SEO Performance Marketing: Paid Search is Accountable So Why Not SEO?

Who’s to blame for your company’s marketing failures? And who gets credit for its marketing successes? The answer should be SEO, along with PPC and every other facet of your marketing programs. It must be held accountable if it wants a seat at the table with the big boys.

Tuesday afternoon’s panel in “The State of Search” track at Search Engine Strategies New York looked into what parts of SEO can be tied to performance. What should clients demand, and agencies promise? Here are the experts who worked through these and other questions:

John Marshall, SES Advisory Board & CTO, Market Motive


John, who just by having a British accent made everyone feel smarter for being there, introduced the panelists. And Seth started off the presentations.

Natural search is the most under-spent channel in Web marketing. Though most site traffic comes through search, it only gets about 10 percent of the budget because natural search is hard to quantify. Companies just direct their spending to paid search. But Seth’s company, Conductor, has a set of SEO metric tools to help create a case for SEO spending. In exchange for your contact info, you can have them. The idea is simple, but smart: show the unrealized opportunity. Apply actual values. If there’s money to be made, money will be spent.

It’s also important to put a game plan in place. Rather than work toward a final goal, set up milestones to get you there. This will keep you on the path to success. All kinds of measures will work well – number of keywords, traffic, number of indexed backlinks, search engine rankings.

According to Richard, most companies see SEO as a black box. It’s too technical, and they don’t understand it. As a result, they treat SEO as an IT project, and a nice-to-have rather than a necessity at that. The C-level executives who control the budgets can’t distinguish between paid and organic search. It’s up to marketers to help them understand. Until they do, they won’t spend the money.

He offered this basic approach to establishing some credibility:

  • Listen to customers though analytics.
  • Speak to customers in their terms.
  • Find best opportunities for growth and success using predictive analysis.
  • Speak to executives in terms they understand.

Richard provided some decent information, though he came across as a bit sales-y. Reading his presentation didn’t help, nor did the mentions of his new patent and recently closed round of financing.

Craig was the star of the show. He looked like a 19th century president – the James K. Polk of search – but his ideas were smart, relevant, and up-to-date. He talked quickly and made sense. He focused on the characteristics of a performance-driven system and negotiating a performance deal. Technology is a key component. But the typical cost breakdown for technology – keyword discovery (10 percent), site audits (30 percent), site changes (45 percent), monitoring training (15 percent) – doesn’t work. Analytics and, of course, performance matter too.

When negotiating a performance deal, certain elements must exist:

  • A baseline for data.
  • Structure, whether it be basic costs plus payment for incremental improvements or performance by rankings of keywords.
  • Agreement on the “source of truth” (i.e., what report or measure determines if success has or has not been achieved).
  • A plan should something go wrong.

This guest post was written by Norm Elrod, who is a Digital Media Consultant and freelance writer who contributes to Search Engine Watch, SmartBlog on Social Media and AOL. He blogs about his experiences in the job market at Jobless and Less, which has been featured in The New York Times and on NY1. His marketing and editorial experience includes positions with Acronym Media, The NPD Group and Sony Music Entertainment. Norm holds a BA from Franklin & Marshall College and an MBA from Fordham University. He lives with his wife and two cats in Queens.

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