In July, I began my two-part series on building an enterprise-level search marketing team. We left off with a review of the essentials for SEO, including all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines.
If you’ve followed my recommendations thus far, you’ll have hired a reputable search guru, your hierarchy of team members is in place, reporting is approved and the Search Department is in sync with all the other internal departments company-wide.
Part 1 described the way an SEO department should be structured — the “essentials” for the SEO team in terms of what their responsibilities will be once formed. However, in covering the essentials for Paid Search, Social Media and Third-Party Vendors, we’re going to take a different tack.
Paid Search and Social Media campaign management are best resolved by using various types of campaign management software, but I won’t go into the details of campaign management and responsibilities here.
Rather (and more importantly), I’ll provide some proven, high-level techniques to consider when growing your business within these channels, including insights on hiring Third-Party Vendors. So, we won’t be following the same structure of outlining responsibilities here in Part 2, but instead will provide some techniques and examples for making high-level, progressive advances in your top line and net profit margins.
First Big Challenge: Paid Search Governance
Getting paid search campaigns under control is like having an intervention.
The paid search team can often end up with control of the vast majority of the search budget, tending to be singularly focused on their AdWords campaigns. These budgets can get a little out of control — and before you know it, you’ve reached a point where you’re spending $350,000/month in AdWords while spending less than $50,000/month in SEO, local, social and mobile combined.
It is my experience that the most effective long-term ROI play for the search department is to have these numbers reversed. Paid search efforts help short-term revenue goals, while SEO, local, social and mobile investments reap revenue well into the future.
If you’re starting from scratch (which is unlikely), you’re in a better position to direct and control the situation. If you’ve had paid search campaigns up and running for a while, however, it’s time to get another set of eyeballs to look at the numbers — especially if your budget numbers are disproportionate as described above.
Compare financial spreadsheets, and you’ll see how SEO, social, local and mobile can provide good returns on your search budget as well. Divvy up the budget based on performance, and watch how the paid search budget levels out while SEO goes up.
Here’s an example based on past experience: An organization was spending $20 million annually on paid search to return $100 million (pretty good performance), while their SEO, local, social and mobile departments fought for $1 million budget and returned $10 million (better performance).
Here’s where the intervention came into play. Based on the performance of each channel, we reduced the paid search budget by 50% to return $75 million (a much better ROI), while increasing the combined SEO, local, social and mobile spend to $10 million to return $125 million.
Thus, we went from spending $21 million for $110 million in revenue (a $5.24 return for every $1 spent), to spending $20 million for $200 million in revenue (a $10 return for every $1 spent). Obviously, this math makes a lot of sense for the entire organization.
At the end of the day, your Director of Search needs to be able to allocate budget to each channel based on individual performance while considering the search team as a whole. There’s no room for complacency or big egos — everyone must be focused on the bigger picture. It will almost always be the case that paid search is not the “sweet spot” and thus should not get a grossly disproportionate amount of the overall search budget.
The Essentials Of Social Media
SEO and social go together like pancakes and syrup — and search engines eat it up. Going back as far as December 2010, we can see Matt Cutts verify that Google is using data from social sites as ranking signals (video). It’s safe to say Google has since then aggressively incorporated social signals (video) into its ranking algorithms. Such social signals might include shares, Likes, +1s, tweets and retweets, etc.
Additionally, consider this: a recent Bloomberg TV interview (video) with Google’s lead search designer, John Wiley, revealed 15% of daily Google searches are about search terms and questions the search engine has never seen before. The size of the Web is enormous: Google claims to have found 30 trillion unique addresses on the Web and says their servers crawl 20 billion sites per day while processing 100 billion searches each month.
When you stop to consider Google alone brought in $50 billion in sales last year, 87% tied to search… you better believe they’re working long and hard to answer those 15% of searches they’ve never seen before.
Search, Social & The Semantic Web
Here’s where the convergence of Search and Social meet the Semantic Web. Understanding the intent behind a search query and explicitly matching a user’s intent with a high degree of confidence is known as semantic search.
In order to be understood outside the limited number of keywords it uses in its content, a brand must establish a strong footprint within social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+. It must succeed in creating conversation and buzz around its brand, website, products and the services it offers (for example, through deals, coupons, promotions, contests, etc.).
A social signal is clearly compelling; many website visitors interact through comments, reviews, Likes, sharing and resharing. This creates numerous connections being associated and reconnected through semantic search. Social Media teams and marketers that have a clear understanding of Search and how these data points all connect are in the best position to maximize search visibility. Such a team will be able to get their website to show up in the SERPs related to specific subject matters, which is much more powerful than keywords.
It’s Things Not Strings!
It doesn’t take a lot of research to see this all coming to fruition. Going back to Google’s May 12, 2012 update, Introducing the Knowledge Graph: things not strings, we can see Google stepping away from keywords and moving more toward understanding things in the real-world and how they relate to each other. Social Media is an obvious player in this movement.
Armed with this data, your Director of Search and Manager of Social Media can put together a very effective social media plan with all the essentials to integrate with search engines.
Vendor Madness: The Red Zone
If you’ve ever watched the TV series Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan refers to “Red Zone” dogs as those that bite. When selecting your third-party vendors, watch out for the Red Zone — i.e., vendors that bite.
One could write an entire book on the various vendors in Search, stretching from online marketing agencies, search agencies, SEM tool providers, SEO platforms, search analytics… the list goes on. Vendors come in various packages — and some are great illusionists.
I’ve encountered very intelligent people over the years, and unfortunately, as in our day-to-day life encounters, some have chosen to misuse their intelligence. You really have to be careful when it comes to selecting a vendor in Search, and this is where your Guru comes in handy. He or she will have the breadth of experience, knowledge, and a network of trusted vendors within the industry.
You’ll want to merge with vendors who can design deliverables around your needs and limitations, while purging any Red Zone vendors posing pie-in-the-sky deliverables.
When it comes to choosing third-party vendors, there are three primary concerns: security, site speed, and Google compliance. More so now than ever before, these three concerns must be vetted by teams of in-house specialists to ensure you protect your brand and website reputation.
Red Zone vendors can get you in trouble with Google Webmaster Guidelines. Many sites have been hit hard with the recent Penguin and Panda updates because their vendors failed to use white hat techniques. While I don’t have any solid numbers, I can tell you that friends of mine who are good at getting sites out of the penalty box are very busy these days.
I’ve also had situations where vendors are in compliance, and then Google decides to change the rules. You’ve got to be diligent at keeping pace with monthly changes at Google, Yahoo! and Bing. That’s another way a good search guru can help.
Finally, remember that native optimization is best. Owning and delivering all your content from your domain and/or sub-domains is definitely the way to go — so find vendors who are willing to transfer their knowledge or technology and content to your native site. Avoid embedded widgets, redirects, proxy pages and other technologies that take search engines off your native domain and serve-up third-party content.
This is a personal observation: currently, Google appears to allow third-party proxy pages, pages designed for SEO rankings not owned or delivered by the primary domain (client). Google arbitrarily allows this for some domains and not others. I foresee a day when this rule could possibly change, leaving those who rely on third-party content SEO without rankings. Why spend money on assets you don’t own and be subject to future algorithm changes? It’s just not good business in the long-term. Build your own content and deliver it from your domain or sub-domain.
Build a solid Search Department and a first class in-house SEO team by hiring an SEO guru who understands the big picture. Get your core management-level leaders in place and link the search department together with all other interacting departments. Adhere to the essentials for SEO including all the technical and editorial factors that can hinder your website’s rankings in the search engines. Deal with the essentials for paid search and social media, and remember to tread carefully when hiring third-party vendors.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.