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Friday, May 08, 2009

SEM or SEO? No Both for Most Search Teams

At the MediaPost Search Insider Summit, I got the opportunity to join a panel on social media and search with Darrin Shamo of Zappos and panel moderator Bob Heyman of MediaSmith (and co-author of the book Digital Engagement). I'm not going to discuss that panel here and will leave that to another post. But an interesting thing came up during my presentation...

The event is pretty heavily weighted toward SEM and I asked what turned out, to those in attendance, to be a bit of a dopey question. I asked "How many here are interested purely in SEM?" then when only a couple of hands were raised, I was encouraged to think it may be more of an SEO crowd, so I asked "How many are interested purely in SEO?" and saw only another sprinkling of raised hands.

So, based on one of my previous experiences at a major company where the team was half SEM and half SEO, and my current position, which is entirely SEO team with no SEM - I assumed a similar situation would be true of most in-house teams at substantially sized companies.

My assumption was apparently skewed. It seems that most do double-duty on in-house teams. When I asked "What's the balance here?" a few people said, (a few with emotion) "Both!"

That surprised me, based on what I knew before asking that question. But now I know that, at least among the crowd attending Search Insider Summit, that the oft joined SEM/SEO label applies to most. Well I suppose that was a gaff then, but...

Later in the day, I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus which makes me wonder if SEO is being best served by in-house SEM/SEO's. After two strangers from the conference exchanged greetings & pleasantries, the inevitable "What do you do?" came up from one.

The answer, "SEM and I've been tasked with learning SEO for our team." (emphasis mine) Then the response from an ill-informed questioner was short-sighted and probably simplistic thinking from those who THINK they understand SEO - "So you're learning about meta tags and H1's?"

I'd like to argue that the two disciplines should be divided and I'd wager that many SEM's who love what they do will agree. The skill-set is completely different. Both SEM's and SEO's deal with keywords, and target search engine results pages, but that is where the similarity ends.

Having recently worked day-to-day with an SEM team in-house and being separated only by a cubicle wall for 18 months. I recall the SEO team only dealing with the SEM team during our bi-weekly online marketing group meetings.

So if someone who loves SEM is "tasked with learning SEO," (like that overheard conversation I mentioned above) they are not likely to understand or fully invest themselves in truly learning an important aspect of the Search Marketing business. They'll learn a couple of things and not all aspects of the work. They'll continue to do a great job of SEM and start doing a poor job of SEO.

I'll also argue that if that role is reversed and an SEO is "tasked with learning SEM for the team" then they will learn a few things, but not all of the elements of good SEM and not do a complete and thorough job of SEM but will continue to do a good job of SEO.

I recall a couple of job interviews about 5 years ago where in both cases, I was talking with an SEM manager who had convinced their boss that they needed a full-time SEO on staff to handle things they weren't able to continue doing as the company grew. Rather than evenly split SEM and SEO tasks among two staffers, they were dividing the two. That's the smart way to go.

I didn't take either of those jobs, and I'm quite happy about that now. I also walked away from a job that would have required me to significantly sharpen my SEM skills so that I could handle both. I didn't doubt that I could do it, but love SEO and very likely wouldn't have done as well with the SEM piece.

So I'd like to ask the question of those SEM/SEO dual purpose people - are you doing both because you love both or are you doing both because you were "tasked to learn" one of those pieces because your company won't increase the budget enough for a new head on the payroll? Would you rather focus on one or continue doing both?

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In-House Big SEO: Organize, Analyze, Educate, Execute, Track

Search engine optimization has been slowly working it's way from the back alley bad boys optimizing for pills and porn - to members of the corporate boardrooms of major companies optimizing for pageviews, subscriptions and ecommerce. Legitimate SEO has been recognized as an important contributor to the bottom line of major web properties. As SEO has gained respectability, it has been introduced to CEO's, CMO's and importantly - CFO's.

Now that large companies are spending literally millions of dollars a year on paid search marketing campaigns, they are coming around to understand the value of using SEO to make sites search friendly in order to bring increased search rankings and produce (essentially) free search referral traffic in addition to that paid traffic. While both PPC and SEO remain important parts of the search marketing mix, both bring differing results to the intangibles of branding and visibility as well as the more measurable ecommerce sales, subscriptions and pageviews.

The earliest session of day one of Search Engine Strategies New York was dedicated to In-House Big SEO, when session moderator Jeffrey K. Rohrs of Optiem, opened the panel by introducing Bill Hunt of Global Strategies, Inc. consultancy (acquired in March by Ogilvy Digital).

Hunt suggested "integration into the organization ... of internal protocols & best practices guidelines" and "integration of processes into the web development workflow." Sounds like that comes right out of a policy manual - and in fact it does - one that Hunt recommends all corporate SEO's create and make available via their own in-house wiki or SEO knowledge base, housed on the corporate intranet.

In order to get management buy-in to increasing engineering resources and budgets for the IT department, he recommended what he called "missed opportunity matrix" charts, graphs and forecasts of potential web traffic as it converts to the hard data of sales to show management what they are leaving on the table. Since traffic and conversion data is readily accessible, it should be mined and organized to show potentially increasing numbers of visitors converting to buyers or higher ad sales.

Hunt suggests that corporate SEO's "measure everything and show the results." Then use the resulting increases in traffic and sales to "sell the success" to the web development team, PR, Marketing, and advertising departments.

Hunt was followed by Marshall Simmonds of Define Search Strategies and the New York Times Company. Simmonds is responsible for the optimization of an estimated 11-15 million documents online from the Times, and other Primedia properties to TV Guide online.

Simmonds pointed out the obvious barriers of what he called "corporate ego" and resistance to change and then asked the audience, "Is anyone here at war with their IT deparment?" He suggested that it isn't necessary to fight with in-house developers and offered five key elements of corporate SEO success: "Organize, Analyze, Educate, Execute, Track." Those five bullet points could be easily find a cozy home within any corporate structure, but here they are intended to get a job done where many are resistant to SEO.

Simmonds emphasized the importance of in-house SEO training sessions to educate staff on the value and intricacies of increased search rankings. He claims he averages a training a month and believes it is a central part of an SEO's job to offer these educational sessions to more than just the engineering team, but also to the stakeholders on the technical staff, design teams, PR office and editorial producers who all manage touchpoints for elements of the company related to search.

Simmonds finished with a rather unusual angle, suggesting that "Metrics save jobs." He suggests that there will be inevitable seasonality to search and the resulting traffic will fluctuate, based on audience demographics, holidays and the school year and their individual leveling off and decreases in web traffic. Pointing out to management that those variations, peaks and valleys in the traffic graphs are expected and follow historical trends can prevent the blame being laid at the feet of anyone responsible for ongoing success of a web property. (Sounds a bit like an auto-biographical experience not fully explained.)

Two remaining members of the panel echoed the points made by Hunt and Simmonds. They had little additional prepared to say and allowed much of their time to be dedicated to the Q&A session.Tanya Vaughan HP, Global Strategist suggested that the role of an SEO is to "influence & evangelize through consulting & education." Brendan Hart Director of Customer Acquisition for National Geographic Digital Group recommends that we "demystify SEO through analytics and the top ten KPI's."

And with that, I took my own corporate acronyms and attended a previously scheduled meeting, missing the Q&A session in favor of executing on those Simmonds bullet points -

  • Organize
  • Analyze
  • Educate
  • Execute
  • Track
with a key department in our New York parent corporate office.
Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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