data collected and run multiple experiments to prove of disprove such assumptions. This is usually not the case when a low-ball company is used for the purpose and in a lot of cases even larger firms whether the person in-charge of managing the SEM budget really does not care.

Having an intelligent and motivated company or person behind an SEM strategy is even more important when the advertising budget runs into millions of dollars. Small tweaks to the strategy applied with such budgets results in definite business advantage.

Often people ask why SEM is required along with SEO? The answer is that SEM is a way to drive traffic to ones website and accelerate the lead generation process. Getting the word out or getting traffic to a website via organic searches is cheap via SEO but the traffic is going to be a slow trickle and especially so in areas where there is significant competition. Having an SEM budget in place increases the flow of traffic to your website and if the traffic is targeted and the information on the website is compelling, there will be a potential lead. Without an advertising budget SEM cannot happen.

Sometimes rather than targeted traffic to a website the goal is to just get the word out. For example a free online video service. Visitors to such services tend to come back and spread the word about a website if there significant free content. In such cases, I have observed advertisers blow significant budgets buying up targeted traffic when low cost low quality traffic would have sufficed. This is especially the case when advertisers get too involved with a single online advertising source. Its in the best interest of advertisers to use multiple advertisement serving networks to make best use of their advertising dollars. Capitalizing on cheap traffic is possible for the right product.