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Oct 15, 2002

Top Seven Search Engine Marketing Q&As with Fredrick Marckini (Includes Paid vs. Non-Paid Metrics)

SUMMARY: Will Google really ban your site if you use search engine marketing tactics they do not like? (Yes.) Do Web surfers click more on paid listings versus non-paid search results? (No.) Do Fortune 100 Web sites do a good job at optimization? (Not!)

Check out our exclusive interview with expert Fredrick Marckini to get the answers to these questions and more. Includes useful metrics:
Compared to traditional advertising, search engine marketing is low cost, and if done correctly, guaranteed to drive qualified traffic to your site.

We contacted Fredrick Marckini who as CEO of iProspect has been helping Fortune 500 companies including Marriott, Sharp Electronics, Miller Brewing, GM and Mercedes Benz achieve top rankings since 1996.

Here are his answers to our top seven questions. (By the way, if you read nothing else, scroll quickly down to Question #3 for fascinating data on paid versus non-paid listing metrics!)

Question #1:
What goals should non-direct response marketers bring to optimization?

It’s obvious for the direct response crowd - get traffic that converts into good customers. But what about consumer packaged goods firms, offline retailers, etc?

If all online marketing were measured strictly on the immediate, post-click conversion, nobody would spend another dollar.

The reality of good marketing strategy is clear: people enter a market for most products or services at a variety of stages in their personal buying cycle. If you target only those people who have done their research and are ready to buy, right now, you will miss the majority of your market.

There are only two possible outcomes for your brand every time a query is launched that relates to your offering: they will find your Web site, or they will find your competitor’s Web site.

For example, the query that most evidences immediate purchase intent in the automotive space is a search that contains a brand of automobile and this one word: “dealership (or dealer, etc.).”

That is an important keyword for auto manufacturers – especially for their dealer’s Web sites. But by the time the consumer gets to that point, they have already searched for “SUV” or “minivan,” then “new car invoice price,” and then later for “leasing options,” etc. And NONE of those other keyword searches are likely to yield an immediate post-click conversion!

If you neglect your audience’s buying behavior and target only those queries that evidence instant, immediate buying intent, you are ceding the rest of your audience to a competitor who is, frankly, smarter than you.

If your only metric is conversion, you lose, every time, in every market.

You should set the goal of reaching your audience as early in the buying cycle as possible, and meeting them repeatedly as these prospects move through the buying cycle. This can be measured by the number of referrals on keywords that evidence that the prospect is early in the buying cycle (“minivan safety” before “Dodge dealership”).

Question #2:
Last year you released research that showed Fortune 500 company sites had abysmal optimization. Has this changed?

Why should these companies care anyway - they are so famous and big that people can find them online, right?

We will be releasing results from a new survey very shortly, so I can share a preliminary finding that the condition of the Fortune 100 has actually gotten worse both in terms of their visibility and their site design taking search visibility into consideration!

As for the suggestion that they’re so famous that they don’t need search engine positioning, I defy you to show me a brand that can be found on the breadth of queries that its audience will use to find it.

Sure, it may be found on branded searches, but what about the hundreds, thousands, and often tens of thousands of iterations of keyword queries that describe product attributes, features, sub-brands, problems, category, condition, and aspirations that the prospective customer will query when looking to solve their search problem?

Branded queries are rarely the most frequent queries on the Internet in general. And branded queries only bring you customers who already know the brand – all the rest of your potential audience will search and be introduced to a competing brand.

Question #3:
Have you seen any difference in the way that pay per click (PPC) listings with Google, Overture, etc. perform versus the way top rankings achieved through optimization perform? Do visitors from them behave or convert differently? Should you expect more traffic from one or the other? Why invest in both?

Paid text advertisements that merely seek to mimic the look of a search result do not fool all of the people all of the time.

While many search engine users will not know the difference between the search engine equivalent of a classified ad and an actual search result, most do.

As the FTC’s requirements that search engines more clearly identify their paid advertisements are more closely followed by the search engines, the difference in clickthrough behavior will grow ever wider.

Already we are seeing some solid evidence of differing conversion outcomes between “natural” search results and the many paid placement options.

One Fortune 500 client of ours who tracks conversions very closely shared with us that Overture and Google are converting at 7.5% but “natural” or “non-paid” search engine referrals are converting at a whopping 12.5%.

Free search, then, has a 5% conversion advantage over paid media – and it costs significantly less. In any vertical keyword universe, a typical cost per click on Overture averages $3 per click, while natural SEO can run from just a dollar down to a dime per visitor.

Why invest in both? For a lot of reasons. For starters, it is a valuable way to bridge the gap while a traditional search engine positioning campaign ramps up.

Second, at the right price – and this is the key - you benefit by occupying more real estate on a search result page.

Remember that the user query is the holy grail of online marketing. No online behavior provides more insight into the intent of an individual online. In some circumstances, at the “right” price, there is value in purchasing the paid placement even when you enjoy a top ranking on the very same keyword.

Paid and natural search marketing are individually valuable to different kinds of companies. Their combined, integrated value proposition makes sense for some Web sites and not for others. It’s a little like asking why you should do PR versus print advertising. Some kinds of companies need to do both, others do quite well with just PR, others will rely on and thrive with just print advertising.

In my humble opinion, there is a business case for both for every business.

Question #4:
Google recently changed its algorithms so some sites that previously had high rankings suddenly didn't.

Was this a big deal and how often do changes like this occur? People say you have to worry about search engines changing rules constantly, but do they really?

This is really nothing new. Search engine’s algorithms evolve and they always have. I’ve witnessed this dozens of times with various search engines.

What’s most important to remember is that Google is just one search engine. They are not the last search, not the only search engine, not even the most important search engine. There are 10 to 15 search engines that matter. Each should refer searchers to your site.

That Google changes its algorithm is less significant than the fact that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of new Web pages coming online every single day – many will be competing with yours for top rankings on your different important keywords.

Consider also that your competition will redesign their Web site as you will redesign your Web site, typically on an 18 month cycle.

Every time you redesign your Web site, every single ranking in every spider driven search engine is at stake and can be lost. Every time your competitor redesigns its Web site, it could only improve or hurt its condition in the search engines.

It is, and always has been a dynamic, fluid environment. Google’s evolving algorithm is just the one that got your attention.

Question #5:
Google and other search engines have told us that they will boot anyone using so-called spam tactics to get high rankings. However we often spot sites using these tactics that do well. How much do marketers really need to fear threats?

You should fear them. Don’t spam.

If you get caught, the black-out in your visibility could be devastating. If you get caught, you will be penalized. It is not worth it, it has never been worth it. Be afraid.

Question #6:
If your optimization firm does do something that gets you booted, how do you get back in SEs good graces?

You should contact the search engine, in writing first, and then by telephone if you don’t hear back, and advise them of your mistake. I would suggest you promise that it will never happen again – and mean it.

Question #7:
What's the biggest mistake you see most company's making with optimization (aside from not doing any at all)?

The biggest mistake most companies make is failing to understand how their products or services are searched for.

If you sell Satellite Navigation Systems but the world is searching for GPS navigation systems, you need to have the phrase “GPS” appear on your Web site. You would be amazed at the companies who, still, expect that they should be found on keyword queries that do not appear anywhere on their Web site.

Oh, by the way, if the keyword appears a component of a graphic, you’re still toast. Search engines still do not optically character recognize the text contained in graphic. All they see is file.jpg.

So let me answer the question this way:

The top-3 mistakes companies make with Search Engine Positioning:

1. Failing to build a site that can be indexed by search engines

2. Failing to understand the query vocabulary of their audience and including those keywords on their Web pages

3. Failing to budget sufficient marketing dollars to do a meaningful job of search engine positioning.
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