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August 9, 2009

Is It Our Job to Educate Businesses in Tactical SEM?

Around the middle of last month I received a phone call from a friend who runs a similar web design agency to ours, with a request for help in putting together coherent SEO/SEM packages for seven of his clients. Before we met, I looked at his clients’ websites and found there was much to do.

When looking at the SEO, virtually all of these sites used keywords in the title that had been plucked out of thin air; most of them had no relationship with the copy whatsoever. With research, we made recommendations for changes in both title and on-page copy. The easy part was the SEO; the difficulty was then to educate the client about how they need to be involved. The feedback from one company was instant and unusual: they accepted our recommendations without question.

In the good old days of directory submissions and the like, SEMs had the sole responsibility for search engine marketing. Not any more. Today, it’s about providing advice to clients on writing press releases and articles, on-site blogging, and how to get involved in social media marketing, together with tweeting.

But how many website owners either have the necessary skills or the resources to relate information about their “products” in a meaningful way in online articles and press releases? In my experience, not many. Most companies appear reluctant to become involved in this, and worse, cannot perceive any real value in a subject they barely understand.

At the height of the crash at the start of the millennium, I was working with a web design agency in London. To my mind then, and it remains so now, the importance of using the internet as a medium to expand reach and to bring in more business could not be clearer, but the bottom line is that when times get tough, the tough cut internet spend. That will sound a little strange to our industry, but it is inexplicably true.

From my company’s perspective, quality SEO’s are a rare breed and their real value should not only be to provide an excellent service but to educate management (those who will listen, that is) what we have to offer, which is to help drive traffic to their website and increase revenue. In reality though, this is a
far harder job than one would expect. It seems that most companies are resistant to dedicating resources to this effort. As such, SEM lacks both the financial and human resources that need its support.

Our industry has a long way to go yet in assembling and disseminating this concept. With directories moribund and other short-cuts removed from link building processes, providing quality SEO services today belongs in the hands of the wordsmith, the blogger and the social media engineer. And yet, how do we get this message across convincingly?

In one of my posts on this issue, I received the following comment: “Show them the results. Don’t even talk about SEO…then tell them how much in time and resources it’s going to take.” That’s all very good and valuable but how many company executives understand what they are paying for prior to “showing them the results”? Case studies and/or a results-based campaign? That is one strategy we are using for our clients.

In a related article I read recently, an SEO company was explaining why they didn’t end up closing more of their proposals. It was because they advised the company from the outset about how much in-house involvement was required in successfully delivering a comprehensive SEM campaign. It sort of summed up why we need to do more in providing information that will educate companies about the effectiveness of what we are looking to achieve for them.

There is also a case for educating SEO/SEM firms themselves, as almost every week I receive emails from SEO outsourcing companies, generally from India. The majority of these emails offer the same tired old submission services, including the outmoded reciprocals. On one occasion I decided to try them out – it was a very cheap experiment – and found that not one single link out of the dozen they had submitted appeared in Google’s indexes.

Also, there are many SEO companies that falsely claim they can get a client’s website to the top of the search engines for a given keyword or phrase. This has always been a contentious claim, as we could easily get any site to the top of the first page of Google/Bing if the search term is easy to compete on,
although the chances are it won’t be searched on. Too much of the time these blanket assurances are an across-the-board, indiscriminate boast. Try “music”, go up against Yahoo, and see what happens.

So, let’s now look at some possibilities:

• It is extremely rare for management to understand the benefits and economics of SEM in organic search and how it can lead to extended market reach and more customers. Too much of the time they take the view that to increase revenue, or in a recession to maintain it, they need to fall back on the reliance of traditional media. The result of this is that migration languishes and profitability targets stagnate. We need to convince them otherwise with case studies and, where appropriate, with results-driven campaigns.

• One of the major problems in SEM today is that human resources do not normally extend to writers who are conversant with the web in general, and blogging and social media in particular. As such, the SEM is often asked to write about subjects they are unfamiliar with. If no in-house assistance is provided, the chances are the project will never get off the ground. Ideally, companies need to start to look at hiring staff that can implement SEM strategies effectively. But they won’t change until management starts to understand how online marketing actually works. When they do, it could result in a shift of marketing spend towards SEM.

• The other difficulty is in the actual measuring of SEM, as the search engines have blocked page ranking tools, which in turn leads to sketchy reports on how the campaign is proceeding. Placement is the only real arbiter on this and that takes time. Companies need to be made aware of this.

• It really is no excuse for companies who are looking to the search engines to broaden their exposure to say that they don’t have the time. They have the time for glossy brochures and hoardings, so why not divert some of that effort to the internet? We may all be experiencing difficult times at the moment and the idea of expanded SEM campaigns now, with companies downsizing and all that entails, should not translate into “campaign postponed”. SEM is the cheapest way of getting a company’s message across to new markets.

As one of the clients we have just taken on board mentioned above, let’s look at the guts of the proposal we submitted in developing their online presence:

• Creation of RSS feeds for the dissemination and syndication of news;

• Submission of articles to high-value article sites;

• Updates to the meta information, including adjusting copy where appropriate to target specific key phrases;

• Creation of a presence in the Facebook community;

• Setting up a Twitter account to post weekly news as well as breaking news;

• Development of an on-site blog with regular updates, linking the headline from the home page so the search engines see movement;

• Writing and submitting to blogs related to their industry;

• Where circumstances permit, post regular podcasts, including YouTube and Google videos.

To sum up, we need to create a method, typically via case studies, by which companies not only see the value in SEM but, more importantly, how they ought to be participating in it.

John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build, a company specialising in web design in Bangkok, and who is an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

12 Responses to “Is It Our Job to Educate Businesses in Tactical SEM?

    avatar Peter says:

    Very interesting and amusing subject. I read with great pleasure.

    avatar club penguin says:

    Great information and when done reading it is obvious that any company that really wants to have a strong online presence requires the help of true professionals!

    Great article, John. I’m Stumbling this one and will be sure to share it with people who don’t quite understand that SEO requires client-involvement more than ever now.

    avatar Fransiskool says:

    i like this site

    avatar Debbie says:

    Fantastic article. You put all my thoughts from over the last few weeks into perfect words 🙂

    We have been closing a lot of business lately. Growth is steady and good. One of the reasons is that we have not settled on doing business as it has always been done. We have kept our ears to the ground and paid attention to how things are changing and evolving in the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) realm. This article explains in perfect detail the path we have taken to ensure positive results that keep our clients happy, ensure they give us referral leads, and help us convert more prospects into good paying clients.

    avatar Kevin Phoenix says:

    Business owners interested in the marketing benefits of using social media become quickly confused because they are trying to build friends, create fan pages, set up Twitter accounts, set up LinkedIn profiles, etc. I think that this is a mistake.

    The business owner (interested in marketing) has begun a social media networking initiative and NOT a social media marketing initiative… They have become confused and have set down the wrong path from the start.

    One of the biggest mistakes that Internet marketers make is believing that they can launch a social media marketing initiative inside of social media networking environments (like Facebbook, Twitter, etc.)

    Social media marketing and social media networking are two VERY different initiatives. If you try to do one inside the other you are bound for disaster.

    There is a clear and distinct order in which you engage social media for business benefit. If you try the networking bit before the marketing bit then you are not operating at maximum efficiency.

    Most people have it wrong. They network with people in an attempt to build their business (prospecting). This is the most inefficient way to use social media and a great waste of time and energy. Furthermore, it is hard to track results… there is no real way to measure them.

    This is what I do.

    Step 1: Create a social media marketing campaign that stems from every blog post I create.

    Step 2: Network with the prospects that I receive from the social media marketing campaign

    I don’t network with people on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I would rather network with people on my blog and people that I pull into my private network as a result of my social media marketing initiatives.

    I only need to network in one place, not many.

    I only network with prospects. Most make the mistake of trying to network with everyone in an attempt to pull in prospects.

    This is backwards… They social media network in an effort to begin a social media marketing campaign… Do you see the problem here?

    I completely agree with John Metzler. It is essential to make clients understand they absolutely need to be involved in the SEO process. There is nobody better for blogging, posting comments on forums, article writing or twitting than people working in the company for years. They are experts on the subject and they should be involved in the SEM strategy. SEO company guides clients in the right direction but without their involvement in the implementation process, it will be impossible to see the positive outcome.

    Nice post. I am agree with all your points and most like the “Development of on-site blog and link the headline from the home page.

    avatar Mary Storey says:

    Like any new to web building and web advertising I am bombarded with sites wishing to move my site up to the top 10 for just only………per month. It is hard when you are a starting out a new venture with limited funds for advertising.It is then refreshing to read an article that gives you information. I look forward to reciving more

    I agree with everyone here, but I am disgusted with some SEO companies.
    Over the past 3 years we spent a fortune with three different SEO companies who were all ‘experts’ and promised page one google presence.
    One company hyperlinked us to no fewer than 1300 ‘bogus’ websites that they themselves had created over the space of 2 weeks – this was GREAT!. Guess what happened? – yes, we fell off the summit slope of Google.
    The next one promised to re-vamp our site as they claimed that it was not optimised properly. After they had installed Flash, frames, loads of pics. (without alt tags), our sewage website looked fantastic – but fell even further down the Google slopes.
    The third one found everything that the other two had done wrong – NOT. They decided that we hadn’t enough keywords and stuffed them in at every oportunity, cloaking, tiny writing, etc. We couldn’t understand why, with so many keywords, we weren’t even in the first 100 pages of Google now?
    We decided that we couldn’t do any worse than the experts and now are on page one Google for most of our sewage treatment plant systems search terms.
    The SEO industry needs to weed out the rogues if it wants to build a better image and prevent companies like ours abandoning them and learning how to do it themselves.

    Re: Waste Tech Sewage Treatment Plants. This is exactly the point. I wouldn’t call all of them “rogues” exactly, although the SEO companies you chose were certainly that. What has happened is that the rules have changed and just getting links is not like it was; it is very difficult to just say, give me some money and I’ll get you four juicy PR5 links. No, not at all. Many SEO companies have not been able to adapt, so they keep their shonky practices intact with no benefit to the client and have no fallback but to fail them.

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