I’ve recently been hearing that organic search (SEO) has a lower ROI than paid search (SEM). I have a very hard time believing this. I can see SEM having a better conversion rate than SEO, but not a better ROI. Free organic search will ALWAYS have a better ROI than anything you pay for. The problem is that there is a lot of snake oil out there that guarantees top spots for organic rankings, and this is simply misleading, and creating a bad name for upstanding search marketers.
To get good solid organic rankings it means two things really:
- Getting your pages indexed
- Getting legitimate links to your site.
If you’re paying for either of these services then your webmaster and/or marketing team isn’t doing their job correctly. However before we get into the nitty gritty, lets just emphasis one thing, Paid search requires paying for a click even if it’s a trivial amount of money, it’s still money. Organic listings are free and never cost anything. Basic math tells us that the ROI on FREE will always be better than anything that’s paid for. The only thing that could be better is if someone pays you to link to your content.
If YOU Build it, Will they Crawl it?
Getting crawled by the search engines is the first thing to getting indexed. For most cases in North America this will be getting Google, Bing and Yahoo to crawl your site. Each of these services has their own search interface.
It’s worth the 5 minutes it will take to setup an account for each of these sites, and the 1-2 hours a month you’ll spend each month looking at the reports in these sites. I’d suggest focusing on Google as they are responsible for more searches than any other engine out there but the other two search engines should cover off almost 99% of searches done online today.
Once you’ve setup your account you’ll want to setup a sitemap.xml file. Ideally this is something dynamically generated every time you publish a page. Worst case it’s a list of your top and most important pages on your website. This is what search engines use to find your content, even if nobody is linking to you this map is like the skeleton of your site for a search engine and should include your major content and pages to ensure those are indexed at the very least.
If you really want to ensure relevant rankings then your webmaster and web team should be aware of how to sculpt your site ranking. Personally I’m not a big believer in sculpting ranking because what you assume a user is looking for may not always be correct. Instead what you should focus on are your top “introductory” pages of your site. The pages you know are the key entry points from someone surfing the site from your home page. Focus on those pages organically for consistent content quality, page titles, descriptions, etc. Instead of sculpting your page rank what I’d suggest is focusing on making the pages that are the best entry points the best and most welcoming pages possible to a customer. On most sites there is no way you would ever have enough time to optimize every page, instead focus on what you can fix, and ensure that your web developers understand the key organic search “must haves” when developing a page, ingrain that into them. Organic search skills are one skill set that every member of the team should have, and be cognizant of.
Link Me Up!
The second challenge is building links. Well here’s the thing with buying links, bought links may have some value with a search engine they may not. Good solid organic links back to your site from other sites though are invaluable. If you get a link from a legitimate site not only is the search engine seeing this link but further real people who go to that site will see your link and be inclined to click on it. Good clean links bring you not only traffic from the search engines but from third party sites. I’m not going to tell you how to get people to link to your site, that’s up to you to figure out, but what is key is that bought links usually are on sites that people probably don’t frequent too often, so yes it may help your SEO but does it also help you find new customers who surf from site to site?
Developing link building programs may be one of the best things you can do to really get a return on your organic search strategy, and at this point yes you may want to talk to outside parties to help define this, but again you don’t necessarily need an agency to manage your organic search all day everyday like you would with paid search. What they should develop for you is a document or bible for your web developers to follow. It’s up to management to ensure the developers follow and breath by that set of rules. However again if we look at spend to ROI, spend here should be a one time or low cost, because organic search is all about putting your best effort to make clean good content. That is what lasts the longest with the search engines. Sure someone may bounce ahead of you for a month in search terms, but for organic search it’s slow and steady wins the race.
What Else Could We Do?
Once you’ve got the first two things covered organically you will still be able to make modifications to your search strategy. Anyone who tells you meta tags are dead is slightly wrong. Keywords are irrelevant and only helpful as an internal tool to audit and verify if your words targeted exist in the copy of the page, but your title and description tags, well those still help. Think of Google ad words and how different copy can invoke greater click throughs. Now apply that logic to your description, sometimes the search engines will use your description when showing the results. If you can control that description you can make content that is much more enticing to click through to. Advanced techniques like this is where a good organic search company will really shine and help you move the bar. But again, this could just be the job of a very talented copy writer.
As complex and adavanced as search has become it’s still a very simple concept. Index your content and present results to a customer. What you need to figure out is the content on your site something your customer could be looking for? If not why is it there? Most likely people comming to your site don’t even care for that content then. Ask yourself if a customer click through to my site will it be easy for them to use? If the answer is no again what a wasted effort to get that click. What I’m really saying here is stop worrying about cheating the system to get extra clicks, focus on getting your site usable, your content well defined, and when the clicks come the activity will be deeper and richer than if you focused on just driving clicks to the site.