SMX Sydney – the balance between SEO & SEM


A few words about the relative balance between SEO and SEM prompted by discussions at SMX Sydney.

There were two streams on the first day; SEO (Search Engine Optimisation; improving your site’s position in search engines) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing; pay per click ads on web sites and search engine results pages. Google’s AdWords is the leading example).

Gillian Muessig, the President of SEOmoz (gee she was good), cited research showing that 10 – 15% of clicks are generated by Search Engine Marketing ads but many companies spend all their search budget on it. In the majority of cases, companies are underspending on search engine optimisation.

Warren Dobe from the NAB delivered a powerful case study on the value of SEO. The NAB’s 12 month long SEO project has added 2 – 3 million visits per month to their traffic. Just good SEO strategy, properly implemented.

Brent Payne from BaldSEO (yeah, he’s bald; great piece of personal branding) talked about his involvement in doubling the traffic to Tribune newspapers two years running by the application of good SEO principals. The Tribune Company is America’s second largest newspaper group so we’re talking tens of millions of new visits every month and serious competitive advantage. BTW, Brent; here’s how to disable the history on your location bar so that your previous web site visits are not visible to the whole audience.

Moving right along; the keys to success were clearly described:

(1) Get buy-in from top-level executives and (2) Train the clients’ content creators and executives in SEO-friendly business practices. In Brent’s case, this involved telling newspaper editors that they could not do what they wanted if it contravened the SEO strategy they’d agreed to.

So given these successes, why are businesses loath to spend on SEO and happy to spend on SEM?

Well SEM spending, through AdWords say, is easily tracked and has an immediate effect. People click or they don’t. Your reports (brilliantly detailed reports) tell you which of your ads are sending what percentage of clients to the particular pages you specify. Businesses love that sh*t.

And then there’s SEO. Often needs changes in site structure so involves (shudder) the IT department. Might require changes to your Content Management System. Involves link-building which is time-intensive. Has a level of risk attached, since a wrong move could get your site penalised in the rankings. And, there be monsters; how do you separate the shysters from the reputable practitioners? Finally, it doesn’t work by itself. It’s going to require behavioural change and it’s going to involve content. Harsh.

But the pay-offs are substantial. Rule of thumb? I heard more than one person at SMX say 20% of your search budget should be SEO. It kind of depends where you are in the cycle; it should be more than 20% initially, but if you’re currently blowing everything on Google AdWords, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

Oh! Thanks to Stephan Spencer for the recommendation; I read and enjoyed Influence by Robert Cialdini.


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