Over the past few months, I've seen a change in spending with larger companies. In the past, they would typically spend the majority of their funds on hard-to-track media buys and television commercials. However, with the recent change in the overall market, both of those avenues aren't being looked at so aggressively.
Thus, the common question is: should we invest in something else, or just kill the budget? I see budgets killed quite often! However, about 10 percent of companies check into alternatives just before totally pulling out.
The most common approach they hear about is SEO. Typically, most large companies call their outrageously expensive ad agency and ask for a quote.
In my experience, none of these large agencies have experience getting a high-profile site to rank in the search engines. Commonly, when a company engages with a large agency for SEO, they wind up bringing in an SEO/SEM firm that can direct their efforts, typically with the SEO firm acting as a part of the agency.
I see this most often within a global deal, where an agency claims to have an SEO person in each country. They actually will hire a consultant as needed in each market, depending on the scope of the project. To this day, I haven't seen this approach work.
After such ventures fail, the company will typically provide an RFP with goals that can't be tied to either revenue-generating functions or media-related goals. An SEO firm will provide a proposal that offers steps toward reaching these goals, unless they're new and have little-to-no experience.
The goals that should be in an RFP should be related to revenue and traffic, with a stipulation around the source of the traffic (i.e., search engines). It's easy to send garbage traffic to any site. Garbage traffic shows up as sudden surges in your logs, depending on the goals provided, maybe a few minutes or hours at a time.
There's always a period of silence between surges. Keep an eye on this; it can save you a fortune.
Other goals that should be included within an RFP or, better yet, a contract:
- In-person time. This may sound useless, but in reality, updates typically aren't done as quickly or at all when they're given over the phone or via a Web-based presentation.
- Constant review of traffic trends.
Many large companies will follow executive requests. These most commonly are, "Competition X is outranking us, why aren't we ahead of them?" These executives will always look at these results and will commonly ignore increases in traffic or revenue.
Some of these ranking goals are feasible; however, some of them are pipe dreams (for example, a large electronics retailer attempting to rank for movie reviews and or show times with little or no unique or relevant content).
Your best chance of successfully driving free traffic to a large site: an experienced crew that is dedicated to making sure projects are implemented while advocating support throughout the company. This group may not know everything that is needed to get the site ranked, but with proper guidance from a firm or a contractor, they'll be valuable assets.
Be sure to spend as much time as possible with your business intelligence department (or "analytics" for short) to be sure you have a decent understanding of your traffic and where it's going!
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