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Selling SEO During an Economic Downturn

boggs-chris
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In a down economy heading into 2009, business development for SEO becomes increasingly important. As an agency or consultant providing marketing advice to clients, you're missing a crucial opportunity to provide long-lasting ROI at a still relatively cheap cost if you aren't pushing for investment in organic search.

SEO can always be enhanced, especially for large and dynamic Web sites. Whether the decision to invest in enterprise-level SEO has been put off, or the project is already underway, additional ways to generate results are usually only hampered by lack of budget or resources. Let's look at some of the ways to position SEO when selling to existing clients or new prospects.

The Pitch

Usually, the SEO process still requires an introduction at the onset of any presentation. Level-setting the room will ensure that people are at least aware of the primary tenets of SEO, and reinforce the decision made by prior "converts." Research from the likes of SEMPO, MarketingSherpa, and Forrester is always excellent material to present, because quantifiable data often speaks directly to the decision makers.

As Forrester's Kim Le Quoc and Jaap Favier succinctly stated in "How to Stimulate Consumer to Buy Online":

"Creating preference with online buyers starts with search engine optimization (SEO). As search increases in complexity, marketing leaders need to move their teams toward advanced search marketing programs."

SEO should always be an ongoing project. It has been said over and over, but you can't "set and forget" SEO, especially when competing in crowded industries or verticals. Fresh content and links, and continuous monitoring of site structure, information architecture, and things like 404 error code best practices are paramount to reaching organic visibility and traffic goals.

The process by which the SEO will be performed should be clearly identified, and the pitching team should be prepared to answer questions in a clear and concise manner, in language and terms that are indicative of a trained understanding of traditional marketing. It's very important that the business development personnel not try to answer a question that they aren't confident enough in their knowledge to attempt. "We'll get back to you with an answer on that" is much better than "I'm an idiot trying to fake the answer."

The Q4 Factor

Anyone who facilitates banner and paid search advertising for a marketing team, either internally or in an outsourced manner, knows about "Q4 money." Magically, during late third quarter and into the fourth quarter, money seems to materialize that "must be spent in order to get it again next year."

Although this status quo may be slightly less prevalent this year, there's a lot of extra money floating around looking for a place to stay. This year, you should really think outside of the box, and send at least some of the money towards ramping up your SEO efforts.

The extra cash can be put into a yearlong SEO engagement (or longer, depending on the surplus) that will provide returns over many years to come, allowing for work to be completed into 2009 that was paid for in 2008. Another way to spend this extra money for the purpose of SEO is to consider entering into a large-scale agreement with a directory, or by entering into sponsorships or other arrangements which will provide valuable inbound links that generate PageRank or traffic.

Now, I'm not advocating buying links just for the purpose of increasing PageRank. Although I don't judge people by the tactics they use to gain links, buying them is too easy. Google and other engines provide value to links found within association or sponsor pages, assuming the relevancy factor is met. These memberships/sponsorships should be considered as an additional aid to any SEO program.

Best of the Web has a new local product that provides geographically categorized directory links for a number of industries. If you have a client with hundreds or thousands of physical locations, and they have extra money to spend, consider entering into a large-scale agreement with BOTW, Superpages.com, or any of the other respected local directories. These provide link relevancy and should lead to additional traffic. Ideally, BOTW or other local directory pages will also occupy a top page position, increasing exposure in the SERPs, as well as providing further brand strength.

This economic downturn should be a major driver for new SEO contracts sold over the next few months.

Frank Watson Fires Back

Regardless of the economic situation, companies need to continue marketing their products. Otherwise, they will stop being a business eventually.

As has been reiterated in most articles, search is more measurable and may be a more successful means of spending limited advertising. As Chris suggests, a long-term play to improve organic listings is one option that can bring back long-term profits.

What many overlook in discussions about our economic downturn is that if people pull back on advertising now, the impact isn't really seen until later. There's a need to continue advertising and SEO is a solid way to spend part of that money.

The link building option is always going to be controversial. Google uses them as a large part of their algorithm, but polices methodology of gaining them. I disagree with Matt Cutts about buying links. Even when you reach out to relevant sites to ask for links, you're spending time, which as we know is money.

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