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SEO Expectations and Commitments

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I started a hunt last week. I am looking for a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) book to give to those decision-makers who will never actually do SEO, but who cut the check or approve the time spent for SEO. I haven't found it yet...but I just started.

Too often, I have seen companies "approve" SEO only to treat it as a one-time hit, or a short-term project. Months or years later, when they asked someone else to "do" SEO for them, it is discovered that the company had laid none of the basic foundation for SEO, and it is clear that even the implementation was done incorrectly. Unfortunately, no follow-up or long-term measurement plan is in place that would catch this. From what I hear, this is not uncommon.

So, absent a book and being too impatient to wait for one, I thought I would come up with some guidelines for those who approve SEO.

But first, for clarity, when I write SEO I am referring to web page optimizing against organic search. Optimizing paid search is a closely related, but different animal.

So, if you are going to embark on organic SEO...

  1. Plan to keep in it for the long haul. Line up the resources to engage SEO for at least 6 months. An entire year would be better. This is not the long haul, this is just the time you need to validate the program for the longer term. These resources will come from many parts of the company; from your marketing and sales to finance and IT. Be ready to go after them before you start.

  2. Be patient. SEO can take time to generate results depending on your starting point. You may not see your sales (or other target metric) increase right away. Unlike most other online efforts, there is no immediacy about organic SEO.

  3. Set objectives. The goals for SEO must be clear and the benchmarks to achieving them agreed upon. This means setting up measurement capabilities that may not currently exist as well standard reporting procedures. At the start, there may be no 'measured' metric to report, no changes. Reporting should be done anyway and include the steps taken to improve the metric, not just the metrics themselves.

    Brace yourself; the SEO folks may appear to be goofing off. They will be surfing the net, looking at SERPs, looking at web pages, and reading blogs or articles. These are necessary parts of the program. Earlier, I mentioned monthly reporting. This helps you know the progress of the project and gives you an idea of what is accomplished with the daily activity that may seem a little out of the ordinary for typical business operations.

  4. Keep people informed. They need to know your plans and those of the company. Any new products or product changes impact your web site. With enough fore-planning, your SEO team can help generate the traffic early on. And just as importantly, they can plan to gracefully handle traffic currently going to pages for phased-out products. Well informed SEO teams can add value and prevent surprises. Leverage them.

  5. Set expectations. If you outsource SEO, don't jump for promises of absolutes. There are none.

A Final thought: nothing is free, especially clicks. Enter into SEO knowing that there is a cost. It may be outsourcing costs, new people, or the opportunity costs of current people being refocused. I get very concerned when I hear organic SEO talked about as a way to get free clicks. It blinds people to the commitment needed and the value of SEO. Like everything else, tie the increases in target metrics to the cost of the SEO activity. This gives you a view into SEO ROI.

Steve Haar is the senior director of media at Leapfrog Online, where he oversees search marketing and other vertical efforts. Haar sits on the IAB Search Committee, SEMPO Global Search Committee, and the steering committee for the Click Quality Council. He combines his past experience in offline branding and mass media with his passion for online marketing in his blog, Think About Search.

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