In The Long Run, Balance Wins The Race

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on September 29, 2010.

One of the main issues I encounter in search is how to balance approaches with other areas of the online marketing swarm, namely content development, public relations, social media and networks, and Web development. Each has its own critical importance to natural search performance, and depending on who is in charge, search can either enhance each respective discipline, or it could also come at the expense of that discipline. The best option is to balance all considerations in such a way that everyone wins. And the good news is that it can be done.

It’s worth stepping back and assessing whether or not SEO strategy is complementing the overall strategy, or running over it. A sustainable search program shouldn’t have to come at the expense of any other discipline to provide incredible benefits to businesses and marketers, and the ideal output is an experience that considers the findability of content across all disciplines, in addition to meeting the search demands of those who are trying to find something.

But overzealousness on any side can create a mess. Slopping in SEO purely for search gain sucks, particularly when it comes at the expense of forming intelligible copy, usable aesthetics, and talking like a real person (not a robot). In the same way, developing a site purely in Flash, conducting public relations efforts without understanding digital media or search strategies, and talking metaphorically all the time can create the same kind of disconnect with your audience.

Here are some considerations that have a direct impact on findability for search marketers to use when working with other disciplines:

Don’t sell out your credibility for links or publicity. It can be easy to want to get aggressive with linking. Sure, you could tell the biggest lie in the world and get an incredible amount of links, but at some point you have to determine if that’s the kind of attention you want, because that is how your brand will be known in both search and social media.

Balance visual elements and rich apps with textual depth. Search and RIAs don’t have to mix like oil and water. The best answer for creative, development, and search teams involved in this process (or dilemma, if you prefer), is how to balance it all together, considering usability for direct site users, and those coming from search engines.

Don’t always trade off keyword popularity for opportunities to directly engage with your audience. I have discussions all the time about content strategy, and whether or not a highly searched keyword must always have to be in the title of the article or theme. No, it does not. Certainly it’s a good thing to include most of the time, but if you are producing a high volume of content on a regular basis, then it is OK to simply create an engaging headline. Engagement is the new SEO, and by staying in tune with your audience, the benefits of social signals on search relevancy and authority often follow.

Don’t come off as impersonal or spammy to humans, in order to appeal to robots. This may be the most common sin of SEO folk, who often go overboard in areas like linking, architecture, copywriting, social conversations and social network visibility, so it seems as if they’re only talking to search engines, not people. Again, engaging human beings with search signals can work – but turning those humans off with a pure SEO play can backfire in the long-term.

Respect “best practices” and common sense when engaging in social media. There is no question that social signals are playing a greater role in how content is crawled, indexed, and retrieved. I regularly engage in social media as a search tactic, but I do so with strategies of social engagement taking the lead, created and executed by the best social strategists I know. If you don’t address people in a sincere and meaningful way in social, then it does no good for a long-term sustainable strategy.

Here are some considerations for marketers on using search to get more from what you are already doing in public relations, Web development, creative, social media, and other areas.:

Don’t ignore your search consultants. A consultant with a balanced view of search can extend the opportunities for what you are currently doing in many other areas of digital marketing. In turn, what you are doing could help lift other efforts as well, including search.

Remember that engagement translates to findability at a very core level. In addition to engaging with your target audience at the content and conversation level, keep in mind that there is an opportunity to engage with your core target in areas other than where you keep your core assets. Searchers may be seeking the content you already have, but they can only find it if core search optimization principle are used.

In the long run, a careful balance wins the race.

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Brands As Publishers On Google+

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on November 9, 2011.

Just in case you haven’t heard by now, Google has launched its pages for Businesses, a complementary offering to Google+ personal profiles. Janet Driscoll Miller covered some of the basics in yesterday’s Search Insider, so I will cover some of the implications of Business pages, and what they mean to your content strategy, search strategy, and social engagement strategy.

I’m currently writing from Pubcon in Las Vegas, where I am speaking on two search and social panels (kudos to my co-panelists @joehall and @krisjones for their truly insightful presentations today). It is fair to say that search and social — the discipline of combining the two together — is the hot topic of the event, no doubt spurred to even greater heights by Google’s launch of Google+ in June. Pubcon is the event attended by cutting edge SEOs, as it has been since its inception, and it is revealing that much of the dialogue is focused on engagement, as opposed to pure page publishing and SEO tactics. Of course there is plenty to discuss about tactics, and SEO is by no means dead. As Joe Hall stated today on the panel, traditional SEO is still at the core of any well-thought-out search and social strategy.

I asked today’s attendees if any were cynical about the impact of social signals on search, and no one raised a hand (with about 125 in the audience). This is very different from various conference attendees I’ve informally polled over the last few years, who in the beginning were predominantly skeptical. If a room of hardcore SEOs are convinced that social signals are a cornerstone of natural search influence, then the rest better get on board as well.

Which brings us back to Google+ pages for Businesses. Many are still wondering if it is worth the effort, given that Google “only” has 40 million plus users, including Gord Hotchkiss, who wrote a column about this a few weeks ago. My answer is yes. If you’ve read my corner of Search Insider over the last three years, you know that I’ve covered a number of issues related to the rise of real-time search, and also the implication of algorithms on social networks. A major shift has occurred, and Google+ is the manifestation of search and social together in a truly robust form. Google+ is still in its infancy, and is rolling out more and more new features. A little bit of marketing is in order for Google, as pulling in key network influencers will be key to gaining critical mass. Google+ doesn’t have to be Facebook or Twitter to be successful. It just has to maintain a substantial user base sharing fresh content on a regular basis, and that of course is meaningful to the people who use it.

I’ve written and spoken this statement many times, but it is worth repeating again: If you care about your search presence on Google, you need to get active on Google+ by building up your network, and publishing regularly. You need to engage in conversation, as conversation is content. The same is true for any other network where your audience target may be engaging in conversation about your brand or generic topics of interest.

I am speaking again today on “navigating the complex social world.” Search and social is a big part of the marketing story now, and to use Gord’s word, it is fully crystallized in the form of Google+ for businesses. Proactive marketers should be watching this story develop. Getting active now will give you a jumpstart on being a “search and social” marketer in the truest sense.

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SEMPO: Social PPC is Giving Google Adwords a Run for Its Money

This post first appeared on MediaPost Search Insider on April 27, 2011.

SEMPO has released its comprehensive “State of Search” report for 2011, and there are many key findings that are of interest to practicing search marketers, search strategists and PPC media buyers, to name a few. Over 900 agencies and companies from 66 countries were interviewed for the 133-page report. SEMPO research chair Marc Englesman of Digital Brand Expressions offered some key insights on the report for MediaPost. Of the findings, it is notable that social networks have become substantial alternative PPC networks, in some cases driving higher PPC participation than the Yahoo / Bing search alliance.

“The SEMPO Report clearly shows that Facebook has rapidly become a top PPC advertising vehicle,” said Engelsman. “This may be driven in part by companies looking to quickly and easily buy their way into social media presence instead of taking the time to build their digital outposts more organically. This would follow the trend we saw in the early times of SEO when many marketers decided to forego true search engine optimization in favor of paid search as a way to get fast visibility.

“The reality of Facebook’s PPC ad growth (and to a lesser degree, the growth we are also seeing in use of LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and mobile) means the PPC model has expanded well beyond traditional search engines, and marketers need to understand and budget for the growing opportunities in this arena.”

He also noted a key shift from in-house, back to managed and outsourced models for a company’s search and social marketing efforts. “The reasons for this seem to be a combination of lack of time and skill levels to keep up with the fast-changing developments in SEO, paid search and social media,” he said.

The report also highlighted the following key findings:

- SEMPO estimates that the North American search engine marketing industry will grow by 16% in 2011 to a value of $19.3 billion, up from $16.6 billion in 2010.

- The emergence of the mobile internet is having a major impact on search marketing, even more than personalization. Seventy-nine percent of companies consider this development to be “highly significant” or “significant,” and this percentage has jumped 14 % since 2010.

- The utilization of social networks for marketing and media continues to grow. The percentage of company respondents who say they use Facebook now stands at 84%, up from 73% last year. Three-quarters (74%) of North American agencies say their clients run PPC campaigns on Facebook. Three-fourths of companies (75%) use Twitter for brand promotion, and more than a quarter (27%) of companies now use LinkedIn specifically for PPC campaigns.
- Only 44% of companies are now executing search engine optimization in-house, compared to 51 % last year. Only 38 % of companies are managing paid search marketing in-house, compared to 47 % last year.
- Google continues to dominate as a search engine, from both an advertiser and agency perspective, with 95% of companies paying to advertise on Google AdWords.

- “More than half of companies (54%) expect increased spending on SEO this year, while only 10% expect to spend less. On average, companies expect to spend 43% more on SEO in 2011 than they did in 2010, the same average increase as was anticipated for 2010 in last year’s survey. ”
- Social media marketing budgets are still modest compared to search engine optimization and paid search, but 64 % expect social media budgets to grow in 2011.

- Around three quarters of North American agencies (74%) and two-thirds of those outside the U.S. and Canada (69%) say their clients use Facebook for paid search.

- Of all Google features and placements, local results (55%), multiple listings (47%) and maps (42%) are considered to have the most significant impact on companies’ search performance.
- Around half of client-side respondents use location-based ads (49%) to enhance their paid search performance, while product listings and product extensions are the least used Google features.
- There has been a significant increase in the proportion of companies saying that social media activity is primarily aimed at improving customer service and satisfaction, from 8% in 2010 to 13% this year. Fewer companies than last year say social media is about generating leads (-4%), but 3% more agencies than in 2010 say this is the main objective.

Overall, the survey underscores the importance of a search marketing mindset in the changing media landscape, as well as many other key findings. Click here to obtain a full copy of the report.

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Working on a new book: Search and Social: The Complete Guide To Real-Time Marketing

Amazon has it listed now, so it must be official. I’m very pleased to formally announce that I am writing a book for Wiley/Sybex on the topic of search, social, and real-time marketing. The focus is on taking a participatory approach to digital publishing, with search and social at the core.

I have provided a picture of the new landscape, a new picture of strategy, and many different hands-on ways to get active in search and social. Overall, it will be a helpful guide to SEOs who want to understand how social impacts their search efforts, and also eye-opening for social media marketers who want to become more literate in the search influences on social media and networks.

You can read the full description and see a cover photo on Amazon. You can also buy it now, and be the first to get a copy when it is released.

I hope you will check it out.


Optimizing for Local Search – featured at April 22, 2009 DFW SEM meeting

The next DFW SEM meeting will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in Richardson, Texas.  The program features a presentation on local search optimization.  Visit the DFWSEM site for more details.

Forrester Names iCrossing best in both SEO and Paid Search

Forrester Research has issued their 2009 Search Wave report, which assesses top search engine marketing agencies on their full-service SEM capabilities, using the standard industry definition of both paid search, and natural search engine optimization.

iCrossing came in at #1 for not just one component, but for both paid search and search engine optimization, beating out all other agencies in the comparison.

Here is a quote from the 2009 Forrester Research Wave Report:

“iProspect, iCrossing, and 360i lead the pack… In fact, iCrossing bests the others in both paid search and SEO because of its open bid management platform, its use of market mix models to aid enterprises in paid search planning, and its heritage of optimizing dynamic sites for natural search results.”

iCrossing has made the full report available online – click the link below to read the full evaluation:

Forrester Research Names iCrossing Best in Both Paid and Natural Search

As a search channel strategy director for iCrossing, I can say that we are very proud of this distinction.  Congrats to the iCrossing team – well deserved!

iProspect, 360i, IMPAQT, Razorfish, Reprise Media, and OneUpWeb were also among the firms evaluated in this research report.

DFW SEM meets Thursday, Jan. 15 Brett Tabke of WebmasterWorld speaks

The next DFW SEM Association meeting is tomrrow night at the Renaissance Hotel in Richardson.  The speaker will be Pubcon organizer and WebmasterWorld publisher Brett Tabke, who will be discussing search engine marketing, and also Pubcon Austin in March. 

Corporate and individual memberships are available at the door, and the general public is welcome. 

Go to the DFW SEM home page or blog for more information.

Interview with Smart Business Online, talking search engine marketing and SEO

I was recently interviewed for a sidebar article in Smart Business magazine, a unique publication that customizes articles for 20-plus major markets, and is targeted at business executives.  The interview in the link below was run as part of a bigger feature in the print edition.  My uderstanding was that this was released across multiple markets, but I have inculded a link for the Dallas version below.


SEA, SEM, and SEM: Who invented these terms?

My latest Search Insider column takes a look at the origins of a few key terms in the digitalmarketing lexicon: SEM, SEA, and SEO. It was spurred by Bob Heyman’s article in Search Engine Land last week.   

Here is an excerpt from the article:

A story last week on Search Engine Land (“Who Coined The Term SEO?”, by Bob Heyman) got me to thinking about the somewhat nebulous origins of the term “search engine optimization”, or “SEO”, as well other common search terms such as “SEM” and “SEA”.   There are a number of claimants and facts around the term “SEO”, so I revisited a few of them, and found a few additional interesting facts along the way.

Before I go into the SEO claims, the origins of the terms “SEM” and “SEA” are pretty clear.  In 2001 Danny Sullivan achieved a consensus with the readership of Search Engine Watch on the term “search engine marketing”, noting that the organic-centric SEO no longer covered the full range of tactics in the search space, given the rise of pay-per-click.  “The phrase “search engine marketing”, or “SEM”, very logically covered a wide range of tactics related to search engine visibility, and somewhat relegated SEO as a subtheme within the overall practice of search marketing (see “Congratulations, You’re A Search Engine Marketer”).”

Read the rest here:


.Anything – Thoughts on new ICANN gTLDs

My latest column is posted at MediaPost Search Insider, the first of a two-part series on the impact of new vanity ICANN generic top level domains (gTLDs).  The title accidentally got hacked off – it should say “.anythinggoes”, so it looks a little out of context in its current state.

Also, here some additional columns I wrote for MediaPost that discuss the importance of a domain move, and the importance of planning for search:

Five Tips For Assessing the Value of Natural Search

The Unfolding Search Story of

Seven Challenges of SEM Planning and Execution

Solutions to Seven Challenges of SEM Planning and Execution