A few weeks ago I mentioned a post that I had come across that had been asking various search marketing types what they felt was a good description of the value proposition for SEO. At the time I said I would come back to it, and so I have. I hadn't stopped to think about where search optimization fits into the marketing toolbox in quite some time, this is as good a day as any to give it a whirl.
Why do we optimize?
So, what is the value of search engine optimization? How does one rationalize it, or how can its advantages be articulated to the potential client or lay person?
To start with in simplest terms, what's the point of a website without traffic? Generally not much, as far as I am concerned. If you spend your wad on that fancy new car and have nothing left over for gas, youd better be in shape to push it around town my friend. Regardless if it is Paid or Organic (natural search), you will need to consider search engines as a viable traffic source during the website's life cycle. Consider that the search marketing industry itself is still growing some 39% worldwide and as such, natural search considerations (the more desirable of the two) are constantly increasing pressure on business and web site owners to upgrade their offerings in an effort to further compete in the marketplace.
So what are the core values of SEO?
I suppose if I were to explain it, strangely this is the case at the moment, I would have to put the valuations into two camps; the traffic value and the implied value. While the main goal of SEO is to attain (targeted) traffic, there are a few other more intrinsic considerations to be had;
Traffic Value; There is a variety of data I have run into over the years and one thing is fair to say; Organic Search traffic accounts for anywhere between 65-80% of all traffic to most successful websites out there. In a study from last year, respondents said they chose a search result prior to query refinement as such;
23% only looked at the first few results
39% said they only look at the first page of results
19% looked through the first 2 pages
9% only went up to the first 3 pages
10% went more than 3 pages deep.
Thats a full 61% for the first page of search results and a total of 90% only going as far as the third page. This trend towards impatient searching was shown to have increased year over year since 2002. I would expect as much really with search engines striving to be more relevant, searchers will expect more. The end user is also getting more savvy and educated in how they search. The top 3 pages are Gold I tells ya.. Gold!!
Further to that, I have seen studies that suggest organic traffic actually converts better at some 10+% compared to its clicking cousins. Regardless if those facts are best case scenarios, it outlines the general power of organic search traffic over other forms of acquisition. This is the basic angle towards the obvious, but what lies under the canopy? As with any data, we can even skew the results to the weak side a few points -- and still there is still a very strong argument to be made as to the true competitive value of ranking attainment in the organic search-o-sphere.
Implied Value; One of the more important aspects of attaining high rankings is the perceived value it attains. It not only has a far greater chance of being seen if your in the top 3 pages top 10 even better but it can also be an act of branding, in that it carries a perceived authority from higher perceived value that comes with organic rankings in a search engine. This is especially true of top 10 listing on multiples of an industry/markets money terms. When some happy surfer
When a component of the marketing plan can achieve potential revenue, as well as building the brand, so much the better. Some research has shown that more than 35% of surfers believe that a top search ranking means the company is a top one in its field thats a great percentage to be nearly pre-qualified before ever landing on the site; which is certainly an advantage towards increased conversions through a perceived authority status.
I cant stress the branding value of this. With a strategy in place to capture not only the core (or money terms) but the subsequent query refinements ( long tail terms), you brand an authority element onto the site by re-enforcing your validity. Remember, that 35% can be moved upwards by further qualifying via multiple strategic targets.
Reality beckons - With all of this said, one must temper the excitement, oui? I dont personally believe that SEO is a means to an end either, I couldnt imagine any marketing plan being so one dimensional. I have had people say they wanted to stop all of their PPC activities and invest that budget into an optimization program, which is not the greatest idea since the SEO aspects tend to take longer to produce results than the immediate satisfaction of a PPC effort. Time is a major factor to be considered.
Since there are only 30 reasonable placements, 10 good ones and 5 great ones (above the fold), there will be competition for all but the most virgin of niches. There is a need for commitment on the part of the website owner to conquer the peaks of organic dominance. You must always ensure there are other forms of marketing ongoing to fully leverage traffic sources that are available to you. From Social Media to Promotional and Paid avenues, a ful featured marketing plan wheel should never rely on a single spoke.
When done properly SEO can be the best return for your money, create the greatest reach and even build brand but thats when it is done RIGHT. There is no guarantee.
Its sound business sense
In the end analysis, when building a viable online marketing plan, SEO is something that absolutely must be considered. You can also leverage PPC, Social Media and networking as well as other promotional and branding opportunities, but not maximizing the benefits SEO provides would be truly unsound thinking. It is widely considered to be the most cost effective form of search marketing today.
Search Engine Optimization is so ingrained in every aspect of the website growth plan that it is more of a consideration than an option. You should be thinking about it before you even start developing the website and it should be a consideration in the social marketing and branding activities alike. Its strands must run through the web that is your site, interacting with each activity being undertaken in the website life cycle.
..and now, some random thoughts and resources;
Important Factors of Search Engine Optimization;
Return on Investment; as with any form of marketing, measuring the value of the service often comes down to ROI. Certainly there are spots where brand building and other promotional considerations enter the arena, but for the most part generating a reasonable return on the marketing dollars is paramount. In simplest terms, from keyword research to link profile development, there are many ways within an SEO campaign to ensure you are maximizing the efficacy of the program. The cost, in terms of time and money, must always be measured against the ultimate results. Obviously there is the need to maximize the conversion ability of the site to ensure an ultimate ROI, but the SEO program should seek to achieve results that, given a general conversion rate of 1-3% would cover its cost.
Traffic Ceiling; unlike a PPC campaign that has a set amount to work with, traffic from an organic search ranking just keeps on a commin. There is no running out of cash to keep them flowing into the site. In the world of Paid Advertising you are only going to get as many eyes on the prize as you can afford to bring organic search traffic has its doors open 24/7 and you will never hit the ceiling. Talk about lasting power!
Site Growth; all too often, the long and winding road to search result nirvana pass right through content-ville. This ultimately also adds value to the site and even legitimacy in many cases. Directly or indirectly the content creation that goes hand in hand with SEO make for a more resourceful and full featured website that is sure to help with conversions to a certain extent as your appearance of authority grows.
Cross Pollination; many of your other online marketing endeavours, from promotion to social media and bookmarking, will offer up ways to further your cause in the search optimization process. From link profile development opportunities to strengthening your sites over-all relevance position, SEO pervades all aspects of site development and promotion. Everything you do can be leveraged to further the SEO cause.
The search is on Web merchants are spending more to get better results on their investment in natural search and pay-per-click | Mom Surfs the Web Surprisingly Often | iProspect Search Engine User Behavior Study (the background of it) and the actual PDF of the study | Eye-Tracking Analysis of User Behavior in WWW Search | Eye tracking and Google SERPs
Why Organic Search Rankings Are MUCH more valuable | 10 statistics that demonstrate the value of SEO | Top 10 Reasons You Must Do SEO | SEO forecasting | Convincing the client | Officefurniture.com lifts sales from natural search by 35% | SEO Vs. PPC: The Heavyweight Battle Of Internet Marketing