SEOs Going PPC

Many people are coming into the SEM industry sector who believe SEO is up there with rocket science. There are those that believe it’s some kind of dark art. And for others, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Of course, it’s none of those things.

The fact remains that no special background or skills are required to become an SEO. It’s not hard to learn. Anyone can do it. The same could be said about pay-per-click (PPC) as it emerged. After all, it was just an auction. Pick some keywords, throw some cash at it, then go for a beer.

However, as online marketing gains the traction and attention it deserves, a greater understanding of marketing per se is becoming essential in the SEO/SEM field. As MSN rolls out its new AdCenter, complete with the kind of demographic data that makes media types salivate, and Yahoo jumps in with Panama, it’s all about marketing.

Professional marketers have a great understanding of segmenting and targeting. Now that search engines are reaching the stage where they can begin to provide more precise audience intelligence, they’re becoming much more interested in search.

I’ve said many times that I sincerely believe the SEO only shop will become a rapidly diminishing corner of this industry sector. Clients want ROI from optimization efforts, not just rankings.

Last week in London, I presented a training day on behalf of New Media Age with my longtime friend and colleague Barry Lloyd. I did the morning session on SEO, Barry took the afternoon session on PPC.

Barry’s now recognised as a leading authority on the subject of PPC since he switched horses from a one time elegant black-hatter to paid search. He’s developed what he refers to as “Internet Media Management Software,” as opposed to just bid management.

The term he uses is completely justified. His suite of tools goes galaxies beyond simple bid management campaign software. I asked him about the transition from SEO into paid search. “I dabbled with PPC even when we were mainly an SEO shop. It didn’t require an awful lot of skill in the early days. We did keyword research for the SEO clients anyway, so we used that data, targeted by country and set the budgets to keep the client in the top three. End of story,” he told me.

Back in 2001 a lightening bolt thought came to mind. What will happen when search engines are pressed for inventory? There are only 10 spots for say, hotels to bid on. That would increase dramatically if they could target regionally, even down to city.

By this time, he was beginning to believe advances in PPC advertising, such as the introduction of demographics, was going to make SEO all the more difficult. He said, for instance, “We had an SEO customer in the food delivery business. He wanted to be number one at the major search engines for terms such as ‘pizza delivery.’ And this we achieved.” But all was not well with the client.

“Of course, we discovered that most searches for ‘pizza delivery’ came from New York. Just as most searches for ‘Chinese food delivery’ came from Sydney, Australia. We doubted very much that, for a company based in the U.K., those searchers would be happy to wait nine days for a pizza or a Chinese meal delivery!”

Barry agrees that, what I call “textbook SEO”, for mom and pops in particular, simply isn’t working like it used to. He doesn’t believe it’s dead yet, but it hasn’t got long to go as search engines make more use of end user data on the organic side and authority sites rule.

“SEOs are going to have to embrace marketing and make themselves much more aware of paid advertising as it reaches new levels of sophistication,” Barry added.

This is why his suite of software tools includes the ability to track rich media and banner campaigns as well as affiliate marketing and e-mail marketing tracking. You can also add the cost of hosting and even the cost of staff into the software to get a really true ROI picture.

Barry’s software already handles many millions of keywords and many millions of dollars, too. Being compliant with all the major networks, Barry’s very au courrant with what’s happening in the paid search space, and what’s likely to happen in the future.

MSN’s AdCenter is already getting a lot of previews and many in the industry (myself included) are excited about the power of the demographic data. In conventional marketing, above-the-line advertising such as broadcast was often referred to as a “shotgun approach.” Direct marketing was tagged the “rifle bullet approach.” Now I think I can dub the new search as the “laser focused approach.”

I asked Barry to give me his thoughts on what we’re likely to see in Panama when Yahoo rolls it out in the new year.

“First of all, it’s going to be much more Google-like, switching away from the traditional auction approach. Like MSN’s AdCenter, it will include access to a lot of demographic data for very focused targeting. Both MSN and Yahoo! Will be providing the marketers dream: I only want to target 35 year old females at a specific time of the day (not weekends), and only in the city of Manchester. That’s the power of demographics.”

Of course, Barry agrees it’s great targeting, but you’ll only capture the 35 year old (blah, blah, blah) that Yahoo knows about in Manchester, i.e. their subscribers. The same holds true for MSN. So there could be waste if you only plan local campaign. Having both local and global campaigns is likely to be the most effective method at this point.

I’ve gone on record as saying I believe more SEOs should read more marketing books than Apache Server manuals. As search marketing becomes more sophisticated, clients are going to expect something closer to demographic targeting out of organic listings, too. And that means understanding more about the clients’ overall marketing strategy, not just their Web site.

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