The debate rages about which form of search engine marketing is most effective/profitable - PPC (pay per click) or organic search engine marketing.
In a recent post by Valerie Mellema, “The Last Word in PPC vs. Article Marketing”, she explores the dynamics of PPC vs. article marketing (an organic search engine marketing techniques). Her post presents some interesting ROI statistics that may debunk several well held SEM myths.
She cites research by Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. which indicated that 42% of users selected the #1 search listing for their result, leaving 58% that selected another Top 10 Result. The #1 site listed achieved the majority of clicks.
Other related statistics (with sources from ComScore, Webxico, iProspect, SEOResearcher and Hotchkiss, Garrison, and Jensen) concluded that 77% of search users choose organic listings over PPC ads. Other studies suggested that organic results generated 25% higher conversion rates than equivalent Pay-Per-Click (PPC) listings.
The major issue that I have with PPC is that it has no longevity. You get bang for buck whilst you are spending large, but the minute you pull your ads your enquiry rate falls off. This is no different to most traditional offline advertising mediums, but that’s the topic of another post that I’m working on.
Article marketing can be a very effective way to create excellent inbound links as well as to generate qualified traffic to your website, hopefully resulting in lots of sales enquiries. Here are some popular article submission sites:
I should add that generating traffic to your site is only the start of the conversion process. Unless your landing page encourages/entices the visitor to take appropriate action, all your good search engine work, organic or paid for, will have been in vain.
A recent survey conducted by Bellwether discovered that more than 25% of UK companies are continuing to reduce their marketing spend. Check out this graph...
Whilst the continued reduction in traditional media spend is not surprising, what really interests me is how the spend in online marketing continues to grow, despite the recession. It's also interesting to note that advertising mediums that are less targeted at a specific group (i.e. general media) tend to have lost the most share.
The closer the medium gets to targeting a tightly defined market, the less it has been affected. The natural conclusion is that online marketing, which is inherently well focused on specific target market segments, has significantly outperformed offline media. The most targeted medium being organic search, is the clear winner in the recessionary marketing spend wars.
This report doesn't surprise me really. Our own experience with our in-house marketing as well as results from our clients campaigns have clearly supported the value of online marketing, particularly in achieving good organic results in Google searches (by organic I mean not 'paid for' as in Google AdWords).
The key elements in organic search marketing are:
- Search engine optimisation - improving the visibility of your website in Google
- Targeted content generation - creating unique content targeted at specific keywords
- Landing page optimisation - generating the desired action from visitors to your web pages
I think one of the reasons many companies are afraid of committing a larger percentage of their promotional budget to online marketing, is that results are not instant. There is no online quick fix - it takes time and requires commitment and patience, but the long term results and ROI are very real.
The recession isn't over yet, but now's the right time to start developing your online marketing strategy and getting your brand out there. By the time the economy recovers you will be in pole position.
Most online marketers that actually take the time to analyse their visitor statistics, get excited when they see traffic volumes increasing (don’t we all?). The thing about raw traffic is that it doesn't necessarily drive targeted sales leads. Generating visitor traffic is not the most difficult thing; converting them into tangible sales leads is infinitely more challenging.
I read an interesting blog post by Prashant Kaw from HubSpot, where he states, “…unless you are tracking your conversion rates it is easy to be deceived by the illusion of growth.” He postulates that it is quite possible that despite traffic growth, your conversion rate could actually be dropping.
Prashant believes that businesses today are buying or ‘leasing’ traffic through email list rental, PPC AdWords, banner ads, press releases etc, which drives a flood of unqualified visitors to your website. The problem is that once your ‘paid for’ campaign concludes so does the traffic flow.
Qualified traffic can be generated by optimising your website for organic Google SERP results. The great thing about search engine optimisation (SEO) is that your optimised content remains indexed for a long time, creating excellent residual marketing value long after the content has been posted.
The task of converting visitor traffic into sales leads lies in the art of search engine marketing or SEM as it’s also known. The problem is that many webmasters think of their homepage as the primary landing page.
This is only true for direct traffic generated by typing your web address into the browser. As you start to build organic traffic through Google SEO, much of it will land on any number of sub-pages in your site, and not necessarily your homepage.
If you focus your efforts exclusively on making your homepage compelling with lots of ‘stickiness and a strong call-to-action and you ignore the rest of your pages, you run the risk of only converting homepage visitors and losing visitors on other pages.
You have to think of every page on your site as a landing page. Make sure that if a visitor arrived on it ‘cold’, they would find it interesting, engaging and relevant to their search term. Having landed on the page and read the content, you need to tell them exactly what you want them to do next i.e. have a call-to-action.
The basic rule of website design is, 'don’t make me think'. Make the next step and action that you want them to take blatantly obvious. It may be to subscribe to a newsletter, call your company, send an email enquiry, bookmark or share the page etc.
We’ve been testing a range of ‘next step’ options on our recently re-skinned website and will be tracking the results with a view to converting more traffic into qualified enquiries.
We held our first Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization) workshop last night at the Innovation Park, Hamilton.
Of course I'm so passionate about SEO and online digital marketing that I expect everyone else to share my feelings. Well I wasn't disappointed! The folks that attended were from typical Kiwi companies and are not necessarily playing in the online space in any big way.
What they all shared in common was an appreciation that organic search through Google has become an important part of any marketing and lead generation programme, and something that you just can't afford to ignore.
We worked through Google's strategy of 'organising the world's information' in order to understand the environment were playing in and what Google's groundrules for indexing and SEO are.
We also looked at a bunch of real-life examples of SEO, focusing on 'On-Page' optimization activities. We finished off with a practical demonstration of keyword research, creating Meta tags and lots of valuable tips on generating wickedly effective page content (just me exaggerating!).
Judging by comments on the feedback forms, everyone felt it was valuable and are hopefully optimizing away on their websites like crazy today! Other than Firefox crashing during the session, I really enjoyed it too.
Our next workshop will be held in February next year, so if you're interested you can register here.
I was honoured to be invited by Nicola Boyes, Business Editor at the Waikato Times to write a marketing column for their new monthly business publication, THE BIZ. The inaugaural issue was published in September. Here is the transcript of my column, titled, Can small business benefit from social media?
"Business owners are more anxious than ever for better results from their advertising and are actively seeking new answers. We regularly get calls from companies that have heard about social media tools (Blogging, Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn etc), but have no idea how to use them to generate sales enquiries.
The primary goal of social media is to build an online community of like-minded followers who will spread the word about your brand. Attracting a large following has limited value unless you can drive them to take action.
For example, you can channel them to your website, but if the page content doesn’t capture their interest and there is no compelling call-to-action, your hard won traffic will result in zero sales enquiries.
Social network marketing is a new discipline and requires a fresh marketing approach. As a stand-alone exercise, social media will not generate meaningful commercial results.
You have to view your entire marketing programme, both online and offline, as an ecosystem. Each element has a specific role and contributes to the overall performance. If one element fails, so does the marketing programme.
Social media is hard work and requires consistent effort and energy. To make this effort pay off, start with a clear strategy of how social media fits into your overall marketing strategy and set realistic expectations.
Be patient and give your social networking efforts at least six to twelve months to develop credibility and gain a meaningful following. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t happen overnight - this is not a direct response medium.
There are those who call social media marketing a fad; not only is it here to stay, but over the next couple of years it will become a mainstream marketing medium. Companies that are the early pioneers and learn how to effectively harness social media for commercial ROI will be the winners in their markets.
Start by talking to others who are operating in the social media space, subscribe to blogs, follow the thought leaders in the area of online marketing and dip your toes in the water. Don't let your competitor beat you to it."
I read an outstanding blog post today by Robert Passikoff on Derrick Daye's blog. In this post he offers 10 trends for marketers for 2010 that will have direct consequences to the success or failure of next year's branding and marketing efforts.
The full post is definitely worth reading, but here are the 10 trends:
1) Value is the new black
2) Brands increasingly a surrogate for "value"
3) Brand differentiation is Brand Value
4) "Because I Said So" is so over
5) Consumer expectations are growing
6) Old tricks don't work/won't work anymore
7) They won't need to know you to love you
8) It's not just buzz
9) They're talking to each other before talking to the brand
10) Engagement is not a fad; It's the way today's consumers do business
Marketers will come to accept that there are four engagement methods including Platform (TV; online), Context (Program; webpage), Message (Ad or Communication), and Experience (Store/Event). But there is only one objective for the future: Brand Engagement. Marketers will continue to realize that attaining real brand engagement is impossible using out-dated attitudinal models.
Accommodating these trends will require a paradigm change on the parts of some companies. But whether a brand does something about it or not, the future is where it's going to spend the rest of its life. How long that life lasts is up to the brand, determined by how it responds to today's reality.
It amazes me when I get alerted about someone that has started to follow me on Twitter; I visit their profile to find they have 800 followers, are following 900 Twits, and have only tweeted 5 times. Something seems wrong here.
There appears to be an unwritten code of etiquette that you should follow me if I follow you. What a load of bollocks!
Most of the people that follow me are totally unrelated to what I tweet about, so why do they bother. When I get followed I always visit their profile to see if they are interesting enough to follow. Only a few are usually worth following and those are the ones I enjoy conversing with.
I suspect most of these twats are only interested in the numbers - bragging rights maybe? Volumes of followers are only valuable if they care about what you have to say and are prepared to participate in a conversation. If you are following 9,000 tweeters (or even 900), how on earth can you read all of their tweets. Not even TweetDeck can help - you'd need to spend every waking hour on Twitter (how sad).
The likely net result is that no one reads your tweets, therefore you've wasted your time (unless you have a big ego). My advice is to focus on quality, not quantity. Build a meaningful community of like-minded tweeters that share relevant and useful information. It may take longer to build momentum but the result will be more meaningful.
Otherwise, what's the point of it all?
Yeah, I really believe we're morphing into web 3.0 right now. That's just my opinion, but let's look at the trends...
We created our web presence through websites, giving us a 'shop window' to the world. This presence was static, isolated and in a 'silo'. The only interactive aspect was clients or suppliers logging in via password to do some basic B2B activities.
But the amount of information available to everyone has multiplied so fast that it makes our heads spin off our shoulders! Google came to the rescue and gave us the definitive, 'can't live without it' search engine.
We start to connect with others on the net. Social media sites spring up, giving us unparalleled interpersonal connectivity and the ability to create our own communities of like-minded individuals. The age of information sharing arrived.
But there is so much information available right now that it's become a nightmare (or fulltime job) to manage it. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing, saying, thinking, complaining about, but we're a time-poor society and this information overload is freaking our brains out.
Enter Web 3.0...
We're seeing hundreds (thousands?) of applications being developed that enable us to manage the plethora of information hitting us each day. There are heaps of great add-ons for Twitter, FaceBook, RSS readers etc that all do their little bit for the greater good of organising information.
These apps are just the thin edge of the wedge and will evolve into far more sophisticated and intuitive tools. Google Labs is actively developing a number of new apps to 'organise the world's information', as their mission dictates. They are trend makers so we expect it from them.
Microsoft is not best known for it's trend setting, but rather for taking someone else's idea and trying to play catch-up. They have recently announced a new product in beta testing called Looking Glass which could play a major role in the quest for logical and useful organisation of information
And there's a cutting-edge technology developing called Augmented Reality... now that's very cool and very Web 3.0.
This is probably a contentious subject, so feel free to comment, agree or disagree.
If you're 'old school' and still hanging onto the ways of the past (or last year even), you'd better wake up and smell the roses.
The world as we know it today is changing at a pace never before seen in the entire history of mankind. Every facet of our lives is being transformed by the web, ultra-fast broadband internet, mobile devices, social media etc.
Not only are these new technologies invasive in our private lives, but they are reshaping the way business is being conducted across the ever shrinking globe. The old saying goes, "Buyer beware". The one I'm coining for the future is, "Marketer beware".
We have no idea of the scope of change that will still occur in our lifetime...scary stuff! If you don't believe a word I'm saying, just check out this YouTube video.
A couple of years back it was just about good enough to carry out decent 'on-page' optimisation of your website in order to get a good ranking in Google SERPS (search engine results page).
These 'on-page' optimisation techniques included the usual suspects:
- Good meta tags i.e. page URL, title and description tags. (The keyword tag hasn't been an indexing factor for Google for a long time, so we never really worked it too hard).
- Keyword density and placement. For a while back there, density was important but that's really fallen away in lieu of correct keyword placement.
- Alt tags for images - still useful but only in terms of being indexed for Google Images or to achieve minimum keyword density.
- Several other, albeit less influencing techniques.
Today the focus of Google's algorithm is around a site's online reputation, credibility and popularity. Sure, 'on-page' factors definitely do need to be in place, but they are now primarily telling Google what you want to be found for and are not influencing the popularity of a page.
Google's mission is to organise the world's information, but with the huge growth in online content they have to constantly refine how they define what the most valuable information is. One way they do this, and today it is the most important factor in achieving a page 1 result, is inbound links.
In essence, if you have inbound links to your website from other, well ranked sites, Google takes that link as a vote of confidence or popularity for your site. PageRank is the primary metric that Google uses to rank websites and pages. The higher your PageRank, the more valued it is (it starts at 0 and goes up to 10).
Several factors determine how valuable an inbound link is; PageRank of the linking site/page, quantity of outbound links from the site/page giving you the link, contextual relevance of the site/page giving the link compared to your page that receives the link, anchor text based on your targeted keyword and several others (phew, this can be a very complex subject).
Building quality links is not as simple as submitting your site to online directories or participating in the multitude of link building schemes. In fact, quite often these 'spammy' link practices can actually hurt your rankings.
Building quality inbound links needs to be done in a thoughtful and considered fashion. Don't just jump at the first link swopping proposal that is emailed to you. You are better to investigate other complementary sites that have a decent PageRank and are prepared to exchange links with you and not with hundreds of others. These sites may be your suppliers, associates, companies in similar industries but located outside of your geographic or trading area, interest groups etc.
You can pay link building or SEO firms to develop a link programme for you, but it can become very expensive. I don't think there is any compelling reason why you shouldn't do this yourself. All you need to do is spend some quality time researching potential link partners, making personal contact with them, and if they agree to give you a link, provide them with the keyword-rich anchor text and target URL.
Do you have any interesting cases of link building, successful or failed? I'd love to hear about them.