Search engine marketing is top of mind for many chief marketing officers today. That’s no surprise–the channel provides the best ROI in the mix for many merchants focused on driving transactions, and it can introduce brands to consumers much more cost-effectively than television and other traditional broadcast and print channels.
Specific ROI calculations and branding metrics are commonly associated with pay-per-click (PPC) search engine marketing. But there’s more to search marketing than PPC. If you focus only on PPC efforts you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to capture a huge amount of free Website traffic.
Natural search optimization (NSO)—also called search engine optimization, or SEO–is the process of fine-tuning or re-creating the layout, technical platform, and content of a Website to receive as much free visibility as possible in the unpaid listings of search engines. As much as two-thirds of the traffic delivered by Google, Yahoo!, and MSN comes from these natural listings, and top rankings on relevant keywords can net marketers impressive reach and frequency to a highly targeted audience.
Here are four ways a chief marketer can drive a successful NSO effort.
1) Entrust NSO duties to a cross-functional team led by a member of the marketing department. Tapping into this free source of traffic requires a different type of management effort than paid search does. Technical, editorial, design, merchandising, PR, and business development teams all own a piece of a successful optimization effort, but at the end of the day NSO is about engaging customers and potential customers where they seek out information–on the search engines. Marketing is uniquely equipped to represent the needs of the searching consumer and to lead a natural-search effort that pulls all these functions together to build a site that will engage potential customers. If you decide to look externally for expertise and resources to supplement your internal efforts, try to ensure that any partner you work with not only provides solid optimization recommendations but also works closely with the team to build up internal NSO knowledge and competencies.
2) Include natural-search requirements in all site redesign or platform change projects from the start. If you build it, they will come, but only if they can find it—literally. Companies invest heavily in Websites—from design to servers, from editorial content to content management systems—to deliver an engaging experience to visitors. If those investments are made without natural search in mind, you’ll need to invest on a continual basis to drive visitors to the site. A well-optimized site pays huge dividends in free, targeted traffic for years to come.
The NSO team should provide requirements on day one of any and all redesign projects, so that these can be considered and prioritized among all the other needs throughout the project. Retrofitting a site for NSO will never be as successful in delivering free search traffic as planning for this traffic from the beginning.
3) Leverage offline relationships for links whenever possible. All the major natural-search engines use “inbound links” to help determine the relative importance of a given Website to a given search query. The more links a site has from other important sites, the higher its visibility in natural-search results. NSO teams should seek these links from directories, content sites, associations, and other relevant sources. You can help by delivering links from prominent media and marketing partners of all kinds. When negotiating media deals, celebrity endorsements, event sponsorships. or other marketing partnerships, request links from prominent pages on partner sites. Work with the NSO team to understand the types of links and technical requirements that will best contribute to top rankings.
4) Optimize press releases and PR content for natural-search visibility. Marketers who do this successfully will not only get more exposure for PR messages, but they will also benefit the team’s NSO efforts. Whether they promote products or manage a brand’s reputation, releases should be written with NSO efforts in mind. Identify the topical buzzwords and catchphrases that your audience is using in its searches, and use these words extensively in your release. Make sure your press releases contain links that point directly to relevant content on your site and that these links are “crawler friendly” (your NSO team can provide guidance here). As your release is picked up by traditional and new media (bloggers, forums, social network sites) and seeded throughout the Web, these keywords and links will travel with it and drive improved visibility for your site.
What responsible marketer would turn down a steady stream of free Website visitors? Given that NSO projects span so many functions within an organization, it takes a chief marketer to provide the vision and direction to tap this potential. The CMO is uniquely equipped to drive successful NSO efforts by empowering a cross-functional team, involving them in all site redesign projects, and leveraging marketing partnerships and PR to reinforce their efforts.