Search Engine Optimization/Search Engine Marketing
Back in the ‘90s, when I was editor of Target Marketing, this strange thing called the Internet turned up on my radar screen. I did not understand it. In fact, nobody understood it.
For one thing, with the dial-up modem, downloading was s-l-o-w.
Investors fell in love with it and pumped billions of dollars into startup companies that promised to capture millions of “eyeballs,” and a large percentage of those eyeballs would turn into paying customers or cause advertisers to spend money.
“The only bank that takes eyeballs,” Bill Bonner, brilliant founder and proprietor of the sprawling Agora Publishing empire, told me, “is the eye bank.”
I will never forget a surreal client meeting I once had.
Two Days of Cockamamy Ideas
A direct marketing client summoned me to its office for a brainstorming session on how to cash in on the huge money being poured into Internet startups by investors.
The two days of sessions were free-flowing and a lot of fun. We came up with a host of screwball business models that would capture eyeballs, which in turn would capture the interest of investors. But being schooled in direct marketing—which is accountable down to a gnat’s eyebrow in terms of revenue, costs and return on investment—I kept dumping ice water on the proceedings. “How will we get paid?” I kept asking.
“Do not think about revenue,” said the CEO. “Think about eyeballs! That’s what investors are interested in.”
The meeting broke up, and shortly thereafter the dot-com bubble burst. The dot-commers had burned through billions of dollars while the market went up, up, up. Then one day we all woke up and trillions of dollars vanished.
As a consultant, I felt good that I had helped keep these nice folks out of investing in an Internet business when none of us understood it.
At that point, my entire opinion was that the Internet—and everyone who invested in it—was nuts.
It’s Not Nuts Now—by a Long Shot
I remember in the 1990s, Seattle direct marketing guru Bob Hacker said that the Internet was like 2,000 public libraries and no Dewey Decimal System.
Enter Google, one of the miracles of our time. It became the Dewey Decimal System that allows all of us to find precisely what we are looking for across 156 million Web sites (and counting) in a fraction of a second.
Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Network Solutions—the company that has registered my various Web sites—announcing a search engine marketing seminar in downtown Philly at $90 for a half day.
My archive of news stories and features has a fair amount of material on how to make money on the Internet—specifically paid content and free, advertising-driven content. The hole in both my knowledge and archive was the area of search engine marketing/search engine optimization. I signed up and showed up at the DoubleTree at the appointed hour, where tables were set for 56 attendees. Maybe 30 people were in the audience. I found an outlet and plugged in my laptop.
The presenter was Harry Brooks—tall, balding, somewhere in his 40s and one of the smartest, most glib guys I have ever heard. He knew the business of search engine marketing from bottom to top, explained it very, very well, and fielded a slew of complex questions with ease. Network Solutions is extremely lucky to have him.
But a Funny Thing Happened ...
I can operate a QWERTY keyboard at 70 wpm, am pretty good a searching the Internet for arcane information, and am savvy about the principles of direct marketing, having written three books on the subject. I think of myself as a very good general practitioner. And like GPs in the medical field, if a client needs help in a specific area—production, database, and CHAID or list maintenance, for example—I will supply four or five names of highly reputable people. Regardless of who is chosen, I do not take referral fees. I am not in the business of being an agent.
So when I started taking notes at this SEM conference, my fingers flew over my laptop keys, having no idea what I would end up with. The overall impression: Harry Brooks and the new generation of Internet marketers are brilliant and absolutely fixated on ROI. He probably used the term ROI 50 times in the course of the three-hour presentation.
I sat through technical descriptions and formulae of converting keywords, Keyword Effectiveness Indicator (KEI), keyword phrase distribution, how search engines and spiders work, and the answer to “The (Literally) Million Dollar Question”:
“How do I get listed in the top 10 on Google?”
At the same time, certain amid this blizzard of dizzying high-tech talk, a number of old-fashioned phrases popped out of my notes from Direct Marketing 101—commonsense stuff I have known and written about for years. For example, Brooks did a 10-minute riff on how to do an A/B split, and the audience sat wide-eyed in rapt silence.
* Does Google focus on relevancy or increasing ad revenue? If it focused on ad revenue, paid ads would be all over the place, causing such a miserable search experience that the user would go away, never to return. Instead, Google concentrates on making searches a sheer delight, bringing people back and back and back, which in turn generates more ad revenue. The direct marketing analogy: Make it as easy as possible to order.
* You must talk to the right people. Understand whom you are talking to.
* Arithmetic is everything. Set revenue goals. Know the average value of a customer over a 12-month period. Divide the average customer value into your revenue goals and you know how many customers you need to meet the goal. How many inquiries do you need? Brooks maintains that online conversions typically range from 1% to 3%. (Average is 1% to 1-1/2%. Good is 2% to 4%.)
* “People don’t watch TV ads any more,” said Brooks. They use TiVo or the remote control to bypass commercials. Same thing with print. He cited how a Washington, D.C., skin care spa regularly spent $495 on small print ads and acquired new customers for $111 each. Brooks’ applied Internet marketing techniques brought this down to $11 cost per acquisition.
* 83% of all companies do not have articulated Web strategies.
* For search engine optimization, think of the Yellow Pages model. Brooks called the Yellow Pages “the most successful marketing medium in the history of mercantilism.” The reason: They are category-organized and contain competitive information for consumers and businesses. When people look in the Yellow Pages for a product or service, they are very far along in the buying cycle, so conversion rates are huge. Example: It’s 100 degrees outside, your 80-year-old in-laws are down for the weekend and your central air conditioner is blowing hot air into the house. In the Yellow Pages you find a heating-air conditioning guy who will come over in 20 minutes, and you buy on the spot. Conversion is instantaneous. Translating this simple concept into search engine marketing—using hot-button keywords and having your company come up in the top 10 Google listings—is the name of the game and a highly complex task.
* It takes a minimum of three to six months, very hard work and many hours to get ranked.
* It’s imperative to understand how spiders work. Spiders are programs that crawl all over the Web, automatically sucking up stories and URLs and adding them to the giant, ever-expanding encyclopedia of Internet content. Ranking criteria: relevancy, freshness of content and unique value. If spiders detect one or more of these, they will be back every three days. If nothing new shows up for a while, they come back every 10 days. If still nothing new, they don’t come back at all. Spiders recognize words—ideally profitable keywords—not images. Flash is death on a landing page; if it takes eight seconds to load, forget it. For spiders to return, it is imperative to create keyword-focused content—pages with 250 words of copy. That means you should create at least one press release a quarter and ideally one a month. Write a blog. Become a member of a forum or community that gets readers back to your site. (But avoid overt contextual plugs.) If you can get people to mention your site and include a hyperlink, that is an implied testimonial. Spiders like that lots.
* Analyze everything. Use Google Analytics for two reasons, said Harry Brooks: (1) It’s free and (2) $50,000 analytic packages cannot touch Google Analytics.
* Search engine optimization is constantly changing. If you want to have a meaningful presence on the Web, it’s not a part-time job. Well-meaning amateurs need not apply.
Update on a Prior Story
The headline this past Feb. 7 was: “SHOULD CONGRESS SHUT DOWN EBAY? Is this auction site the world’s biggest criminal conspiracy?” I did one of my rants at the outrageousness of eBay allowing millions of dollars worth of stolen and counterfeit goods to be foisted off on unsuspecting buyers.
Last week, a French court ordered eBay to pay €36.8 million ($61 million) to LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Dior Couture, Givenchy and Kenzo) for permitting the sale of fake luxury goods. eBay appealed. You can check out the story at: http://tinyurl.com/5agjjt .