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Home-Grown Search Engine Optimization

kennedy-anne
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A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference in Dallas, Texas December 11th and 12th, 2002.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
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Managing a search engine optimization effort needn't be stressful if you follow these tips from a panel of experts.

Tracking ROI to prove value to senior management topped the list of preferred strategies for managing corporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) programs in-house, followed closely by clear communication at all levels and, of course, sticking to fundamental best practices, according to panelists in the "Doing it In-House Forum" at Search Engine Strategies last month in Dallas.

"Because we were tracking ROI from the beginning, we were able to see immediate positive returns from our test Overture campaigns," said Cam Balzer, Manager of Online Marketing for Consumer Guide. "The initial PPC gains made our potential search engine audience tangible to senior management."

"Take credit for your work. Steer [management” away from thinking of search engine optimization (SEO) as black art," said Marshall Simmonds, Director of Search for About.com. Monitor your search engine marketing ROI and help senior management understand its value to their business, he explained.

"Little or no knowledge can have repercussions. Communicate lots of no-brainer basics and manage expectations by quantifying the results you expect," said Simmonds.

When is it time to call in hired guns? Balzer suggested when your marketing nirvana becomes a nightmare of data avalanche, compounded by tectonic changes in the search engine landscape. You should also seek help when facing inflated management expectations brought on by initial success.

"Professional search engine marketing vendors have more experience, time and resources than in-house program managers," said panelist Anthony Muller, President of Web Mercs and author of a book on SEO vendor selection. "Try inter-sourcing to augment internal resources," suggested Simmonds, meaning allying your in-house SEM team with an experienced vendor to plan and implement your program.

In addition to heading up search operations at About.com, Simmonds is also responsible About's parent company Primedia's publications online. In this role, he shepherds 1,000 editors through content optimization.

"Repeat your messages a lot to make sure everyone is up to date," he advised. And handle them with understanding. "Editors get threatened when witty writing style goes up against key-word rich content," said Simmonds.

While continuous enlightenment is Simmonds' strategy for managing Primedia executives' expectations, Cam Balzer kept Consumer Guide's senior management in the dark about early pay-per-click (PPC) campaigning, hoping to produce convincing results before going to the brass. A risky career move, perhaps, but if ever results made a case for SEM, Balzer's do.

Just a year in action, his program is bringing in seven-figure revenue streams, click through rates of up to 20 percent, and a 2500 percent increase in free traffic, resulting in millions of hits per month. "More importantly," said Balzer, "the measures we care about improved: showing up above or along with our competitors and gaining a large volume of traffic directly to our content pages."

When you set out to find a vendor, Muller recommends asking a set of specific and pointed questions of each prospect. His questions, with his comments, would be as follows:

1. "Do you specialize in SEO?" This field is demanding enough that you can expect a specialist to be more up to date and expert in current best practices.

2. "Does all your work reside on your domain?" A popular spam technique is to host questionable practices on their own domains, instead of their clients', where it should be.

3. "Do you use doorway pages or landing pages?" Most are spam and are risky practices to try with the major search engines. "Bridge page, jump page, ghost page -- a rose by any other name," said Muller.

4. "Do you rely on a proprietary software that automatically generates thousands of keyword-rich pages?" Definitely a suspect practice.

5."Do you use a technique or technology that serves up different pages from those that users see?" Be wary; this is often seen as a deceptive practice; major search engines frown on it.

6. "Is link popularity a focus?" Be wary if you hear "we link your site to thousands of websites in our database." It's a fancy way of saying we'll link your site to two-cent spam domains.

7. "Are your live examples the same as your references?" Use Google to check find out if the answers are true, advised Muller. Compare a reference site to the version Google has cached to see if they match, as they should. Check for link farming by viewing the backward links for many similar URLS, especially any with references to search engines.

Establish baselines and manage senior executive expectations to make your in-house program a success, said Simmonds. "Manage your first forays internally to build in-house expertise," concluded Balzer, "and seek additional resources as the growth curve tapers."

To find those resources "RFP away," advised Muller. "The more you do, the more likely you are to find the right fit... then go with your gut."

Anne Kennedy is managing partner of Beyond Ink, Web marketing consultants based in Portland Maine, which she founded in 1997. Also publisher of online digest SEONews.net, she speaks and writes frequently on Internet marketing.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

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