Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Search Engine Marketing: How to Use SEM Research

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P.J. Fusco
How to Use SEM Research
› › ›   Search Engine Marketing

BY P.J. Fusco
August 31, 2005

An organic SEM (define) strategy starts with research. Nearly everyone in the SEM industry prepares a detailed study of a site's performance, being careful to assess search engine positioning. Countless additional industry-specific factors are taken into account. And before you know it, you can find yourself drowning in a sea of irrelevant data.

Initial SEM research is a relatively routine process, though collected data can resonate from different starting points. Some search marketers begin with a site review focusing on usability. Others prepare a competitive analysis based on keyword research site architecture. An in-house SEM expert can usually save that stuff for a little later.

Fact is, research is only useful if you know how you're going to leverage it. When you're in house, the data you collect and the research you prepare should be directly influenced by business goals and sculpted by intent.

It's a Bind

Make no mistake; competitive research and site analysis are cyclic foundations for building an organic SEM strategy. It's important to understand that determining where you can take a business on the Web depends directly on where the site has been. As a corporate insider, consider preparing an analysis of KPIs (define) as a launch point for each site you're assigned to work on.

At minimum, consider preparing two years of data for analysis and review. KPI data almost always includes some element of site visitors, search engine referrals, and several business elements. Each component is measured side by side over time.

Historical KPI data reveals many things, from routine and regular seasonal shifts in business and search engine referral traffic to precisely when a search engine penalty was levied. Concise historical site data also comes in very handy for explaining how organic search initiatives correlate with business goals.

For an e-commerce site, sales revenue or online transactions are obviously business elements worthy of audit. Depending on the organization, lead generation, brand building, or recruitment can be important business goals, too. Access to this information depends on the knowledge management capabilities of the business. Tapping into these details can be challenging for an SEM firm outside the company but relatively easy when you're in house.

Busy executives need proof of concept to allocate business resources toward implementing an organic SEM strategy. Since business performance is readily qualified and quantified, it's important to bind research with pertinent business goals. A well-prepared KPI can make life easier in the boardroom.

Agreeing to Agree

Search engine algorithms are built to deliver relevant results for users. Every business should have a distinctive proposition for selling its goods and services to users. Both entities focus on coupling their value proposition with clients and consumers. Successful organic SEO (define) strategies form an agreement between uniqueness and relevancy to deliver exceptional results.

Typically, a chasm exists between what executives and brand managers think their sites are found for and which keywords people actually use in search queries to get to the site. Bridging this gap is paramount to the success of an organic search strategy. Again, research provides the evidence needed to initiate a needed shift in sales and marketing mindsets.

For search marketers, it's relatively easy to report "these are the words we must use" if the business wants the search engines to find its site relevant for particular search phrases. Quantitative research readily makes a case for keyword selection. But getting brand managers, copywriters, PR staff, and designers to embrace the words and phrases is no small task.

The keyword portion of SEO is often viewed as gobbledygook by the very people who must buy into the concept. I once worked with a PR director who referred to SEO as an abbreviation for "stupid English overuse." Though factual research is essential to getting company executives to embrace an organic optimization, empowerment is the key to getting wordsmiths and designers to embrace using keywords in copy and anchor text.

It's not enough to hand over a list of keywords and phrases to these people and expect them to use the words in a topically efficient manner. Help them change their ways. It's far more efficient to share keyword research tools and techniques with the people who craft and link the words. It's your job to guide them through the process of selecting the words to reach the right conclusions and produce the desired results.

Simultaneous actions of separate parties combine to produce a greater total effect than the sum of individual efforts. Synergy can be achieved on an ongoing basis as a result of keyword research. Distributing the keyword research process is a highly effective way to foster agreement between different business divisions and to keep an SEM strategy on track.

Better Is Best

Successful organic optimization isn't always about driving more search engine referrals to a specific site. Like paid-for-performance campaigns, it's about generating better qualified search results that directly affect business goals. That's where the real magic happens and where solid research is critical to building successful organic optimization -- provided you know how to use it.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.