How are Search Marketers Performing?

A new study sheds light on the performance of search marketing firms, concluding that many are missing opportunities and failing to provide important services for their clients.

The study, a joint effort between Jupiter Research and iProspect, surveyed 636 qualified search marketers and 224 search agencies, probing for specific practices and methods used in the overall search marketing process. iProspect released the findings in a series of three reports.

The first report, the iProspect Search Marketer Performance Study, looked at how search marketing firms evaluate the performance of their employees. While more than 80% of all firms reported that they evaluated employee performance using some metric, most looked at measures like web site traffic or search engine rankings rather than business results such as ROI or total sales generated from search engine leads.

Specifically, just 4 in 10 search engine marketers are evaluated on ROI or total sales generated by their search engine marketing efforts, and just under 20% are evaluated on offline results generated by their search engine marketing efforts.

While many overall search marketing campaigns are evaluated using more sophisticated business-related metrics, the individuals responsible for the campaigns aren’t held to similar standards.

It’s important to remember that most search marketing firms are comparatively small organizations, and may lack the formal processes or bureaucracy that can support employee performance evaluations. Employees at smaller firms may also have multiple job responsibilities in addition to search marketing. Simply put, performance evaluations have a relatively low priority compared to other activities in smaller firms.

The study notes larger firms, with more resources and established policies and procedures, are more inclined to tie ROI of search marketing campaigns to employee performance.

The second report, the iProspect Outsourced SEO Metrics & ROI Study, looked at search marketers who outsourced their natural search engine optimization to an SEM firm, and also participated in a paid search advertising campaign. Participants were asked to rate the comparative ROI resulting from each approach.

Surprisingly, only 1 out of 7 search marketers measure the overall ROI of their combined SEO and PPC campaigns. Worse, most cannot separate the individual ROI of the two different channels.

Another surprise was that 35% said that algorithmic search engine optimization produces higher ROI than search ads. Just 11% said that search engine optimization produces lower ROI than search advertising. Fully 45% said they cannot determine whether SEO or PPC provides a higher ROI.

This suggests that despite the popularity of paid search advertising campaigns, natural search engine optimization remains highly effective and should not be neglected by anyone wanting maximum exposure and return on investment for their search marketing efforts.

The final report, the iProspect Natural SEO Outsourcing Study, sought to understand the obstacles preventing firms from implementing natural search engine optimization strategies recommended by their SEM vendors. In other words, if you’re paying for search engine optimization advice, why aren’t you using it?

Just over a third of respondents said that there were no obstacles to implementing search engine optimization. However, fully 64% of organizations outsourcing natural search engine optimization to an SEO firm encounter obstacles within their own organization that got in the way.

The two biggest obstacles were lack of human resources to implement changes (34%) and lack of outsourced IT budget (17%). However, this suggests that if a company lacks human resources to implement changes or a budget to outsource them, they are not being well-served by their current search marketing firm.

A Useful, But Not Bleak, Industry Snapshot

Each of the reports provides much more detailed findings, and are well worth a read. In aggregate, they offer a snapshot of the industry that shows some seemingly glaring problems that should be of concern to clients of search marketing firms. And they offer valuable lessons to search marketers to improve their own work processes.

If you outsource search marketing, you should ask your SEO firm some of the questions posed in the study: How do you measure results? How do I know if your efforts are returning more than they cost? Which techniques are most effective? These are legitimate questions that any competent search marketing firm should be able to readily answer.

But remember, search marketing is one of the few types of marketing where this type of measurement is possible. It’s certainly not possible to apply similar metrics to most traditional advertising or marketing efforts, since they lack the hard data available to search marketers.

So take the conclusions with a grain of salt. Yes, the search marketing industry has some problems, and larger agencies with more established procedures will often be more accountable. But the industry is still relatively young, and most of us are learning as we go along, continually improving the techniques and processes we employ. Expect that trend to continue, and for smart search marketers to absorb the findings from these studies and use them to improve their own processes.

Report Downloads

iProspect Search Marketer Performance Study

iProspect Outsourced SEO Metrics & ROI Study

iProspect Natural SEO Outsourcing Study

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