Search Engine Optimization in a Down Economy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several months, you may have noticed that the economy stinks. This isn’t just the case in the United States; this is a global financial crisis.

Even those of us who work in growth industries (as I would classify the SEO/SEM industry) are affected. As a president of a SEO company, I can tell you that I’m receiving more resumes than ever before.

It’s been said for many years that you shouldn’t cut marketing budgets in a down economy, because cheaper advertising gives you an opportunity to market your services more, and actually gain market share. In all of my years in marketing, I’ve seen very few examples of companies doing this.

When it comes to paid search, you’d think basic economics would come into play (supply and demand certainly affects price). I haven’t been able to find much good information on this (please comment below if you can share resources with other readers), but I’ve seen bid rates for paid search remain somewhat flat (or even increase), while supply is increasing.

This would mean that demand must be intact or increasing. Again, I haven’t found any hard studies on the average CPC rates, so I’d love to have reader comments on this.

I spoke with my good friend David Szetela about this. He told me that his clients have maintained a pretty steady approach to their paid search efforts.

“If we can spend 25 percent more and maintain their ROI, every single one of our clients would say ‘go for it,'” he said.

That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? One would think that marketers would, as we’ve long thought, come around to moving their marketing budgets into media that can deliver that type of accountability. And, as I’ve often said, marketers are more likely to move toward paid search than organic search, because it’s much easier to understand and can deliver quicker results.

How is Organic Search Affected?

Organic search is experiencing “some” growth. Even if it isn’t measured in actual dollars quite yet, more marketers are trying to figure out organic search, which is a good thing.

The bad thing may be that as more people begin to involve themselves in organic search, there will be more competition. Plus, more people will try to find loopholes (spam tactics) to exploit vulnerabilities in the search algorithms. Then, the search engines will become smarter and develop methods to address any possible methods of spamming the results.

SEO Will Become More Difficult

SEO has always become more difficult, though, over the years. Back in the day, you might have done OK by stuffing your site with meta keywords. The search engines needed a better way of delivering quality results, so those “easy” things don’t work anymore.

As searchers, it’s great that we no longer have to search 10 pages deep to find what we’re looking for. That’s a good thing, as our attention spans just aren’t as great as they once were.

Because SEO is a much more laborious process (companies must dedicate IT resources, copywriters, PR firms and others), it can be more difficult to get implemented. And, in lean economic times, the average marketer may have less patience.

This could actually be good news for SEO agencies. It would make sense that if companies have to make the difficult decisions to let some people go, they may need to outsource some of these functions.

In many cases, outsourcing the work can save money. The agency is responsible for benefits, costs for office space, costs for computers/communications and the rates that the agency may charge could be less than the employee handling this in-house, and you get a team of people — each with their own unique skill set — working on the initiatives.

What Does This All Mean?

We’re living in very interesting times. During the last downturn (the dot-com bubble), we witnessed Google become a leader in their space without much (any?) marketing budget spent. They had a better widget. To me, search marketing (both paid and organic) is the better widget, when it comes to the average marketer determining how to spend their (now limited) budget.

I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to act upon all those resumes on my desk and do my part to help in the economic recovery. Search may be very close to maturing as an industry.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies New York March 23-27 at the Hilton New York. The only major search marketing conference and expo on the East Coast, SES New York will be packed with more than 70 sessions, plus more than 150 exhibitors, networking events, parties, and training days.

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