Those tasked to manage the SEO requirements of the corporate website are, after all, judged by their ability to secure prominent rankings for keyword phrases deemed to be important. And it seems fairly logical. What better way to measure the quality of SEO work than to view where the website ranks for target keyword terms on the likes of Google and Bing?
But there's an incredible flaw in that approach: it doesn't take into consideration whether the SEO work actually has a positive impact on the organization.
That's a frustrating conclusion to draw, because there's incredible opportunity (and money) awaiting the B2B organization that does SEO right. Consider this: in May of last year, Hitwise reported that 92 percent of all search-driven clicks in that month came from the organic set of results. Plus, JP Morgan and the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO) reported that approximately $39 billion per year is spent on PPC advertising, compared to just $1.4 billion per year spent on SEO.
It's safe to say that search is out of balance because SEO isn't being held accountable.
To see the search balance of power restored, organizations must demand more accountability from SEO. This past week, I shared my thoughts on the four steps to SEO accountability to a standing-room-only crowd at the UK's largest digital marketing conference, Internet World, in London. Here are the highlights of the discussion.
1. Place SEO in Proper Hands
SEO has never been well understood by most B2B decision makers. Often, SEO is made the domain of the webmaster, web agency, or IT department. Even in 2010, new client prospects say, "We optimized the website for search when we built it. We'd prefer now to focus on PPC."
The truth is that SEO is deserving of a far more strategic role within an integrated marketing communications plan. Placing it in the hands of the web development or IT staff is not proper SEO.
SEO needs to be iterative and evolutionary. It should learn from itself and its PPC sister to become more targeted and relevant to the intended audience.
Over time, SEO should perform better. In short, it should operate just as other forms of digital marketing operate. After all, SEO is digital marketing.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
I can recall a pivotal conversation in my career. I was in an unsatisfying job and was having a drink one afternoon with a friend who was pitching me on a new business he was starting and wanted my help with.
I was eager to entertain any new job opportunity so I met with him and listened as he explained everything. He wanted to start an agency where companies would hire him to make their websites "pop up" when certain searches were performed on Google, Yahoo, and MSN.
To this day I remember my disappointment -- and my naivety.
"I don't think businesses are really going to need that," I told my friend.
At that time, I believed that when you built a website, Google magically knew you were there and knew to give you your fair shot at relevancy for industry keyword searches.
In many B2B organizations, that mentality still exists. When a new website or piece of content is created, some expect that content to immediately shoot straight to the top of the results. Not so. SEO isn't a quick hit tactic; it's a long-term investment.
For SEO to become accountable, it can't be saddled with unrealistic expectations. Give it some time to develop its legs.
3. Pick (Keyword) Fights You Can Win!
SEO isn't about getting your website to rank in the first position for the industry keyword phrase. SEO is about achieving maximum visibility for the set of keyword phrases that drive tangible business results to the organization.
Attempting to rank for the definitive industry keyword term is often a fruitless exercise; it's either a difficult or impossible task, or once-achieved it only brings tire-kickers to the website. To be accountable, SEO must produce results and the organization has to expect the channel to perform.
4. Optimize For Conversion Performance
A logical extension to selecting keyword fights you can win, optimizing around conversion performance is a B2B SEO's primary indicator that you're winning some fights! The unfortunate thing for B2B SEO in particular is that the buying environment is far less transactional than is often the case with B2C.
Typically, we don't see purchase decisions made on a whim or after a single exposure to a search result. Still, a mechanism is needed to help quantify the positive impact SEO has on the organization, determining SEO's role in effectuating or influencing an eventual purchase. This is where micro-conversions become essential.
It's fairly intuitive that while asking for the sale at first touch may not be the best move, some form of engagement or conversion can be expected of our SEO-referred visitors. Micro conversions are more passive ways for website visitors to interact with a website and brand, and indicate an interest to buy ahead of an ultimate transaction.
The key here is to really understand your target audiences, their needs, and motivations. Set up your website and offers to nurture site visitors through the courtship process. Once sales eventually start to come through the pipeline, a simple set of regression analysis tests will confirm (or discount) the correlation that your micro conversions had on producing an eventual sale.
Admittedly, these thoughts are distilled for brevity, and only touch on some fairly advanced constructs. But if your B2B organization can embrace these four steps and put them to use across your SEO initiatives, you'll undoubtedly be light years more advanced than you were when the only SEO report you cared about was the rank report.