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The new SEO: organic search


Search engine optimization has been growing up and dragging online marketers along with it. Lately, in order to be successful, an SEO campaign needs to focus on more than just page optimization. With a finite amount of search engine traffic everyday, there is a limit to how many people can be reached and how high a site can rank. To increase their share of this traffic, search marketers are starting to explore alternative ways to get their clients more involved in the online mix. In short, SEO practitioners are stepping up their game, and I predict a trend of search marketing departments evolving to keep up.

In some industries, paid search is becoming increasingly expensive and competitive. With so many clients vying for the same coveted keywords, pay-per-click costs are rising. In search of a cost-effective method to reach online users, clients are starting to request additional services to drive traffic to their site. In response, SEO practitioners are starting to expand their scope of expertise to keep their clients at the top of search results pages.

Why SEO needs to continue to expand
As the internet continues to evolve and additional platforms are created, SEO departments will begin to follow suit. It is extremely important and effective for SEO strategies to start where the online conversation originates. Right now a large amount of people still have search engines as their homepages, but users are in the process of shifting gears. More and more people are accessing the internet through social networking sites because that is a key component of their web experience. The industry has already seen the change from browser-based to search engine-focused usage when people started logging online to do more than just check email. Google has recognized this trend with its incorporation of tools like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Photo. Yahoo continues to embrace its origin as a portal, but it has increased Web 2.0 offerings with tools like Yahoo Buzz and Pulse, a social shopping platform. With this current transition, "SEOers" are joining in and adding a social, user-generated content (UGC) and Web 2.0 focus to their optimizing efforts.

Blended search and subject matter experts
With the advent of blended search, search engine marketers are starting to look beyond the text of a website to images, video and audio content. A side effect of expanding their definition of content is that search engine marketers are becoming more active participants in the online conversation on behalf of their clients. By moving beyond pull marketing strategies to interactive branding initiatives on social networking and bookmarking platforms, a number of SEOers inadvertently ended up on the cutting edge of emerging Web 2.0 trends.  

Link building has gotten harder as site owners have gotten savvy and stingy with their linking, and as a result, search marketers had to resort to other tactics in search of links (blogging, blended content efforts and maybe even begging). Another byproduct of this expanded purview is that SEO practitioners have become subject matter experts on an extremely wide array of interactive topics. To create inbound links, search marketers are creating link-worthy content on blogs, UGC sites and video aggregators all in the hopes of generating interest and links. By spreading viral videos and Digg'ing like there is no tomorrow, SEO professionals are creating organic traffic for clients. That is traffic stemming from an aggregator, social site or blog, as opposed to paid efforts like pay-per-click or banner advertisements.

Becoming subject matter experts on such a wide array of topics, platforms and software applications has significantly raised the bar of aggressive SEO campaigns. Clients are looking to SEO departments to drive traffic to their sites from a variety of search engines as well as referral domains while continuing to increase and maintain their search engine ranking. However, the two go hand in hand because generating traffic from a number of sources will aid rankings through link-building, which will in turn stimulate traffic.

This new SEO focus is more aligned with the way search engines want to rank websites. For them, if you have a great site with impressive content, users will visit it, search for it and talk about it. While not perfect, this is one step closer to truly organic search engine optimization.

Measuring success
This growing scope also means that the way to gauge the success of an SEO campaign will change. It is no longer only about rankings and search engine referrals. Brand exposure, increased branded search queries and referrals from search marketing targeted domains are possible key indicators of how well an organic media campaign fares.

I would like to caution that this all-encompassing SEO strategy is not suitable for every client. Expanding beyond "traditional SEO" -- if there is such a thing -- to this progressive, pervasive organic medium should be executed after clients have solid SEO fundamentals in place. Once rankings are solidified and clients are ready to do more, they can begin to look at their SEO efforts through a broader lens. As with any SEO campaign, it is hard to guarantee results, but if successful, the rankings are definitely invaluable.

Another point worth mentioning is that clients should be prepared for failure with this kind of organic campaign. Since there are no standard metrics yet established, if an organic campaign fails to materialize, clients will have little insight into what went wrong. It is not right for everyone, but there is an increasing need for organic media campaigns.

Our approach
After so many clients requested to increase SEO efforts and diversify their scope of referral sites, at Geary, we reorganized our search marketing department to better distinguish between organic and paid media. Previously, there was a media department and search marketing department that executed both paid and organic search campaigns. Now, under the umbrella of a "Reach Department," Geary's organic and paid media teams work for the combined goal of increasing the reach of our clients' brand and content on the internet.

The change is to better align the thought processes and reporting of our search and media departments. Our paid media team (pay-per-click, banner ads, sponsorships, etc.) report and track the number of impressions, clicks and conversions; whereas our organic media team tracks rankings, ratings and brand exposure along with conversions. Research and data from paid media helps the organic team plan their online campaigns, but there is no direct correlation between paid efforts and SEO rankings. So with this change, all service offerings that produce SEO benefits are in the same sub-department.

This way, we are better able to define and distribute organic budgets across a broader spectrum of platforms, which will ultimately generate traction on search engines. The organic media team will also be able to create high-quality content on multiple referral domains to allow for maximum visibility of the content.

We are not steering away from standard search engine optimization by any means, but we are trying to position ourselves to service the changing needs of our clients. Things are always changing around here, and the best way to put is that organic media is the new SEO.

Andrew Rodrigues is SEO manager for Geary Interactive.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Bill Burke

2008, May 07

Excellent article, Andrew. Just a quick aside; keep your eye on a new SE called Powerset. They are rapidly refining natural language searching, and I'd bet dollars to donuts Google will snap them up to get this technology fairly soon, as this is one area Google is woefully deficient in, andthey have been exploring this arena quite a bit lately.

Bill Burke

Commenter: Anucha Niyamapa

2008, April 30

Nice article, Andrew.

Have you, or anyone, considered writing standards-based, semantic markup? Then, develop relevant, pertinent content based on user-feedback, traffic visits, tracking, user-analysis, etc.? And writing content that user's are interested in reading?

Questions for SEO experts, Interactive & Online Marketer's are:
1- Why do you use Flash-heavy/intensive sites when search engines can't read, nor interpret text?
2- Do you use MS proprietary tools, VB Script, to write your site's code? If so, why?

Thanks in advance and hope to learn more from experienced SEOers.



P.S. Stephen, it would be my pleasure to read your 7-step guide if possible?
Email: anucha [at] comcast.net

Commenter: Stephen Ellis

2008, April 28

Great article. Brian and Becky raise some great points too.

In terms of tracking on-site user behavior of SEO traffic, consider making your internal product pages and PPC-facing pages separate (so you can track traffic more easily in Omniture, etc). Also, build a progression in your site that gives you intermediate data if a customer doesn't convert (demos, click-to-chat, separate order flow). By tracking the pages that form part of the customer experience, measuring fall-out, time on page, etc; you'll have the insight into the SEO campaign's performance that Andrew worries about capturing on page 2.

In terms of Becky's point, I recommend focusing on low-lying fruit first: basic SEO principles, then start building a larger foot-print for your site with a separate blog, then look at social networking efforts like building out the LinkedIn profile of your key staff; etc. You might also reach out to your IT service providers and offer to write a case-study or some other co-branded item that could get you a strong traffic-generating link from their site.

I'd be happy to email a 7-step guide to online marketing that I put together for my internal team. Note: I don't work for an agency & am not offering any professional service, making a sales pitch, etc – just offering free, no-strings help from one marketer to another.
[email protected]

Commenter: Becky Jacoby

2008, April 28

Interesting insights...but how can an entrepreneur, small business or nonprofit (all usually having staff stretched thin) utilize the organic search trend? We expect corporations to move this way. Does that omit SEO organic growth-trend for smaller enterprises?

Commenter: Brian Carter

2008, April 28

Everything sounds good except for what you measure in SEO. I understand the concentration on increasing reach, but when analytics packages like Omniture can help you focus on which search terms lead to business results (MWR conversions), how can you not hold your SEO activities accountable for that? I also understand that with both PPC and SEO there's a sales cycle that means people don't immediately convert- there's still room for branding and measuring engagement for these people, but I think measuring conversions has to be part of SEO metrics.