I haven’t been blogging as often as usual lately and it’s about time I get back on track. I attended my first search marketing conference last week. I do not consider myself much of a conference-goer and I am not really much of an extrovert. Previously, I’d been to only two conferences—JavaOne in 2003, but that was before I fell in love with Python and had the team port all the server-side code to Python/Django—and LISA ’04 (Large Installation System Administration), a conference for Linux/Unix system administrators. I was tempted to go to one of the webmaster conferences, too, but I never saw much benefit in sharing tips and techniques with potential competitors. That was before I started blogging and began to understand the value of sharing, building authority and trust. Boy, after going to SMX West, I realize I have so much catching up to do in terms of networking!
This conference was particularly important for me because I wanted to use SMX West to help launch our flagship product, RankSense. We have worked on the software for more than three years (including several months of beta testing) and I think SMX was the just the right place for its debut. The first day I had to work with my team in final preparations for the booth, and the other two days I ended up staying on to answer questions and speak with guests, so I was not able to attend all the conference sessions. But I met a lot of wonderful people with whom I have exchanged emails, phone calls or instant messages, or whose quality work I simply enjoy online. Thanks to all of you, the conference was big success.
Although I was not able to attend the sessions, which from what I heard were extremely helpful, I did learn something very important. While I began by explaining the value of RankSense to people visiting the booth, on many occasions I had to back up and explain the value of SEO. Many folks I spoke with were unfamiliar with organic SEO because they primarily did pay-per-click (PPC) or were completely new to search marketing (some were coming from email marketing or other online marketing disciplines). I learned to perfect a pitch that worked very well, and I thought it would be a good idea to share it with you.
Here is how I explained the business value of SEO…
If there were no SEOs
Let me tell you the hard but honest truth: You don’t need SEO to rank highly in search engines. If you write high-quality content consistently and that content is link-worthy, the content will rank in the search engines. Period. Why? If this weren’t the case, search engines would be broken; it is their job to make sure that good content ranks first.
“So,” asks the conference-goer, “why do I need to hire an SEO or to optimize my site at all?” The short answer is that, without SEO, you have absolutely no control over what terms your content will rank for. Without SEO, you are leaving it up to Google to figure out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in most cases. But if you want more than just visitors—if your aim to have users who take action, buy your product, download your software, sign up for your newsletter—you need to put serious effort into targeting the right keywords, the ones that will send the most qualified visitors to your site.
The longer answer is that there are so many ways to improve search traffic to your site that it is simply impossible to pretend that it can happen automatically with no optimization. Personally, I see SEO as anything you can do to maximize the quality and the quantity of the traffic you get from a search engine using many different strategies. These include:
- Improving the keyword use in the content so that rankings move up to the first page of search results for non-competitive keywords.
- Making the page focus on more profitable keywords.
- Creating new content that contains additional, relevant keywords.
- Obtaining more links to the site or improving the site structure in order to get more pages into the search engine index (and hence more search referrals from additional long-tail queries).
- Improving the title and descriptions for higher click-through in the search results.
- Removing duplicate content issues to get more content indexed.
- Removing canonicalization issues to improve link juice distribution and help get the crawler to visit more pages.
- Removing broken links so that search engine robots can find all pages of the site.
- Fixing bad web server configurations.
- And so many more, it’s impossible to name them all!
There is no perfect optimization; there is always room for improvement. At the same time, business situations and search engine formulas change, and so do your optimization needs.
For those who already had PPC experience, it was far simpler to explain the value of SEO. I just pointed out that they already have to manage their campaigns and find the best performing keywords, ads and landing pages for a reason. Those same PPC optimization concepts apply to SEO.
How do you explain the value of SEO to your clients? As usual, please let me know what you think in the comments.
Cheers, and thanks again to everyone we met at SMX!
March 10, 2008 at 2:05 am
Good to see you back posting Hamlet. As you say, the ideal SEO pitch will vary for different clients depending on their experience, situation and personality type. Some people want a 'nuts and bolts' explanation of what an SEO will do for their site and exactly how it will help (i.e. your conference-goer), whereas others are only concerned with the end result/benefits - "How much of an increase in traffic can I expect to see? What is a typical ROI for your service?" As far as a pitch goes, many clients simply aren't interested in canonicalization issues - it's something they don't want to get involved with or hear about. Like they say in sales - sell the sizzle, not the sausage.
March 10, 2008 at 1:51 pm
Gavin - That is excellent insight. You are absolutely right. Different people with different personalities with require a completely different approach. <blockquote>sell the sizzle, not the sausage.</blockquote> As I am just starting to learn a little bit of sales, I was not familiar with that phrase. I like it:-) Thanks for stopping by.
March 10, 2008 at 7:09 pm
Appreciate the link Hamlet :). Two things I agree with, one I don't, and my pitch... 1) Duplicate content is not the same as canonicalization issues! Thanks for making that explicit :D. Pet peeve of mine... 2) You make a good case for the added value of an SEO, especially in the longer pitch. Agree :). 3) Where I disagree is the suggestion that good stuff will rank on its own. Having been a blogger with reasonably good content and a horrendously poor network for the longest time, I can testify to this not being the case. It may once have been, but when everyone else is building those relationships [and links] you're going to get left behind if you just expect your content to be discovered one day... Write the most mind-blowing piece that revolutionizes the mortgage business. I promise it won't rank for 'mortgages' :D.
March 10, 2008 at 9:41 pm
Gab - Thanks for your comment. About your disagreement, you clearly missed this important part of my post. I said you will rank highly, but I didn't say you will rank highly for your most important keywords :-) <blockquote>without SEO, you have absolutely no control over what terms your content will rank for. Without SEO, you are leaving it up to Google to figure out.</blockquote> I received my first search referral from a blog search the next day I started this blog and I only started networking a few weeks after that. I am sure that every day you get search referrals from keywords your are not trying to target. Some are relevant to your content and some are not very relevant. I believe that the most important value we bring to the table as SEOs, is helping our customers rank high for the keywords most relevant to their business. That does not happen automatically. There has to be a concerted effort and strategy to make it happen.