Conductor launched its 'automated' SEO platform last week. I attended the launch event, and if that was anything to go by, then Searchlight promises to be a captivating product.
The presentation opened with an introduction by Seth Besmertnik, founder & CEO of Conductor, who discussed the irony that SEO commands the highest percentage of clicks on search engines and yet commands the lowest percentage of marketing budget spend. In fact, the imbalance between value and spend is shocking:
- 92% of clicks from search engines are attributed to natural rankings
- 89% of search spend is attributed to paid search
Yes, the sad fact of the SEO market right now is that there are too few talented SEOs, too little budget, too little time and, frankly, too little patience among the C-suite executives who are finally convinced that this discipline matters to their business.
In a series of entertaining skits, the staff at Conductor illustrated some typical crisis scenarios that the average in-house SEO manager faces at fictional company TopStuff.com. Some key issues covered in the skits are:
- A major Google algorithm update (such as the recent Mayday update) causes company-wide panic, putting extreme pressure on SEO teams from the top down. The amount of historical data required to identify trouble spots and solutions is so great, that the SEO team is stuck in an eternal analysis of past conditions, in order to define present conditions. And they will never catch up. (A useful analogy would be a diarist trying to write, by hand, about the exact present moment they find themselves in, but can never write fast enough to make a statement that has not already become history by the time the ink hits the page.)
- Google, and in turn SEO, has created a new type of competitor. While most companies focus on their traditional enemies in the market, the relative simplicity of search has leveled the playing field and created new opportunities for smaller, aggressive and more agile competitors to make a land grab for any of the "10 blue links" in the SERPs.
- Typically a company's staffing strategy has been to have a single resident SEO expert and a team of juniors who often do not have full spectrum visibility of all accounts, tools, and concepts required to do the job in their manager's absence. Even the most well-earned holiday can cause difficulties for any company dependent on a single person to deliver their SEO strategy.
The Discovery of New & Effective Marketing Channels Hang In The Balance
Such problems, however, are not solely a matter of budget or resources - actually the core problem is scaling business critical information and relevant insight across all parts of the company. The traditional organizational structure for SEO was probably sufficient in the past, but with the ever-increasing size of SEO projects and maturity of online marketing in general, cracks have been starting to show in the last 3 years.
Paid search, social media, mobile marketing, video, and online PR are just some of the disciplines that are eating up online resources. Whether you are on the SEO or PPC side of the fence, or in-house or at an agency, scale is the buzzword in the industry at the moment - everyone wants to know how they can keep doing what they do best, and facilitate demands from their clients or CEOs to experiment with new and potentially lucrative, but largely untested, online marketing channels.
SEO Is Not Rocket Science, But Companies Act Like It Is
Even the most talented search marketer faces a perception problem at the heart of the company. SEO is still seen to be a black art by the c-suite. A cold and a secret war against Google, the reputation of the SEO skill set is in its ascendency, but like rocket science, it is not something that the average business owner cares to truly understand. The upshot: there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the tasks surrounding SEO, the nuances of the search engines or the impact of changes in natural rankings.
This type of problem is something Seth Besmertnik announced he was dead-set on solving. Three years of work has gone into identifying the typical SEO workflow and, more importantly, the task definition and delivery of any given project.
Having watched a demo of Searchlight, I was impressed how Conductor aimed to circulate knowledge of SEO activities around the company. Built in partnership with Omniture and SEOmoz's LinkScape, Searchlight struck me as also making good on the core values and experience of its partners. The interface had an Omniture "feel" to it, which came with all the features you would expect from enterprise-level analytics software - namely the ability to export any data set, produce goal-orientated visualizations and deep dive into core areas of the site. Furthermore, constant pinging of Linkscape's competitive ranking intelligence tool created an effective monitoring system of actionable alerts.
As always, an SEO's role is defined by what is happening in the search engine results pages (SERPs). However, via Searchlight, the movement and changes in the SERPs created an effective task layer, much like the tech-team's bug report, for the in-house SEO to follow up, act upon and demand sign-off from senior executives. While some may shudder at the idea of a tool that defines the parameters of their job and stammer that they are "a name, not a number," the reality is that those who truly want to make an impact know that they are already over-stretched. Such enterprise SEO platforms that are emerging this year are likely to create a welcome break from reporting and foster a more collaborative culture of SEO in the workplace.
Which given that 92% of search clicks are organic, it seems only fair to the average in-house SEO that the other 92% of the company start taking some responsibility too :)