Reconcile Rising SEO Costs With ROI

Search engine pay-per-click (PPC) ad prices are rising. If your Web business relies heavily on search engine marketing (SEM), you may already feel the crunch.

Marketers often abandon certain search terms because the cost rises above their ability to achieve a reasonable return on investment (ROI). In-demand terms are often too expensive to be worthwhile. Soon, demand will place many keywords out of reach of everyone excepting those with the deepest pockets.

What about organic SEO (define)? This week, a few tips regarding ever-important SEO, its relationship to conversion rates and ROI, and shopping for an SEO firm.

PPC Inflation Is Real

The Keyword Price Index is published monthly by leading search engine marketer Fathom Online. The October index shows an overall 14 percent increase in keyword price, from September’s average of $1.37 per keyword to $1.55 in October. According to the index, October was much more costly than September. Average keyword prices for consumer services (e.g., entertainment and spas) rose from $0.54 to $0.96 (78 percent). Retailers saw higher prices, too, from $0.32 to $0.48 (52 percent).

Some verticals saw prices drop. In the automotive industry, the average price went from $1.43 to $1.39, a 10 percent decrease. Telecom/broadband keywords fell from $1.89 to $1.78 (5 percent).

Organic Search Costs Also Inflate

Organic optimization costs are also rising. Sometimes, the price is just too high to pay.

Sports coaches use certain metrics to monitor how a team is performing. In basketball, one measure is the number of rebounds a team pulls down in the course of a game. In football, it’s possession time. In SEO, it’s a given keyword’s or keyword phrase’s listing position.

Yet a number-one position within the major search engines doesn’t necessarily mean you’re winning the game.

A highly optimized page like this one is so incoherent, its ability to convert or persuade is “optimized out.” It’s optimized for search engine spiders, not humans. That would be great… if we could convert robots!

Optimization efforts such as these inflate keyword cost in terms of what you pay an SEM firm, as well as effort versus return. It’s gotten to the point where winning a prime position in search engine listings can actually damages sales.

Highly technical SEO work should always balance visitor and business goals. Never abandon those goals in the name of search engine position.

Blogger Anil Dash recently proved “a page that’s read by people instead of robots is going to do better.” Dash should know; he recently won an international search engine placement contest with one measly post. No metatags. No worries about keyword density. No optimization.

Beware of SEO efforts that force you to abandon common sense in the name of position.

Search Engine Marketers Aren’t Miracle Workers

Beware the SEO firm that offers miracles.

It’s practically impossible for even the most gifted SEO specialist to optimize a page to top ranking on popular search terms. The reality is top-ranking pages for certain popular and seemingly lucrative terms are dug in and will remain dug in short of total search engine algorithm overhauls. Research indicates broad and popular terms are simply out of the average site’s reach.

According to search engine guru Mike Grehan, higher ranking sites and their rich collection of incoming links only stand to get richer from a link perspective:

It’s what[‘s] known as clustering. We tend not so much to have friends as we do groups of friends, based on shared interests, experience and location, all of which overlap with other groups. And this is an almost universal feature, not just in social networks, but of networks in general.

Entering a search term and clicking on a high-ranked page perpetuates this by effectively increasing the clustering effect.

Search Engine Promises Too Good to Be True

SEO firms should be completely honest with you about the prospect of keywords you wish to dominate. They can’t always get your site in the top 10, especially if the keyword’s a popular one.

Optimizing for less popular or more complex search terms may yield more conversions and ultimately, a great ROI. But don’t employ a firm that only optimizes for more complex terms.

Traffic Vs. Sales

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Selling yourself on the idea that more traffic will solve your problems, or letting someone else sell you that idea, is selling yourself short. Improve your customer conversion rate and you’ll enjoy more sales and more profits from whatever traffic you get.

Let me know if you agree.

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