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Putting SEO in Your Dashboard

Paul J. Bruemmer
Putting SEO in Your Dashboard Paul J. Bruemmer

As a marketing manager, you would like to understand how your campaigns are maximizing results. One of the best ways to improve results is to create a marketing dashboard and then measure, test and tweak for continuous improvement.

Your marketing dashboard should be tailored to meet specific business goals. Your dashboard might include offline media as well as a number of interactive strategies. Regardless of your objectives, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) belongs on your dashboard and here's why.

Effective Marketing Strategy
Search Engine Optimization is one of today's most effective marketing strategies. Web use seems to revolve around search with 80 percent of users finding their destinations from a search query. Over half (55 percent) of all ecommerce transactions originate from a search listing.

SEO is poised to drive substantial profits for your business. As a multi-purpose marketing tool, search marketing can be used for direct response to generate sales leads, collect newsletter subscriptions, gather site registrations and convert online and offline sales. It is even an excellent branding tool.

Search marketing works because people pre-qualify themselves by typing search terms in a search box. What makes search so powerful is that you can get the right message to the right person at the right time as search engines attract people with a high level of interest in their search topic. Search can provide a huge reach, as 90 percent of U.S. consumers use search engines (Pew Internet ALP).

Search has the lowest cost-per-lead of any marketing strategy (U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray). While formerly second to email in popularity, search recently surpassed email and has become the most popular online activity (MarketingSherpa).

Advantages of SEO
The original search marketing strategy is cost-effective both in terms of conversions and return on ad spend (ROAS). While it takes time to generate prominent organic links, once achieved they last indefinitely, and this long-term quality is what makes SEO cost effective. The average company SEO project averages about $3 per-day, per-keyword, and you can generate ten times that much per day in additional business by being found more often in the search engines.

Recent research (comCast and MarketingSherpa) shows that search engines drive offline sales. Organic links are important because they yield more conversions. The Search Marketing Benchmark Survey (MarketingSherpa) shows that conversions with organic links outperform PPC links thusly:

  • Average conversion rates: organic links 4.2 percent vs. PPC links 3.6 percent 

  • Delayed ecommerce/service purchases: organic links 6.3 percent vs. PPC links 4.2 percent 

  • Ecommerce product /service purchases: organic links 4.1 percent vs. PPC Links 3.8 percent 

Earlier research shows that 70 percent of your prospects will click on an organic link over a sponsored link and that organic clicks outnumber PPC clicks by 5:1. JupiterResearch found that "algorithmic listings in search indexes generate an estimated six of seven commercially natured search referrals." Therefore, it's important to put SEO in your marketing dashboard.

SEO services require modification of your site content and structure to improve relevancy and rankings in algorithmic search engines. This is sometimes referred to as making your website "search engine friendly." A properly optimized website is more easily indexed by the search robots for indexing in search engine databases. Well-optimized sites naturally achieve higher rankings.

SEO goes a long way toward making your website successful because it energizes your site content and structure for maximum effectiveness. SEO works in tandem with other important variables on the marketing dashboard.

Segmenting Media to Improve Results
You'll want to segment all sources of traffic to your website, using your dashboard and web analytics to maximize results. My next article will focus on how media segmentation improves results.

What it is
Social search is the broadest of the new search categories. Searchengineland.com Editor-In-Chief Danny Sullivan, a search engine analyst for the last 12 years, defines social search as "Any kind of search that's involving humans in some way and, in particular, humans that have a network of friends or associates."

Google Vice President Marissa Mayer in January described this type of search to VentureBeat as attempting to "leverage a social connection to try and get a piece of information that would be better than what you'd come up with on your own."

At its most basic level, social search looks something like the Amazon.com model of recommendation. Results for a book or CD search on Amazon return with a note that "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…" Amazon tracks user behavior to generate suggestions that might help guide other purchasers.

More sophisticated social search sites aim to combine these overarching recommendation engines with social networking. Delver, one of the newest arrivals to the social search scene, combines user information (name, email, social network profiles, etc.) with search requests to tailor its results to the individual preferences and habits of the person conducting the search.

More established social search sites such as Digg and del.icio.us rely on users to rank news stories or blog posts to give visitors an overview of the moment's most popular conversations across the web. Sites such as Mahalo pay users to filter through search results and eliminate fluff.

Who's doing it
Delver (currently in private beta), Digg, del.icio.us, Eurekster, FriendFeed, Mahalo, Mechanical Zoo, StumbleUpon

Why you should care
Social search sites can offer real value to marketers. Though direct marketing and advertising opportunities remain limited across social search sites, these engines allow marketers to easily track user communities and conversations, producing knowledge that can ultimately drive traffic to brand sites.

Sullivan points to digital marketing company 10e20's campaign for Virgin Vacations as the archetypal social search success story. Virgin Vacations produced a text and video story about the world's best subway systems. Thanks to a little viral marketing, users of Digg, del.icio.us and StumbleUpon picked up on the story, resulting in a huge increase in traffic to virgin-vacations.com.

What it is
As the name implies, metasearch engines simply search other search sites, either combining the results into one list or displaying multiple lists on the same web page. These engines provide an overview of search results across multiple sites with the aim of helping users select the most useful search results. 

Who's doing it
Clusty, Dogpile, Mamma, Metacrawler, Vivisimo

Why you should care
Maybe you shouldn't. According to Sullivan, where marketers are concerned, "you can't do anything with metasearch." That is, anything other than employ traditional text or banner ads.

What it is
Think of it in terms of the SATs: open source search is to Google what free speech is to censorship. Founders of open source search sites make their code available to other developers to use and, ideally, improve upon. Without the cumbersome barriers of licensing fees or other limitations, open search sites allow for disparate developers to work together to return better search results, faster.

Open source search developed as a direct response to companies such as Google that keep their algorithms chained in tightly protected Silicon Valley dungeons. It's Google's algorithm that ranks its search results and decides which items appear at the coveted top of a search page.

Proponents of open source search say the algorithms of Google and others are akin to an editorial judgment call and insist the public should be apprised of the types of judgments being made.

Who's doing it
Grub (owned by Wikia), Lucene, Nutch, Sphinx

Why you should care
You probably shouldn't. At least not yet. But don't write off open source search engines just because they're a brand new search niche, warns Sullivan, who predicts they may prove valuable in the coming years. Though "there's nothing for a marketer to mess with on open source right now… it's going to change so much," he says.

What it is
Visual searches fall into two broad categories. Until recently, visual search referred only to image searches. Traditional searches for images have long functioned the same as text searches; search engines simply scanned the web for keywords in the text tags that accompany JPEGs, GIFs and other image types. More advanced visual image search engines focus on technology that can recognize colors or patterns within an image itself, rather than on just the surrounding text.

Lately, however, visual search has come to mean something entirely different. Visual search now more often refers to the visual presentation of search results. Instead of being presented with a text-based list of search results, consumers using visual search sites now receive their results in the form of snapshots or makeshift spreadsheets of the web pages on which their search results appear. (Try searching for your name on sites such as searchme.com to see what we mean.) The aim of visual search is to prevent users from wasting their time and clicking onto parked or irrelevant web pages.

Who's doing it
Kartoo, Searchme, Quintura, Viewzi

Why you should care
Visual searches offer an interesting spin on the humdrum presentation of traditional search results. Right now marketing opportunities on visual search sites are relegated to old-school text and banner ads, but marketers who keep an eye on the evolution of these sites may find themselves at an advantage over the long term. That's because visual search sites will likely require digital agencies to rethink their web design choices according to how their pages might be displayed differently on each of the disparate visual search sites.

And now the bad news for the new players in the alternative search engine market. Behind Google's 70 percent market share in April lagged Yahoo with approximately 21 percent of all U.S. searches, MSN with 6 percent of searches, and Ask.com with 4 percent of searches. Combined, the other 45 search engines Hitwise tracks ran just 1 percent of all domestic searches.

Translation: Despite the innovation taking place in the search market, the startups have a long way to go to catch up with even Google's strongest 48 competitors.

But stay tuned, says Sullivan. The search market is definitely something you want to keep an eye on.

He adds that if these sites start to show a substantial amount of traffic, that's when you want to start taking a closer look.

Leah Messinger is a freelance writer.

Standard project duration is one week, but that can be accelerated for additional fees. Lastly, they've recently added new ways to add visibility to your project, again, for some small but additional costs.

One of the big challenges with any creative project is managing the review process. As any creative director can attest, having designs come in from 20 different designers, each needing feedback, can be daunting.

99designs has handled this issue well with a Basecamp-simple project management system. This is a central part of the offering, and if you're looking into crowdsourcing, don't underestimate how much the tool UX will impact your time requirements and the quality of submissions.

Once the project is in play, the site is easy-enough to use.

Probably the biggest adjustment for me is that as a creative director, I'm accustomed to knowing a lot more about my designer's styles and strengths, as well as having a strong collaborative effort throughout the project. Crowdsourcing changes both of those considerably. There's collaboration to a point, but part of the challenge in that is you don't have much of an idea about their background, or even how well they speak English (which unfortunately is all I'd be comfortable writing in.)

The results
Within a couple hours of posting the project, we had our first designs roll in. They weren't anything close to what I was looking for, and when nothing else showed up for the first day, I was worried it was going to be a bust.

But more designs came in, and as I started to give feedback on them, the submissions increased. In total, we ended up with over 60 logos to review. As you'd probably guess, there was a broad selection. Some seemed to be people with a bunch of fonts just putting things up. Others were far more serious efforts.

We chose the winning design based on both how it connected all the letters in a single flow, and also had a good sense of action to it.

Probably the most questionable call was not going with a more legible version. We did look at reducing and eliminating the connectors between each letter. But in the end, when we put this up against logos from other brands in our industry, we liked that it both stood out and had a modern, active feel to it.

Crowdsourcing: Is it right for you?
I ended up more than satisfied with the results of our crowdsourcing project. Then again, I think I had reasonable expectations, and a lot of experience working with designers.

I still see enormous value in working with talented designers who really understand the creative process, and know that achieving great design can be an iterative process requiring both sides to have vision and taste. And I don't see that going away, any more than needle drop music will replace top music artists. The exploration that's key to so many creative projects is not the same in crowdsourcing. Of course, the project only lasted one week, as well.

If you're contemplating crowdsourcing, I can say that having experience communicating with designers is not to be underestimated in terms of getting the results you want. If you're not familiar with that, this could leave you with the same frustration as trying to communicate with someone when you don't speak their language.

Perhaps ironically, I could see crowdsourcing being used more by agencies and design shops than large clients. It could be a way to give a project a kickstart by having a number of designs come in early in the process. I can also see this working for small businesses that aren't as particular about details of their logo.

One thing I am sure of is that crowdsourcing is here to stay. Creative development has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past twenty years, as tools have gotten into the hands of people around the world. And now that those global designers are also online, sites like 99designs are organizing and connecting them with paying clients.

Sites like Demand Media, iStockPhoto, and Amazon's Mechanical Turk have already turned creative processes into relatively low cost mass productions, often generating content that only a few years ago would have cost 100 times more. So our industry has certainly been shown the warning signs.

No matter what aspect of the creative process you're in, it will always be to your advantage to know as much about alternate business models as you can. What other people can deliver for how much. I believe good creative can still return enormous value, even at top industry rates.

But the fact is there are more people able to do creative work than ever before. And every year introduces more of them to the creative talent pool. More people means more competition. If you've been in this business more than five minutes, you've no doubt seen a fair amount of change already. There's no reason to think that trend is going to stop.

Doug Schumacher is president and creative director at Basement Inc.

On Twitter? Follow Schumacher at @MemeRunner. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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