Friday, October 26, 2007

What is the True State of Search Marketing?


On Wednesday this week, MarketingSherpa hosted a presentation on Search Marketing Trends and Tactics (that's the link to the PDF; the audio is here). The same day, Bill Gadless at the B2B Web Strategy Blog wrote a post on The True State of B2B Search Engine Marketing. Combining information from the two paints an interesting picture of the current search marketing landscape.

Bill notes the gap between high interest in search marketing and the low actual adoption. In his words, "everyone’s intrigued; but very few are yet investing much of their budget with the help of a professional SEO firm." He concludes by writing, "The lack of attention SEO and PPC are receiving from B2B marketers is troubling."

Research from MarketingSherpa, on the other hand, demonstrates that the businesses who are investing these areas are seeing substantial ROI and increasing their spending. Overall, roughly 40% of web marketers plan double-digit increases in search marketing with Google next year; about a quarter plan similar spending increases on other PPC programs; and 40% also plan to increase dollars devoted to organic search optimization.

In addition, MarketingSherpa reports that SEO and PPC campaigns are rated as providing the second- and third-highest ROI of marketing tactics, trailing only house list email marketing. These tactics beat PR, direct mail, offline advertising and online banners. Their study also reveals that repeated landing page testing and optimization drives the greatest improvement on ROI for SEM campaigns.

So why the gap between the heavy spenders and non- (or very light) spenders? My own experience indicates that one answer is "bad experience." Time and again I've seen well-intentioned but inexperienced marketers throw money at PPC campaigns only to:

- Bid a single default amount across all keywords;
- Write and run a single ad;
- Point all clicks to their home page;
- And then wonder why their ROI is terrible (or not even measurable).

I don't mean to be too harsh here as none of us knew how to optimize SEM campaigns when the web was young. But over time, those who have focused on web marketing have learned the importance of bid optimization, ad and landing page testing, and other SEM best practices that drive high ROI from search marketing programs.

A second reason may be another research finding from MarketingSherpa: more than half of respondents said that it was somewhat or very difficult to hire in-house SEO and SEM expertise.

But whether done internally or externally, companies need to either transition from the "interest" stage in SEO and SEM to the execution phase—or continue spending scare marketing dollars on lower-ROI tactics.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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