SEM New Year’s Resolutions

In the new year, I hope search engine marketers will turn over a new leaf. Below, my personal, and professional, New Year’s resolutions for the search engine marketing (SEM) industry.

Resolution 1: I will stop focusing on positioning as an SEO benchmark.

For a Web site to be successful, it must strike a balance between user and business goals. If there’s too much focus on business goals, a Web site is nothing more than a giant ad. The site communicates, “Look how wonderful we are,” instead of, “Look how our products/services can benefit you.” A site may get search engine visibility but no conversions. End result? Business goals aren’t met.

On the other hand, if there’s too much focus on user goals, a site might not be profitable enough to maintain. Therefore, balancing business and user goals is crucial to success.

How does Web positioning figure into this equation? It doesn’t. A top (natural) search engine position isn’t a final goal in and of itself. The final goal is converting qualified visitors into buyers. Web-positioning reports won’t provide conversion data nor information you can use to improve your site.

Overzealously focusing on maintaining top 10 positions is, unfortunately, still an SEO (define) obsession. Online marketers should instead spend more time and money on visitor behavior through site analytics, (site) search analytics, and search engine advertising analytics.

Resolution 2: I will use the most appropriate search terminology to describe my services and processes.

I’m sure I’m in the minority with this resolution, because too many ad agencies and interactive design firms profit from using inappropriate search terminology.

If an agency primarily specializes in AdWords, Overture, or any other form of search engine advertising, it’s a search engine advertising firm, not a search engine marketing firm. Likewise, if a firm primarily specializes in SEO, then it’s an SEO firm, not an SEM firm.

An SEM firm delivers a wide variety of SEM services, including:

  • Search engine advertising (sponsorships, etc.)

  • SEO
  • Search engine paid inclusion
  • Directory paid inclusion
  • Trusted feed optimization
  • Link development
  • Vertical SEO

For more details on the types of SEM, please read “What Search Engine Marketing Does Your Site Need?

Over the past 18 months, SEO has been relegated to a secondary or nonexistent service at many interactive agencies. That’s a shame. SEO existed long before Overture did, and it’s still a very effective way to maintain long-term, qualified search traffic.

Interestingly, many SEO firms offer search advertising services. Too many agencies outsource SEO because they don’t understand it. So my secondary goal is to help agencies and the public in general understand why search optimization is an important part of the Web development process, which brings me to my next resolution…

Resolution 3: I will integrate search into the Web design, development, and usability processes.

As a Web developer who created search-engine friendly design from the outset, I know how search is integral to the design, development, and usability processes. Keyword research conducted before wireframes are created is crucial to a site’s success.

What words do people respond to in a navigation scheme? Should I use the word “products” or “toys” on a navigation link? Is the word “search” or “find” better in an HTML title tag or heading?

Building a search-friendly Web site helps user goals as well as business goals. That’s why search integration has been part of our Web design process since 1995. My goal is to help usability professionals, Web standards advocates, and designers/developers incorporate search into their design processes.

Resolution 4: I will stop making erroneous cause-and-effect conclusions without testing and verifying.

Search engine mythology continues to thrive. At the last usability conference I attended, I was dumbfounded at the number of Flash designers who still believe meta-tag content is imperative for a top Google position. Many search marketers continually make erroneous cause-and-effect conclusions without thorough testing or verifying their results with the people who count: search engine software engineers.

At the Stockholm Search Engine Strategies conference, one attendee insisted the more often a site is updated, the higher the position his site receives. The claim was a search engine spider will visit a site more frequently if the content is updated frequently because search engines want the most recent, relevant information in their search results. However, modifying your content every day won’t get your sites better search engine positions. Representatives from Google and Ask.com confirmed this.

So go ahead and test, but be objective about the test results. Don’t try to make data fit your beliefs just because you want to justify those beliefs.

Resolution 5: I will stop using Web standards as an excuse for limited design skills.

A qualified search engine optimizer knows how to optimize a variety of site designs, ranging from graphics-intensive sites to text-intensive sites. I find it extremely irritating when any Web developer states, “Change these graphic images into CSS-formatted text to decrease the download time and to rank better in the search engines.”

Why does this irritate me? Sometimes, graphic images are better than CSS-formatted (define) text. People click on graphic images more frequently than on text. Sometimes, end users prefer graphic images over CSS-formatted text. Search marketers, Web standards advocates, and Web developers shouldn’t be making such blanket statements without user testing, focus groups, and site statistics analysis.

For the record, I support Web standards. I always use CSS. I try to minimize download time on both my code and graphic images, though I always test actual against perceived download time. But I understand an effective Web site design is often a balance of graphic images and CSS-formatted text. Developers and Web standards experts must understand this balance as it pertains to search.

The industry isn’t there — yet. I hope to see improvement this year.

Resolution 6: I will follow all the search engines’ guidelines, terms, and conditions.

As a white-hat search marketer, that’s my mantra. Wouldn’t it be nice if companies would create user-friendly, search-friendly, persuasive sites that convert, without resorting to irritating black-hat practices? Search results would be more accurate. Sites would convert better. And end users will be happy.

Search goals, business goals, user goals — all meet on a single Web site. Maybe it’s more a dream than a New Year’s resolution. This year, hopefully, Web site owners will make that dream a reality.

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

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