By Joe Griffin, Co-founder and CEO at iAcquire
We all compare SEO to paid search in one facet or another. Many try to force SEO into an ad model. By looking at keyword search volume, existing rankings and click-through rate assumptions, one can build a financial model to demonstrate a hypothetical uptick in organic search traffic assuming certain on-page and off-page SEO tactics yield a “predictable” result.
It’s a good exercise. It gets numbers on paper. It helps open up the eyes of those higher-ups that don’t understand SEO and its ability to generate revenue. So, in that capacity it’s a good exercise. But, SEO isn’t just about driving revenue. It’s about brand building, reputation management and good ol’ fashion PR.
Here are specific tips below for brand managers and SEOs, and a list of why SEO is so sustainable and scalable for CEOs.
SEO is PR
Different organizations and departments budget and frame SEO differently. SEO may stem from the PR budget, the IT budget or a specialized search budget. In many cases a “search” budget is the last place SEO should come from – at least in those cases where it is being compared directly to paid search.
But why is SEO a PR initiative?
Well, first of all, SEO is not a media buy. SEO is not a direct marketing or direct response initiative (contrary to popular belief), and SEO is not generally considered a branding initiative – though I think it often should be.
Like traditional PR, SEO earns adoration by ensuring a brand is “naturally visible.” Because SEO cannot be “purchased” and because it must be “earned” it falls under the PR bucket.
This is why many digital agencies now bucket SEO under “earned media”.
PR is deployed to generate sales and loyalty through brand awareness, placement and sentiment. PR attempts to put a brand’s voice in front of an audience receptive to that message. PR wants to be sincere, but like all marketing initiatives it requires aggressive techniques. SEO holds dear these same principles.
SEO is The Most Sustainable Digital PR Medium. Here’s Why:
The majority of the human populace with buying power use search engines as the primary source to find information. More than 11 billion searches per month occur on Google alone as of December 2012.
2. Organic Share of Voice
Consumers widely consider a search engines top ranked results to be the most relevant and authoritative pages on the web.
3. Inbound Interaction
When people discover a brand in an inbound manner that website becomes an interactive journey. A well-defined content strategy and intelligent UI make for a marketers perfect dream.
Search activity is massive across every major industry, and easily represents a 7-9-figure revenue opportunity. That kind of scale is hard to come by in a sustainable way. Search has it.
5. Branding & Reputation Management
Big brands receive hundreds of thousands of “branded” organic search referrals each month. When someone searches “Apple” they are introduced to a portfolio of headlines and links. Those headlines and links impact searcher perception. Controlling that message has demonstrable value.
Why Doesn’t SEO Have A Bigger Budget?
Because SEO is generally not understood as PR, it simply does not have access to those traditional PR dollars. SEO has been estimated to draw around $3 billion of “media spend”, so it’s not small potatoes. That number might be substantially higher if you consider salaries supporting SEO initiatives. The PR media spend is estimated at only $5 billion per year, but much of that is still “traditional” PR.
Take some of the “traditional” PR budget, account for the already 33 percent-plus year-over-year shift to digital, and you can see how SEO might easily consume a $10 billion per year media/marketing spend by 2015.
There was an interesting article written on CNN Money by Gregory Galant, CEO of Muck Rack. Gregory tells a similar story around social media’s advancement and the connection to digital PR. Social Media is more rapidly being defined as PR, and I agree with that definition. I think SEO also needs that definition.
However, in my mind PR is often misunderstood as ”the pitch process” that goes on when marketers try to get a journalist to tell their story or feature their brand. I view that as only a piece of PR.
To me, PR is more about controlling brand perception, and that’s why I think organic search is totally misunderstood as it relates to PR.
In addition to cannibalizing traditional PR dollars, SEO also stands to gain from the ever-growing search budget. The vast majority of the search media spend is plugged into paid search currently, and that may never change, but as marketers become more sophisticated I’d expect that SEO begins sharing in a larger slice of the pie – especially when you consider the role that content marketing plays in SEO. There’s a conversation still going on though that needs to change. It sounds a lot like this: ”Dear Agency/Vendor, we’d love to be aggressive with SEO, but it’s really hard for me to get budget because it’s not quantifiable like paid search.”
What Can Brand Managers Do About This?
1. Master Analytics
If you aren’t an expert at Google Analytics or Omniture (or whatever you use) then you are doing it wrong. If you can’t fully assess the impact of organic search you will have a significantly smaller opportunity to create an SEO funding revolution without your organization.
2. Master Goal Assessment
Once you’ve dominated analytics you must ensure you are measuring the right goals (and sometimes this step is actually the first step). Goals aren’t always the same. It’s not just about ranking for that big head term, and in fact, that’s often the wrong strategy. It’s generally best to work from the top down. Your goal is rarely to rank for “x keyword.” Your goal is generally to “realize x market share, revenue or leads from the Internet; notably Search.” You have to develop a strategy, and then tactics after you’ve identified your goals. And, you have to do more than just identify the goal – you have to make sure every stakeholder is on the same page with what that goal is.
3. Baseline Everything
• Tools like SearchMetrics, SpyFu and SEMRush can help you determine where you are currently proficient.
• Tools like AuthorityLabs, SEOmoz Rank Tracker and Advanced Web Ranking can help you track rankings across hundreds or thousands of keywords – use Google Keyword Tool to find all of your keywords.
• Tools like Conductor’s Searchlight or seoClarity can give you further insight into big keyword sets and competitor analysis. These tools are generally used by larger enterprises.
• Open Site Explorer (OSE), Majestic SEO, Blekko (use hashtag /SEO) and Link Diagnosis can tell you how many links you have and who links to you – among many other data points.
Organic Traffic and Leads/Sales
• You need a monthly spreadsheet showing total organic referrers by search engine including sales and/or leads. Do this for each month individually in your sheet – not an aggregate number. You need to show the trend.
• You need to detail this data in total for each month, but also breakout “branded” keywords and “non-branded” keywords.
• Also, because Google will hide keyword data (not provided) for up to 50 percent of your inbound keyword referrers you may have to do some extrapolations to understand your true branded vs. non-branded mix. In other words, if 50 percent of your 100,000 visitors are branded, 25 percent is non-branded, and 25 percent is not provided, you may have to assume that 2/3 of your visible data set is branded, which is then applied to the 25 percent not provided number. For clarity, you would assume that approx. 16,5000 of your 25,000 “not provided” keyword referrers are branded.
• You’ll want to compare this year over year. You should also overlay general market trends by looking at Google Trends. If you’re flat year over year, but the market has shifted downward by 20 percent, then you’re actually up.
4. Create an Executive Reporting Template
Tailoring executive reporting is perhaps the most important role of the smart SEO. Great results not communicated means great SEO that has no value. This is a post in itself, so I’ll expand at another time, and perhaps provide a template.
5. Identify Your Core Strategy Then Brainstorm Tactics
Since you already understand your goals, now you need to define your core strategy. Do the research, brainstorm, and develop a strategy. Then, worry about the tactical measures you must take to execute on that strategy. There a million great posts out there addressing these matters. I’d start with SEOMoz or the iAcquire blog.
6. Create a Presentation, Allocate the Time and Bring in the Shareholders
If you expect to be treated seriously, you need a serious audience and you need a serious presentation. Spend the time required to develop a concrete plan, do your research and work hard to knock their socks off. If you’re really vested you might even hire a graphic designer, or convince in-house creative to help you.
Let’s Start Taking SEO More Seriously
If you follow through on this properly, time it right and pitch it well you have set yourself up for success (assuming your company wants to be disruptive in digital, and understands the need to shift dollars and marketing strategy to the Internet).
SEO is PR. It’s the face of your brand. It’s the biggest, most sustainable way to stay in front of ready audience. Don’t ignore it. Play by the rules, but be aggressive and win. Good luck, and may your SEO game be strong.
I’d love to hear what others think – please comment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Griffin is the Co-founder and CEO at iAcquire, a digital marketing firm based in New York City and Phoenix. Joe works closely with the company's executive team to ensure the vision, service, technology, and support departments work in sync to deliver a best-in-class solution for iAcquire's clients. Prior to founding iAcquire, Joe co-founded another search marketing firm which was acquired by Web.com, and before that he spent three years with iCrossing where he led ad agency business development and later created their paid search division. Joe writes at joegriffin.me and the iAcquire blog, tweets at @joegriffin and lives on G+ here.