Since 2008, this term has been all the buzz among search marketers: social media optimization. In 2009, it’s spread like wildfire through the big corporate business community (you know who I’m talking about: Dell; the poster-child of Fortune 500 social media). And in 2010, it was a must have for every business (even if it may not be right for your business) thanks to mainstream press organizations and anyone with a blog. It seems that 2011 is picking up where 2010 left off: pushing social media profiles and optimization.
Another SMO Push Article
iMedia Connection had a post last week explaining why SMO (social media optimization) will be the new SEO. If you haven’t read it, here are the major points that solidify SMO as the “new” SEO:
- Dennis Franczak and his colleagues get the majority of their news from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, before resorting to Google/Bing/Yahoo search to find an answer. Hence viral communication is more important.
- That it is less about finding information (the search for information) by optimizing it, rather the lasting model is targeted-audience pull information.
- Because Bing now has “firehose” access to Facebook data, he argues that specific content is now available on personalized pages. Thus, making it a better experience, and more attractive, to audiences that don’t want to deal with Google SERP information
Push-back on the “Push” Article
I don’t completely disagree with that article; in fact, many of those points can have a case made for them. But not now. Not until average users raise the level of their understanding do any of those statements become realized. Just because social media usage has increased across the board at every major demographic, doesn’t mean social media optimization is the new SEO.
More Social Media Indoctrination for Business Owners
This does not mean that all these existing and new users want to find information on these social platforms. I have no choice but to chalk up this article up to another indoctrination piece.That’s the issue I have with the iMedia article; there is no consideration for the average user (this is not the “Reasonable Surfer“) and how they use the web to find information.
We don’t have to look any farther than the author of the piece: he’s a CEO of an agency that does a lot of traditional marketing work, but “is grounded in interactive”. It’s no secret that traditional agencies have been beating their clients over the head the last year and half with social media. It’s the last ditch effort to get in on the “internet marketing rage” and put in a stop-loss measure to losing their clients to search marketing firm, keeping that revenue in-house.
Search Marketers Use Social Media Platforms for Information
Marketers use social media platforms to find information. Marketers want to encourage users to get to business pages, interact, and provide answers.
Average users do not use social sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) to find information. They go to these sites to tell people about what they’re doing personally or what’s happening in their careers, and to interact with friends and family members (i.e. connect, re-connect, catch-up). Average users may see product or service comments in these spaces, but will go to a search engine to validate/investigate those claims.
In my opinion, that article doesn’t take that into consideration. I don’t know a single person (friend or family member) that begins their information hunt on Facebook or Twitter. They simply stumble into it and use search engines to find sites about that product/service/topic. And, I think Pew backs me up on this:
SMO is Just Another Slice of the Search Marketing Pie
No one is ever going to suggest that SEO is the end all, be all of search marketing (even though we’d like to think so :-) ). It just isn’t so. There are plenty of other avenues a business must take into consideration to have real online success: paid search, email marketing, conversion rate optimization, social media, and traditional marketing pieces. Are all these slices created equal? Are all these slices of the same urgency? No.
SEO is not social media optimization; never has been, never will be. And, I would venture to say, that SEO should be largest piece of the pie with the most urgency attached to it. Social media can be an important piece, but it doesn’t work for every business, can’t be effectively implemented for every business (not without looking you just got off the bandwagon express), and still has yet to stand-up to the ROI question.
The Website and Search are Still King
As long as search is still the one of most popular activities among all major demographics (see Pew image above), there’s no reason to feel rushed/bullied by traditional or hybrid agencies into starting a social media optimization campaign. While social media has increased usage across the board, it is still tangential/supplementary element to an online marketing effort.
The website is still king. Search is still a primary activity among all demographics; the idea that people are/will be using social platforms as primary source in lieu of search engines to find information is simply wishful thinking. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t involve your company in social media; by all means protect your brand name on the web by owning profiles on major platforms.
But social is not a make-or-break solution. That is, if you don’t have social media, your online efforts aren’t dead. However, not having some modicum of SEO on your site (in the event you’re not a huge brand name), could very well damage your ability to create a successful online marketing campaign. As far as I’m concerned, SMO is should be a very distant thought in your SEM arsenal.
So a good friend, Hugo Guzman, wrote a really great piece today “How to figure out how much you should pay for SEO services?” I consider Hugo to be wise, wily, and trusted in all things SEO and SEM. That is to say, you can trust his advice because it will rarely ever lead you astray.
The same is true of his last post. With a few exceptions. Per estimated possible achieved conversions is a smart, efficient, and fair model for both sides. Chances are, with this model, an agency or individual would earn more than if they simply estimated hours and deliverables.
Exception One: Client Knowledge
This exception is the client. It’s the biggest exception and wild card of all. While Hugo states in the post that a client would earn $100 profit from a single widget, we’re under the assumption the client produced that number for them. Here’s the problem with that single assumption: most clients have no idea what their profit from a web lead is. I know, it’s hard to believe. And you probably think I’m full of crap. Experience has taught me that only a small percentage know (could be bothered after nearly a decade or more of search marketing) to find out what their margins are from web leads.
What they do know is how much that widget/product costs to produce. What they do know is the margins they make selling that widget/product at retail price. Hence the term “loss leader”. This, however, is not the same as CPA (cost per acquisition). If the $100 they stated is the margin based on the cost/retail equation, then this is simply incorrect. Marketing has a cost, and all too often, clients and companies do not include this as part of the CPA equation.
Exception Two: What is a True Conversion?
For this, I have to step out of the B2C/B2B e-commerce world where conversions are tracked and measured online. If that’s all of your clients, then consider yourself fortunate to have that data at your fingertips. If you’re like most of us, you deal in conversions through contact forms, sign-ups, and requests for quote. SEOs and SEMs do and should consider this a legitimate conversion, but to your client it isn’t. Not included in the CPA equation to achieve true ROI from website “conversion”
The conversion for your client is the physical sale/contract farther down the funnel. As SEOs we get clients 80% of the way to a sale; deliver targeted, interested, and consumer-ready leads to their doorstep. All the client has to do is knock that last 20% out of the park. Nonetheless, that last 20% isn’t even revenue yet. It’s still accumulating costs until it closes the full 100%.
Exception Three: Corporate Sales Channel Organization
This is beyond your control. I understand that and deal with it daily; I feel your pain. And yet, most companies sales channels are an absolute mess. Most have no idea what’s up or down, if it’s this or that. Here’s the problem: without accurately tracking the leads life-cycle, the client honing their own sales channel into an efficient machine, there is no possibility of true ROI to ever be attained. And, if you’re honest with yourself a moment, you know that your clients aren’t the only ones that suffer from this. Your company does too.
Exception Four: Market Fickleness
Even though Hugo was taking an entire year’s worth of data, accounting for seasonality, it does not account for market fickleness. 2008 being a perfect example. Taking all of 2007’s data would have produced a number that would have been unachievable in 2008 and subsequent two years due to a complete global economic meltdown. In this case, how does the pay-per-performance model shield the client?
Why Most Still Use Hours/Deliverables Method
If nothing else, the three exceptions above should sufficiently cover why many might still want to use the “traditional” method for SEO pricing. Let’s be honest, many SEOs are either clueless about different pricing models, or simply follow steadfast tradition because “that’s the way it’s always been done”.
Hugo did bring up a very good point that by using pay-per-performance model (of sorts), you can actively price-out and have to turn away potential clients. Additionally, using the per-per-performance model, seems to be geared to fairness and reward for both participants, but one must remember the consumers and markets are volatile and never a “sure thing”.
With a hours/deliverables model, there is a very likely possibility someone (you or the client) will get the sharp end of the stick. Either it takes you more hours than estimated to deliver what was promised (LOSS | Client: Gain) or it takes you less time to accomplish the work (GAIN | Client: Loss). Nonetheless, pricing out a client still has roughly chance depending on hourly service rates. Secondly, hours/deliverables model is rarely affected by market/consumers, only in the most dire of times. And, even then, corporations believe that search marketing is a right bit cheaper than a traditional campaign.
Finally, clients are accustomed to a hours/deliverables method. New systems are puzzling and raise suspicion, even properly demonstrated and explained. You have to earn trust right from the get-go.
SEO-ROI 100: Remedial Course in Measuring SEO-ROI
Last week two great articles were posted that, at their core, really want to discuss the issue of exactly how to measure and how to prove your SEO efforts are actually providing an ROI.
Link Economics 101 by Stephen Spencer and The Business of SEO by Todd Friesen (a.k.a. Oilman) both talk about externalities involved in SEO business management, but the heart of both these articles is really about how to demonstrate the value, and subsequently the return on investment, you bring to the table with the professional SEO services you provide. (You should probably read these articles before moving ahead)
Stephen’s article focuses on the off-site aspect of SEO, link building, and trying to capture a solid way to measure those efforts toward the client’s ROI. While Todd’s article focuses much more heavily on justifying the cost of a professional’s SEO program.
Everyone Just Take A Deep Breath and Move One Step Back
Both articles need to take a step back and think about the root cause: ROI. It’s the “What am I getting out of this” syndrome. And it’s a fair question, in which measurement certainly plays a major role. And the bottom line you get out of both of these articles is old SEO defense of, “we just know, ok?”.
Pinpointing ROI at an advanced level would be great if it could actually be done, especially in Link Economics. Which is why I think it it was time for a remedial course in demonstrating SEO-ROI. There are still plenty of ways to show your work is providing more profit now (with SEO and SEM strategy implemented) than it would have otherwise. Think of it like this:
We find/acquire several high-powered links (under the assumption that you have a solid linking campaign already), but those services we provided weren’t cheap. Client X wants to know how that money is going to turn into increased profit, and to Stephen’s point, it’s almost impossible to tell you, Client X. Not unless you are expecting referrer traffic from the link, in which case, we’ll have metrics.
Honestly, how do you think ad agencies get away with charging ridiculous amounts? There’s no possible way they can link/measure the success of a spot that airs at a specific time, on a specific channel, directly to sales. That just can’t be done. But they do use tons of extraneous data and extrapolate the value to the brand and the bottom line the ads they created generated. And that’s exactly what search marketers need to do.
Every Time a Butterfly Flaps It’s Wings, An SEO…
It’s really chaos theory at it’s finest (a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Nicaragua = a man buys a lotto ticket at an out-of-the-way gas station and hits it big).
Example: The Miller Light plant has had a slight machinery malfunction that causes 10,000 less cases to be shipped out. No one except Big Brass and floor employees know this.
Let’s say you provide SEO services to Budweiser. You’ve implemented an on-site change (let’s assume you tweaked a title tag and found a one incredible link, willing to provide you with highly targeted text). Two weeks later you see a spike in site traffic and conversions, in conjunction with sales of Bud and it’s counterparts increasing 20%.
You could claim that this was all because of your onsite tweak, but it really has to do with the Miller plant shipping out 10,000 less cases. Miller ran out much quicker, and, therefore, people bought more Bud. It’s nearly an identical situation with search engines. It could be something that has been implemented months ago just now taking effect that has either pushed or plummeted search traffic and conversions.
Get Back To Basics: Extrapolate and Make Connections
An SEO can still demonstrate value and ROI, and more than just by claiming we “hit the machine in the right spot”. How you ask? Simple. Show the numbers. Ladies and Gents, that’s what they are there for. Analytics are not only a tool for mining great data to optimize sites with, they’re your best friend when having to demonstrate to a client your value.
In a time-starved world, I know it’s pain in the ass to spend an extra hour/two hours building up data reports that proves you’ve been adding to the bottom line. The key is to relate everything back to conversions. Using keyword data, to show clients the increased traffic and conversions on those words. Using geographical data in relation to keywords and conversions in order to create new, more effective strategies for certain geographical segments. Just stay away from SERP positions. They’re crap. They fluctuate incessantly; they’re whimsical. Once you get locked into that bit with your clients, you’re toast. Focus on conversion/lead/sales generation. That’s your home.
There are customized reports with analytics, so use them. You can build out any number of reports pulling lots of disparate information together. It’s a temporal exercise, people. You have to be able to think and strategize not only on the clients behalf, but yours too. But ethically. If you drown and rinse your numbers for a cleaner view, someone is going to know. I’m not suggesting that you come in with junk-numbers and no reasons. There’s always a reason and that’s what they pay you for. Find and rectify it.
Get Your SEO-ROI Proof-Positive
SEOs, in my opinion, need to get back to the basics of ROI proof-positive. It’s somewhere between Stephen and Todd. Just as with ad agencies, it’s not possible to show causality on every front and for every tactic, but there is plenty that can be shown with a little elbow grease, and you can justify cost through these data by extrapolating and making connections.