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Is It Our Job to Educate Businesses in Tactical SEM?

Around the middle of last month I took a phone call from a friend who runs a similar web design agency to ours, with a request for help in putting together coherent SEO/SEM packages for seven of his clients. Before we met, I looked at his clients’ websites and found there was much to do.

When looking at the SEO, virtually all of these sites used keywords in the title that had been plucked out of thin air; most of them had no relationship with the copy whatsoever. With research, we made recommendations for changes in both title and on-page copy. The easy part was the SEO; the difficulty was then to educate the client about how they need to be involved. The feedback from one company was instant and unusual: they accepted our recommendations without question.

In the good old days of directory submissions and the like, SEMs had the sole responsibility for search engine marketing. Not any more. Today, it’s about providing advice to clients on writing press releases and articles, on-site blogging, and how to get involved in social media marketing, together with tweeting.

But how many website owners either have the necessary skills or the resources to relate information about their “products” in a meaningful way in online articles and press releases? In my experience, not many. Most companies appear reluctant to become involved in this, and worse, cannot perceive any real value in a subject they barely understand.

At the height of the dot.com crash at the start of the millennium, I was working with a web design agency in London. To my mind then, and it remains so now, the importance of using the internet as a medium to expand reach and to bring in more business could not be clearer, but the bottom line is that when times get tough, the tough cut internet spend. That will sound a little strange to our industry, but it is inexplicably true.

>From my company’s perspective, quality SEO’s are a rare breed and their real value should not only be to provide an excellent service but to educate management (those who will listen, that is) on what we have to offer, which is to help drive traffic to their website and boost revenue. In reality though, this is a far harder job than one would expect. It seems that most companies are resistant to dedicating resources to this effort. As such, SEM lacks both the financial and human resources that need its support.

Our industry has a long way to go yet in assembling and disseminating this concept. With directories moribund and other short-cuts removed from link building processes, providing quality SEO services today belongs in the hands of the wordsmith, the blogger and the social media engineer. And yet, how do we get this message across convincingly?

In one of my posts on this issue, I got the following comment: “Show them the results. Don’t even talk about SEO…then tell them how much in time and resources it’s going to take.” That’s all very good and valuable but how many company executives understand what they are paying for prior to “showing them the results”? Case studies and/or a results-based campaign? That is one strategy we are using for our clients.

In a related article I read recently, an SEO company was explaining why they didn’t end up closing more of their proposals. It was because they advised the company from the outset about how much in-house involvement was required in successfully delivering a comprehensive SEM campaign. It sort of summed up why we need to do more in providing information that will educate companies about the effectiveness of what we are looking to achieve for them.

There is also a case for educating SEO/SEM firms themselves, as almost every week I receive emails from SEO outsourcing companies, generally from India. The majority of these emails pitch the same tired old submission services, including the outmoded reciprocals. On one occasion I decided to try them out – it was a very cheap experiment – and found that not one single link out of the dozen they had submitted appeared in Google’s indexes.

Also, there are many SEO companies that falsely claim they can get a client’s website to the top of the search engines for a given keyword or phrase. This has always been a contentious claim, as we could easily get any site to the top of the first page of Google/Bing if the search term is easy to compete on, although the chances are it won’t be searched on. Too much of the time these blanket assurances are an across-the-board, indiscriminate boast. Try “music”, go up against Yahoo, and see what happens. So, let’s now look at some possibilities:

• It is extremely rare for management to understand the benefits and economics of SEM in organic search and how it can lead to extended market reach and more customers. Too much of the time they take the view that to boost revenue, or in a recession to maintain it, they need to fall back on the reliance of traditional media. The result of this is that migration languishes and profitability targets stagnate. We need to convince them otherwise with case studies and, where appropriate, with results-driven campaigns.

• One of the major problems in SEM today is that human resources do not normally extend to writers who are conversant with the web in general, and blogging and social media in particular. As such, the SEM is often asked to write about subjects they are unfamiliar with. If no in-house assistance is provided, the chances are the project won’t ever get off the ground. Ideally, companies need to start to look at hiring staff that can implement SEM strategies effectively. But they won’t change until management starts to understand how marketing online actually works. When they do, it could result in a shift of marketing spend towards SEM.

• The other difficulty is in the actual measuring of SEM, as the search engines have blocked page ranking tools, which in turn leads to sketchy reports on how the campaign is proceeding. Placement is the only real arbiter on this and that takes time. Companies need to be made aware of this.

• It really is no excuse for companies who are looking to the search engines to broaden their exposure to say that they don’t have the time. They have the time for glossy brochures and hoardings, so why not divert some of that effort to the internet? We may all be experiencing difficult times at the moment and the idea of expanded SEM campaigns now, with companies downsizing and all that entails, should not translate into “campaign postponed”. SEM is the cheapest way of getting a company’s message across to new markets.
As one of the clients we have just taken on board mentioned above, let’s look at the guts of the proposal we submitted in developing their online presence:

• Creation of RSS feeds for the dissemination and syndication of news;

• Submission of articles to high-value article sites;

• Updates to the meta information, including adjusting copy where appropriate to target specific key phrases;

• Creation of a presence in the Facebook community;

• Setting up a Twitter account to post weekly news as well as breaking news;

• Development of an on-site blog with regular updates, linking the headline from the home page so the search engines see movement;

• Writing and submitting to blogs related to their industry;

• Where circumstances permit, post regular podcasts, including YouTube and Google videos.
To sum up, we need to create a method, typically via case studies, by which companies not only see the value in SEM but, more importantly, how they ought to be participating in it.

About The Author
John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build, a company specialising in web design in Bangkok, and who is an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

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