It's no longer about who's site is better optimized. It's about who markets best.
I seem to have opened another can of worms before the holidays, judging from the reaction to my post on the Search Engine Watch Forums. I tried to rationalize it on my blog, but my point seems largely to have been missed (or ignored).
Yes, it's the sandbox issue again.
It's frightening that throughout the entire forum thread, posters relate the sandbox to some technical issues that need attention. The general theory is Google unfairly punishes new sites for months just because they're new. Barely a thought is given to whether an integrated marketing communications strategy has been implemented. It's as though some people believe SEM (define) exists in a vacuum.
Even my buddy Jill Whalen, a noted expert in the field, insists it takes about nine months to get a new site launched and into the Google charts. This is a sweeping statement. It's not true that all new domains are ignored for such a period. Many companies frequently launch new sites tied to tactical promotions offline, and they rank beautifully.
I even give an example of a fan site for the winner of a U.K. reality TV show. The domain was registered at the end of October, hit the top 10 in November, and has stayed there on a search for the winner's name since.
One poster reacts to that example with: "Ah, the BUZZ factor. Significant buzz creates significantly heavy traffic (usage statistics), isn't that the case?"
This is where I give up. The answer was intended to be a derogatory dismissal, and yet it hits the nail right on the head. Marketing equals buzz, which equals awareness, which leads to consumer demand.
It just defies reason to imagine Google doesn't want to provide fresh, relevant material to its end users. Do end users not want choice? Do they not want a variety of old, trusted favorites combined with new products, services, and information? Has Google really discovered its end users only prefer nine-month-old sites?
A few months ago, the TV show winner was a no one. A search for his name prior to the TV show probably would've turned up nothing. But once he gained some popularity with the TV audience, people turned to search engines for more information.
If a search engine can detect a stream of queries, that is, a demand, where the keywords don't return enough relevant material in the tiered index, be certain it'll fill the area. Because if end users don't find the info there, they'll go somewhere else for it. They won't wait nine months for Google to serve it up.
Search engines now have a lot more information to go on than just keywords and linkage data. Predictive caching and prefetched queries to suit certain days of the week or times of the day based on URL access patterns are incorporated. Topic dynamics and general user profile information based on explicit, specified of interests are taken into consideration. A myriad of end user data comes into play now.
Here's a marketing channel selection analogy. New entrants can use a push strategy, a pull strategy, or, given the resources, the classic push-and-pull strategy. A push strategy tries to induce intermediaries to carry, promote, and sell your products to end users. End users have to find your products on the shelf to gain awareness of them. A pull strategy uses advertising and promotion to induce customers to ask for the product, thus inducing the intermediaries to order it.
It's rather like old-style SEO (define) versus marketing-led SEO. Old-style SEO was about using certain technology tricks to push a client's Web site into the charts. But that doesn't work anymore like it used to. However, by using integrated marketing techniques to create awareness, build your brand, and create end-user demand, you can pull your clients into the search engine charts.
Trying to push a client with a tiny marketing budget, compared to its competitors in a saturated market, is always going to be an uphill struggle. Something like more than 80 percent of all new consumer products in the U.S. fail. With that many failures in the offline marketing world, you can imagine we'd see similar results at a search engine, too.
The mere thought of some pimply SEO geek sitting with a proper marketing organization trying to explain to the marketing VP what a sandbox is, is almost laughable, if it weren't so serious. There are dozens of reasons companies fail offline. And, believe me, the same applies online.
Do a marketing audit before you take on a client and get a better understanding of what you're really up against. If the client offers you a paltry $50,000 to do some SEM work in a marketplace where competitors usually spend millions on TV, radio, press, and integrated online advertising, you may want to think twice.
We've long been asking larger companies to make SEM a budget line item. Now they're rapidly adopting that. It's no longer about whose site is better optimized. It's about who markets best.
My own company, one of the largest in the sector, has learned many hard lessons in the push SEO arena. So this year we have a brand-new name (as of today) to reflect our new focus. We also have an entirely new approach as an interactive agency providing integrated online marketing communications strategy and services.
Is there a sandbox? Or are we an industry sector unable to operate at the same level of sophistication as the medium we promote?
The end user is in control at search engines. Not search optimizers.
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Mike Grehan is currently chief marketing officer and managing director at Acronym, where he is responsible for directing thought leadership programs and cross-platform marketing initiatives, as well as developing new, innovative content marketing campaigns.
Prior to joining Acronym, Grehan was group publishing director at Incisive Media, publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ, and producer of the SES international conference series. Previously, he worked as a search marketing consultant with a number of international agencies handling global clients such as SAP and Motorola. Recognized as a leading search marketing expert, Grehan came online in 1995 and is the author of numerous books and white papers on the subject and is currently in the process of writing his new book From Search to Social: Marketing to the Connected Consumer to be published by Wiley later in 2014.
In March 2010 he was elected to SEMPO's board of directors and after a year as vice president he then served two years as president and is now the current chairman.
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