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BACK TO BASICS: Yes, Virginia, Search Engine Optimization Is Worth the Investment

by Robert Esparza, June 15, 2007

Search engine optimization has a simple goal: make your Web site more accessible to both the search engines and your users so that expert content is easily found. It can help you to meet various online marketing objectives such as generating sales and leads, collecting newsletter subscriptions and site registrations, or simply building brand awareness.

Not surprisingly, SEMPO reports that nearly 75 percent of marketers are utilizing search engine optimization tactics to prove Web site visibility. And yet, as powerful as organic search engine optimization is, pay per click advertising seems to be the dominant search strategy, accounting for 42 percent of the online marketing ad spend. This may be because marketers like instant listings, and PPC campaigns are less complex to set up than SEO, which requires intensive site analysis and later implementation of site changes. PPC may give you instant gratification, but in the long term, an optimized site will deliver higher volumes of visitors at a lower cost-per-click.

While pay per click is an effective search marketing strategy, we can cite numerous reasons for investing in search engine optimization. In fact, we believe that a well balanced search marketing strategy includes both SEO and PPC. Below are a few cogent reasons for investing in SEO.

  1. Achieving Your Business Goals
  2. Every business needs customers, sales, and leads to survive. The Internet is a global marketplace; consumers are buying more on the Web than ever before as they realize how much easier and more convenient it is to shop from home rather than fight traffic on the road.

    In retail alone, online apparel sales have surpassed computer hardware and software sales for the first time, and it is predicted that 10 percent of all apparel merchandise will be purchased online in 2007. Yes, consumers have lost the fear of online shopping. The increased popularity of search to find online stores and products means that search engines have become what Danny Sullivan called the "third browser" for navigating the Web. Over half of U.S. Internet users search at least once a day, performing an average of 6.5 billion search queries per month. Wouldn't you like those users to find you in the organic SERPs among the PPC listings?

  3. Creating Brand Awareness
  4. Branding, along with sales and generating leads, is among the top business goals for American companies. When users navigate the Web, at least 25 percent of all search queries contain branded terms like product names and company names. Users will search by brand name alone or use the brand along with other generic keywords. You don't want to pay to be found for your brand or product names. And with a solid search engine optimization campaign, you don't have to.

    When consumers add your brand to generic searches, this is also an indicator of purchase intent. Top organic rankings can prevent your competitors from ranking higher for your brand and product terms. Searchers are also apt to trust your brand more when it shows up in the organic listings for their query because they know natural rankings must be earned.

  5. Beating the High Cost of PPC
  6. Today, there is greater competition than ever before in keyword pricing. In some sectors high click costs have priced some companies out of the market. MarketingSherpa's Search Marketing 2007 Benchmark Guide shows the rise of click costs on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for 2004 through 2006. Back in 2004, you could buy clicks for an average CPC of $1.29 on Google and $1.03 on Yahoo. Fast forward to 2006, and the averages CPCs were: Google $1.96; Yahoo $1.53; Microsoft $1.52. This makes SEO a better bargain than ever, especially over the long term.

  7. Capturing Organic Prospects
  8. We touched on the user bias toward organic links before. Some of the stats reported say that 60.8 percent of Yahoo users click organic links, as do 72.3 percent of Google users. Supposedly, these numbers increase when you have more experienced users. Therefore, marketers who concentrate on PPC alone limit themselves in click-throughs and conversions.

  9. Gaining Higher Customer Satisfaction
  10. An optimized site delivers a better user experience than an un-optimized site. Search engine optimization should go hand in hand with usability. When your site is analyzed for its faults and virtues with regard to search engine rankings, you normally end up with an idea about how to better address your users. Optimized Web sites tend to excel in areas such as content, navigation, site search, etc., because you've improved usability and your fulfillment paths. Thus, visitors will find your site easy to use and will likely buy more and come back often. Customer satisfaction always results in repeat business.

  11. Lowering Customer Acquisition Costs
  12. Search gives you lower customer acquisition costs compared to other online and traditional marketing channels. Organic results are often regarded as 'free' results which isn't far from the truth. A solid SEO campaign can reduce your costs tremendously. This was demonstrated in a report published by Piper Jaffray, which shows that search provides an approximate customer acquisition cost of $8.50, which compares very favorably against Yellow Pages ($20), Online Display Ads ($50), Email ($60), and Direct Mail ($70).

  13. Getting a Higher Return on Investment (ROI)
  14. When it comes to ROI, organic links outperform PPC. 69 percent of the SEMPO survey respondents indicated SEO gets the best ROI. In second place was in-house email marketing (56 percent), and paid search came in third with 53 percent of respondents claiming PPC gets the best ROI.

Yes, Virginia, based on all the rationale mentioned above, it certainly looks like search engine optimization is worth the investment. Don't let your site navigate the SERPs without it.

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