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August 28, 2007

SEO and PPC: What Local Retailers Gain By Using Both

SEO vs. PPC? — Wrong Question

As pay-per-click (PPC) ad prices continue to rise and margins begin to shrink; larger corporations have already begun to increase their organic SEO spending. But for SMBs exploring the possible advantages of an SEO investment, there is a uniquely frustrating challenge:

The inability to estimate the results of SEO– and the time it will take to realize them– makes a sound cost/benefit analysis elusive. The popular misconception that PPC and SEO are the “fast” and “slower” versions of the same thing complicates the evaluation process even more.

Without a clear understanding of how SEO is implemented, it’s impossible to identify, much less, quantify, the wide-ranging benefits of the SEO process. Within small to mid size businesses, the impact can be profound.

The paid advertising model is exactly what it says– advertising. Search engine optimization is not. While search engine prominence is the most widely recognized goal of SEO, that’s far from being the only business value it delivers.

How Quality Web Content Boosts Local Retail Sales
Consumers have spoken. They want information– and visit 3-5 websites looking for it before they buy. There’s also ample evidence to show that shoppers who search online before making offline purchases spend more than those who don’t.

In a recent study by TMP Directional Marketing, the leading local search and yellow pages marketing agency, 60% of the consumers surveyed said they first go online for conducting a local search. The research showed 82% of local online searchers follow up offline with an in-store visit, or phone call. Of these, 61% made purchases.

PPC can effectively deliver the traffic, but optimized website content is what, ultimately, drives the sale. Since content development is at the heart of SEO, it makes good business sense to leverage both.

SEO Step 1: Competitive Analysis
Even though shoppers have expressed their desire for information, millions of retailers still don’t know what to provide– or where to find it. Here’s where SEO can help.

The first step in SEO, competitive research, will expose the minimum level of information required in a given market– and the maximum that’s being offered. Typically (depending on industry) you’ll find:

  • Product comparisons
  • User reviews
  • Upgrades, features, and updates
  • Manufacturer recalls
  • Software tools (calculators, etc.)

Retailers who create the best content go beyond a feature-centric focus. They consider, at each buying stage, the problem a shopper is trying to solve. The goal is to offer the quality information that eliminates the need to shop any further.

“Solution-centric” Content Is In Your Own Backyard
Some of the best sources of information of value to buyers will often be found within your own business. One of the most compelling (and underutilized) sources is that of current and former customers.

According to the “Social Commerce Report 2007”, customer product reviews are increasing both retail e-commerce traffic and conversion rates.

Over half of online retailers in the U.S., the UK, and Europe– when asked about the effects of customer ratings– said their overall web site conversion rates had gone up in the past year.

  • Over three-quarters said their site traffic had increased
  • 42% also said their average order values grew
  • 59% thought improved search engine optimization was a major benefit

Granted, there are other ways to design a content building strategy aside from one that includes SEO. The most commonly used alternative, however, is strategically less effective. Here’s why:

SEO Puts Retailers Back In The Drivers’ Seat
When companies invest too heavily in traffic before considering how efficiently they can convert it into sales, planners and, especially, managers find themselves in a reactive position. The sudden influx of traffic illuminates every deficiency in a website, while offering few clues as to what needs to be fixed.

A more deliberate content optimization strategy allows you to be more proactive. The result is better fiscal control and more accurate outcome (and income) projections.

When SEO-driven traffic supplements that of pay-per-click, overall costs per visitor are substantially reduced. Higher conversions with reduced cost per visitor increase both net profit and ROI.

(Research by E-consultancy and Bazaarvoice— quoted in eMarketer 08.07.07)
(TMP Study Finds Shoppers Research Online; Buy Locally— from 08.10.07)
Author:  Kamau Jackson is a Chicago internet marketing consultant. This article was adapted from The SOAP Report: A Search Optimization And Planning Guide. (27 pgs. w/expert resource links). Get A Complementary Copy here: search engine optimization