In his address at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit last month, InterActiveCorp (IAC) chairman/ CEO Barry Diller commented on the growing value of effective natural search optimization (NSO).
Zachary Rodgers of ClickZ News reported on the address. Here’s an excerpt:
A longtime proponent of the interplay of search and content, Diller sang the praises of IAC’s “resident geniuses” of search engine optimization, and said SEO’s contribution to the firm’s traffic acquisition efforts can’t be understated. When the company transferred an SEO expert from its Expedia division to CitySearch, he claimed the site’s unique user count jumped from six million to over 20 million per month “without spending a nickel. That’s great value.”
Let’s dig into his comments. First, IAC owns a search engine and has more than a few resident search geniuses. Even so, deploying that expertise to benefit other IAC companies still presents a tremendous organizational challenge. No wonder it’s difficult for other marketers too.
Second, IAC’s properties are content rich, with millions of pages. Getting those pages indexed and ranked in natural results dramatically increases their reach, and the resulting traffic adds up quickly.
Finally, cultivating inhouse experts and empowering them to affect fundamental changes to Websites also drives NSO success. You can bet Diller paid much more than a nickel in meeting time, recoding, rewriting, raises for the geniuses, and organizational blood, sweat, and tears to achieve these results!
The bottom line? Most organizations need the chief marketing officer or another C-level executive to champion the NSO cause and set the stage for success.
More NSO investment than ever
Organizational support and a strong team can generate impressive, cost-effective, and highly targeted traffic through NSO.
The annual industry survey of the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) found that natural search optimization (also called search engine optimization, or SEO) was still the most popular form of search engine marketing, with nearly 75% of advertisers using this method.
SEMPO researchers also predict that search engine marketing spend will continue to grow, doubling by 2011 to reach an aggregate spending total of $18.6 million. As we see costs per click continue to rise (check in at Performics.com later this month for the latest Performics 50 index), marketers increasingly turn to NSO to acquire more low-cost traffic and decrease the average per-click cost of search traffic.
NSO teams need control
Pay-per-click (PPC) search engine marketing grew so quickly, in part, because advertisers directly control their ads’ visibility in the search results. NSO, on the other hand, requires that marketers collaborate with PR, merchandising, legal, Web developers and designers, and Web operations, not to mention their various agencies and proxies. In our work helping multichannel and other marketers optimize their sites, the most successful have appointed champions within each functional area to understand the opportunity, collaborate to overcome obstacles, and negotiate change.
Giving NSO teams and professionals the ability to test and retest copy is a good example. Driving more natural-search visitors on strategic keywords requires finding the right combination of keywords, usage, and placement through trial and error and ongoing optimization. An eight- or 12-week Web production cycle simply will not produce results or generate momentum. And so many marketers choose to forgo a natural-search program in favor of paid search largely due to this control issue.
Home decor cataloger/retailer Pottery Barn saw its natural-search visitors and revenue soar in just weeks when it implemented a program to overcome fundamental roadblocks to natural-search visibility, including content optimization hurdles and site structure issues that prevented search engine crawlers from finding pages. The program created search-engine-friendly URLs through mirror Web pages, allowing Pottery Barn to directly optimize page content and test without support from Web development or operations. It also allowed the company to offer rich branded experiences without sacrificing natural-search visibility, overcoming the engines’ inability to index such technologies as Flash, Java, and AJAX.
Yahoo! Search Submit Pro (SSP), another solution that marketers can directly control to increase natural search visibility, enables marketers to feed their Web pages and associated content to Yahoo! and helps overcome content visibility hurdles within Yahoo!.
As marketers increasingly invest in content and branded rich Internet applications, the stakes of effective NSO continue to rise. If you build it in Flash or without visible content, they will not come… or you will have to pay for every visitor. NSO can drive huge numbers of low-cost visitors when Web teams are informed and empowered or by leveraging tools such as Performics’ NSO Proxy and Yahoo!’s Search Submit Pro (SSP). It might cost a bit more than a nickel for those people and tools, but the investment yields dividends that even Barry Diller would like.
Cam Balzer is vice president of strategic planning at Performics, the Chicago-based performance marketing division of DoubleClick, and a monthly contributor to CHIEF MARKETER. To find out more about what NSO Proxy did for Pottery Barn, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.