Since 1995, I’ve noticed a steady increase in the demand for legitimate search engine optimization (SEO) services. The trend has picked up over this past year as more and more clients want to buy traffic in volume as if it were a commodity like banner impressions.
Many interactive agencies are now offering search engine optimization services, relying on third-party vendors. And rightly so, because search engine optimization is cost- effective for the online business professional and can be successfully combined with other marketing techniques to optimize overall results.
For instance, before deciding on a keyword banner buy, a site can be optimized to take advantage of available keyword search result listings. Search engine specialists can create or modify pages that contain specific phrases and/or information relevant to possible search terms that users will likely use. Search engine optimization can be combined with a banner ad campaign, optimizing web pages based on banner copy and then purchasing keyword banners as well.
Leading online advertising technology and service companies have recently embraced search engine optimization. Many use third-party vendors to provide clients with SEO traffic. I had the opportunity to speak with Cliff Hawk, product manager at Avenue A. His biggest complaint: “We just can’t get enough search engine traffic from vendors.”
A few third-party firms can now accurately track SEO services to a specific ROI and compare the results against banner advertising, opt-in email, and other media. Cliff says the traffic he provides to clients is “very good, and in-depth tests with more than 20 clients have shown, on average, an excellent ROI for SEO services.” However, the measurable traffic from SEO is minute when compared with deliverable banner ad impressions.
We in the industry have always recognized the high quality of search engine traffic, but it’s questionable in my mind whether technicians can deliver huge volumes of high-quality traffic without resorting to questionable techniques.
There are problems with attempting to create huge volumes of search engine traffic via positioning. First, it’s important to respect the engines. They do not condone all SEO techniques. Basically, there’s no benefit to the search engines for allowing SEO technicians to influence their databases and results pages.
In fact, many search engines have written policies and guidelines to mitigate a good portion of the SEO work being performed today. SEO has been operating in a quasi-stealth mode for years, and it’s only recently that firms have been careful to distance themselves from questionable positioning techniques.
All this hasn’t put a damper on client demand. Big clients with hefty ad budgets are requesting good positioning for their search engine listings. Most engines remain adamant about maintaining unbiased results and not playing favorites. Their databases and algorithms for finding relevant data are not to be used for marketing benefit.
Every wingnut with a laptop, a bank of IP addresses, and a couple hundred bucks for software has become an SEO analyst for hire. Most businesses can filter the scams, but many fall victim to SEO operators using dubious techniques.
The interest of interactive agencies in SEO services may have a good influence on the industry. To quote Cliff Hawk, “Avenue A is one of the largest purchasers of banner advertising space on the major search engines and portals. We certainly don’t want to damage these relationships and have gone to great lengths to only optimize web pages on highly relevant words and phrases for specific clients and to conduct in-depth due diligence to contract with SEO vendors who follow search engine rules and regulations. There are a lot of great SEO companies out there and a lot of bad ones so due diligence in searching for these companies pays off.”
However, I would caution against trying to sell SEO traffic in numerical quantities like banner ads (CPC). Search engine traffic and banner ad traffic can be compared cost-wise, but they are two different animals when it comes to the available volume. Search engines will never open the floodgates to payola favorites. It’s just unethical.
Second, if clients currently “cannot get enough search engine traffic” despite the fact that many SEO vendors are still employing stealth techniques, what makes us think there is any possibility of generating huge volumes of SEO traffic? It is clearly a precious, renewable commodity that’s difficult to harvest when in compliance with search engine rules.
I’m betting that in the long term, interactive and traditional agencies will take a responsible leadership role in representing SEO traffic as high quality and not just another inexpensive CPC option. SEO can definitely compete with banner ad price points in the $10 to $60 CPM area, and you’ll see more and more agencies hiring authentic third-party SEO vendors.
It’s fair to say that the engines want to work with SEO technicians. Hopefully, we’ll see less stealth and more cooperation on the horizon among agencies, clients, SEO technicians, and the engines.