Explaining the advantages of SEO is much easier than explaining what SEO is. It’s a classic case of selling the sizzle, because you’d have to call the steak “burnt, dead cow flesh”. That’s about how good of a name “search engine optimization” is for what we do. It’s burnt, dead cow flesh. And if you’ll buy that, I have come cold, raw fish for you as well. Sushi really is a good Web 2.0 name, isn’t it?
So, SEO needs a new name, that’s clear enough. But what ARE the advantages of SEO, particularly over pay-per-click campaigns and banner ads? First of all, it generates traffic for free. You don’t have to pay. A site that is well optimized, just spontaneously generates new traffic, working for you like a tireless 24/7 telemarketer who you don’t have to pay. Who wouldn’t want that advantage? In fact, it is absolutely critical for a number of business models that rely on selling advertising space on the site. The model goes: first you build traffic, then you sell the traffic to someone else.
But the mindless pursuit of traffic is for the 90’s. We’re in the 2000’s, baby, and it’s all about conversions. And conversions are about having what the visitor came for, being able to communicate it clearly, and having a mechanism where they can either buy or open an ongoing relationship with you for products or services with longer selling cylcles (more on Solution Selling in a future post). But SEO really isn’t about all of that. It’s about the original search hit, and all subsequent corralling back of the same person through their future searches. And that gets to the second huge advantage of SEO: self-qualifying prospects with higher-than-usual trust.
That’s right! Because they searched on a term related to you, it’s a much warmer sales lead than a telemarketing-style cold call. Who knows how much has changed between the creation of the call list, and the phone-call being made. With search, they’re interested, they query, they’re at your site. If it’s an impulse-buy item, you could close the sale on that very page! But even if it’s a long sales-cycle product, you’ve just been provided an introduction to a sales prospect that is worth its weight in gold. You see, they are pre-qualified. They qualified THEMSELVES through the search process.
Of course, that’s not always the case, or you would have tons more sale. Not everyone is FULLY qualified. But no worries: you didn’t pay for the hit! This similarly makes you immune to growing problem of click-fraud, the practice of depleting competitors’ marketing funds by repeatedly clicking on their paid ads.
Once your site is basically well optimized according to SEO best practices, it also becomes very low maintenance. It doesn’t take a lot of work to keep your existing flow of prospects coming in. This lets you focus on new areas for expansion. Engaging in the HitTail process is very similar to attempts to expand into new markets. You may have a market for your product that you did not know about. Well, you can experiment with it through PPC, adding hundreds more potential keywords to your campaign and all the headache and grief that goes with it. Or you can make a few posts on topics suggested to you by HitTail, and float them like test balloons. If they have potential, then hits will occur, and more suggestions will flow in through HitTail. You made much less of an up-front investment in exploring new markets, and when you are successful, it naturally prompts you onto more success… all for free.
I could probably write about the advantages of SEO all day. I hardly touched on the fact that people can differentiate between paid ads and “natural” results. And just as with product mentions in magazine articles and TV programs that are viewed as editorials, media savvy consumers’ defenses are at their lowest. They tend to trust things that are not thought to be advertisements. Add to this that natural search results still take up a majority of the screen, and that maintaining such a balance is required for the search destination sites to maintain trust and the integrity of their brands.
All-told, there are many reasons 2006 is shaping up to be the year of natural search optimization. If only there were a tool to make it accessible to the average marketing departments inside companies across the world… Hmmmmmmm