Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Seven Challenges Of SEM Planning And Execution

IN EARLY NOVEMBER, I SPOKE at an Ad:Tech NY panel entitled "Planning and Execution of Search Engine Marketing Projects." Outlined in my presentation were some common challenges that I have frequently encountered from the clientside perspective, the Web design agency perspective and from the search firm perspective.
In no particular order, here are elements I've found to be recurring obstacles in the quest for high search performance on Fortune 1000 level Web sites:
1) Integrating search as a business or technical requirement. Setting up search as a business and technical requirement removes 90 percent of the headaches experienced when integrating in the middle or end of the development process. Good designers and developers are experts at solving problems, and even if they don't have a lot of search experience, they can often solve these issues when given the opportunity. If you've started in the middle or end of a design project, performance will ultimately suffer, and an additional toll will be taken out on dev and design teams who may have to rework some of the foundational aspects of the site.
2) Building business cases. This is one of the most difficult nuts to crack, because natural search is so unpredictable, and most marketers don't place monetary values on desired actions such as e-mail subscriptions, Request for Proposals or other actions. Major obstacles for building business cases include scoping potential natural rankings and traffic (no one can guarantee this), lack of accuracy in keyword metrics tools, unpredictability of natural click-through rates, and lack of a dollar value on desired user actions. Although it is still difficult, an attempt should be made at making a case when possible, even if it is directional. More concrete business cases can be made by calculating the potential loss of paving over previous search engine optimization engagements in a redesign (and preserving these investments), and auditing what a client is currently getting from natural search as it relates to existing business goals (leads, sales e-mail subscriptions, etc). Paid search cost-per-click bids also offer a real-world indicator of the value of natural traffic alone.
3) The "search chair" is missing at the table. If search is not recognized as having a major role in the development process, then performance will suffer. This means that search should help drive research, planning, content, marketing messages, development, launch and other stages of Web design and maintenance.
4) Creative adversity. Many designers view search as a threat to creativity. When requirements are laid out for a variety of different audiences, search shouldn't impede the creative process, but rather should create a new framework for a picture to be painted.
5) Search education. A little bit of search engine optimization 101 goes a long way to help meet overall search objectives. I've presented many four- to eight-hour client seminars to audiences ranging from five to 30 people, and the positive impact of education on natural search efforts is nothing short of amazing. Give an educational seminar and invite the whole gang, including senior-level executives, project managers, information architects, content writers, developers and other team members. Increased awareness also helps knock down barriers when approval is needed for a wide variety of search-related tasks. In another section of the presentation, I outlined some of the common mistakes that search firms make when delivering recommendations to Web development and design agencies. The two following views were culled from what I observed of search firms as a search strategist and facilitator acting on behalf of Web design clients:
6) Lack of balance. Search specialists often accuse Flash designers of being one-sided by not considering search as part of their process. Optimizers are often just as guilty of this same type of omission. Consideration must be given to accessibility, creative elements, brand laws and how users will ultimately perceive the page.
7) Not tying search into tangible business goals. Rankings are great; traffic is better, but conversions contributing to defined business goals rule. Unfortunately, while many firms are good at tactical recommendations, some stop short of attributing the value of search to the bottom line (or at least proving that value to the client). To be fair, not all clients and marketers spend their budgets with these ROI goals in mind, and they often have limited offline tracking capabilities needed to attribute search's actual business value to their business.

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