Value of Search Engine Traffic

SEO firms often struggle with measuring and communicating the value of their services. Often times they give good qualitative reasons to go with their firm but ignore hard numbers that could help close the deal. As marketers become more accountable for ROI of initiatives such as SEO, it will be important for SEO firms to give accurate projections on how much value they can offer.

So what are the best ways to put a monetary value on natural search traffic? Is it enough to tell a prospective client that your firm can get them on the first page of Google for “xyz widgets”? They may be more concerned with how many new customers you can bring them or how many new leads they will get after doing SEO. Going forward, the discussion will be less about specific rankings and more about the actual ROI from natural search traffic converting into sales or leads.

SEOMoz has a great post on the opportunity gap which is the difference between the status quo and where they could be in terms of search traffic. It’s important to tell prospective clients how much money they’re leaving on the table by NOT doing SEO.

The first step is to figure out how your prospective client measures success – is it simply higher rankings on benchmark keywords, more conversions, more pageviews, or something else? The next step is to ask them specific questions about their current situation that will help you predict what you can do for them. For example, ask them what their current conversion rate is for their existing traffic. Also ask them what % of their overall traffic comes from natural search? If they are willing to tell you this during initial discussions, then you can give them a pretty good estimate on ROI.

The next post will walk through some very basic examples.

Calculating Natural Search Value

As a follow up to the post on the Value of Search Engine Traffic, here are some very basic ways to calculate the value of SEO for two types of prospective clients – eCommerce sites and Publishers.

1) eCommerce site (conversion rate x average order value)

Simple Example:

Current conversion rate: 3%
Average order value: $20
New search traffic due to SEO (per day): 8,000 visits *
Total new Revenue from SEO (per day): $4,800

Assuming the client does nothing to improve their conversion rate (i.e. reducing bounce rates, streamlining the buying process), they can expect $4,800 per day in additional sales after doing SEO.

2) Publisher (ad impressions x CPM)

Simple example:

Ad impressions per day: 50000
Average CPM: $5
Ad revenue per day: $250

Projected impressions after SEO: 90000
Projected ad revenue per day: $450

* The simple calculations above don’t account for the difference in click-through rate from securing a #1 position vs #7-10. As you know, the CTR for a top listing is much higher than the CTR for a lower ranking. This should be factored in when you are estimating how much new traffic your company can deliver for a client.

An alternative approach that HitTail Premium uses is to measure natural search traffic based on the Cost per Click values from Google AdWords. For example, we can count the number of visits to your site as a result of organic search and multiply that number by your average CPC to come up with a monetary value for that traffic. While this isn’t completely accurate given the variance in keywords and their respective prices, but it does give you a ballpark estimate on how much money your search traffic is worth.

These exercises are useful to show the opportunity cost of NOT doing SEO. Often times, winning SEO business is a matter of showing an executive how much money they’re leaving on the table by NOT doing SEO.

Feel free to add in comments on other ways to assign a monetary value to search traffic for different types of companies beyond Publishers and eCommerce sites.

Blogging growth opportunity in niches

Danny Dover at SEOmoz recently posted a fascinating article on the state of blogs. There are great stats on who controls the top blogs as well as the gender breakdown and audience profile for high traffic blogs.

One of the key takeaways is that there is still a lot of room for growth, especially in non-Technology topics. In addition, there is a huge opportunity to develop new blogs targeted at women. The key here is to find a niche and develop a new audience in a unsaturated market.

Inspired bloggers out there can then use tools like HitTail to determine what are the hot topics people are interested in within a particular niche that will drive traffic to their blog.

HitTail for Paid Search AdWords Optimization?

Mike LevinThere is a need for niche keywords–longtail keywords. Call ’em what you will, but they super-charge both your AdWords campaigns and SEO efforts. Their very nature as obscure but effective make well chosen long tail keywords the best deal in marketing.

For those already into AdWords, think 4% CTR, $0.06 CPC and tons of clicks. For those still only doing SEO, think about reducing the need to continuously expand website content.

That’s about to become commonplace, because one of the best kept secrets in natural SEO is about to cross the chasm into mainstream marketing, and AdWords will never be the same.

With just a wee bit of keyword review and approval on your part, your AdWords campaigns will virtually become self-optimizing. We take the competitive intelligence that your site is always trying to give you but which most analytics software ignores (as long-time HitTail fans know well), and feed it directly into your AdWords campaign.

The result is simply amazing, as long-time HitTailer and million-dollar campaign manager Gary Beal has been trying to tell the world for a year. But alas, we are only just starting to teach the world this amazing approach to AdWords campaign management.

The irony here is that its coming from the very same PR firm that helped launch GoTo–later Overture, and today Yahoo! Search Marketing– the company that taught Google how to make money. Yes, the very same Connors Communications that helped get Amazon off the ground is about to teach everybody how to be low-budget brilliant marketers… by living on the edge of the keyword competition.

Is HitTail the Future of Marketing?

Mike LevinThe history of HitTail goes back many years, as I began to understand the futility of traditional marketing when dealing with a company that has virtually no budget, a product no one has heard of in a market that hasn’t quite developed yet.

That was the story of Scala Multimedia Software in 1998, the company that makes the sort of software that turns plasma and LCD TVs into Minority Report-style digital flatscreen signage. There was no trade-shows at the time, no trade-magazines, and not even a standardized name for the business! It was truly the wild west days of digital signage, where no deployment was over a few dozen screens, because they all had to be updated with landlines. And customers could (and did) come from anywhere in the world. And you had to pay attention to all these geographically dispersed prospects, because you had to aggregate all the customers in the world to turn digital signage into a viable market.

But how do you reach them in the first place?

What sort of marketing campaign could you mount to reach companies in the middle of Malaysia, South America, Africa, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Europe, Japan, United States, Australia, and even Greenland and New Zealand? It’s true. Prospects came from all over the world, often getting their first clue from word-of-mouth referrals from Scala’s very early days running cable TV “barker channels” on the Commodore Amiga computer platform in the late 80’s.

Word of mouth only got you so far.

Enter the Internet, and a radically new update model where the signage could be updated by pulling their own content down from centralized servers. Flat panel technology was also improving, plasma screens becoming forever bigger, and LCDs starting to inch up in size. And the movies–oh the movies! Finaly, I could stop referring to the flying blimp in Blade Runner, and start talking about the ubiquitous electronic advertisements in Minority Report. There was a mainstream movie that allowed the stuff to be understood by the masses.

The time was ripe.

And the rate of people Googling on the subject-matter increased. Oh, there was no telling what people were going to call this emerging industry. A lot of folks felt is was going to be digital signage. But the head of Engineering at the company was betting on dynamic signage, as it was more descriptive. I withheld judgment, and instead wrote about the field is as many ways, and with as many likely word combinations as I could think of. Remember, this was 1999, and Blogger was barely even on the scene. I used my own homespun perfectly-optimized-for-search content management system to spit out page after page of what I at the time called “vignettes”. At least one person who knew me back then to this day suggests that I virtually invented what today is called the landing page.

Stories of these landing pages are numerous and colorful. At least one of them directly resulted in hooking up with a major global distribution partner in a market that the company had been hoping to break into for years. It was all predicated by me thinking to roll out some content targeting “plasma display software”. I targeted dozens, if not hundreds of different word combinations by this time. Were were all the ideas coming from? What did I know to try? Was it the GoTo keyword suggestion tool (later Overture)? No! It was the company’s own log files, which I could view scroll by me in real time, filtering out everything but the highlighted search hits, thanks to my homespun tracking system.

Now, this was not HitTail at the time–far from it. I lacked the critical insights that subsequently went into re-inventing the tracking system for massive scaling (to the world), and automatic evaluation of the keywords, thereby alleviating the most time consuming part–figuring out which terms we STILL HAD TO optimize for.

My title was Webmaster, but really I was a Jack-of-all-trades, tending to almost every aspect of company operations, baring software development of the product itself. So in short, I was finding the prospects and forcing their progress along the sales pipeline in their journey to becoming customers, managed the system that handled taking and shipping orders. It wasn’t easy convincing the salespeople at the time that there were real human beings behind these clicks. I developed a whole array of supporting systems that basically took away anyone and everyone’s choice to NOT follow up on the sales leads I was generating. It was a brute-force bullying customer relationship management software, which to this day remains as a closely held secret tool of this company, which has withstood several politically motivated attempts to “turn it off”.

I go into this level of detail regarding HitTail’s history, and how a predecessor to HitTail virtually created an industry, and gathered contact info of all the world’s customers in this market to a single company, to explain to you some of the next steps I’ll be taking with HitTail feature development.

I’ll be constructing a “Lab”, a lot like Google Labs, where I’ll be experimenting a bit more aggressively with new product features, forever zero’ing in on that “sweet spot” in which analytics software is not even necessary, because we’ll keep compelling you to the next necessary action item to close your sales.

I’m a fan of Michael Bosworth’s solution selling techniques, which were very necessary for long sales-cycle items such as 1000-screen digital signage deployments, and a fan of Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s total quality management approach, which advocates rapid product improvement based on real-time feedback from your workers and customers. I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow (among other books) that says you have to differentiate yourself by being radically and brilliantly different to even stand a chance in today’s competitive marketplace, and Guy Kawasaki’s pre-Internet/seldom discussed Selling the Dream, in which he plays off his experience launching the Macintosh to teach how to “evangelize” a product and use incredibly clear strategic thinking to do so.

All these principles have gone into HitTail. It’s a synthesis of marketing guru books, put together in what I hope is the sort of elegant simplicity, with actual underlying complexity akin to Apple Computer’s designs (maybe not in our graphics–yet). But no book has colored our product quite so much as Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, in which he gave a name to the radically simple and effective methodology that was already by this time driving the algorithm behind Connors Communications’ proprietary tracking system being used for its public relations customers.

And we saw that the time was right.

Just as with the movie Minority Report made the time right for Scala with digital signage by providing the common cultural awareness (if not the precise language) for this emerging market, Chris’ book The Long Tail gave us a way to make HitTail accessible and understandable to the masses.

HitTail’s seeming simplicity belies what’s actually going on, and we can not count the number of times some know-it-all sysadmin goes “Oh, that’s all in your log files” or “It’s the same thing as AwStats”. What they forget is that we’re not providing just another list of top-10 keywords, statistical bullshit. We’re skipping over all that keyword research nonsense, and simply telling you what to do next–a huge time saver and advantage in the forever-more-competitive landscape of fighting for first-access to customers online. We’re throwing paralysis through analysis in the gutter where it belongs, and looking right at the edge of where you nearly have it going on. Then we tell you how to change your act, ever-so-slightly so you step into the reliable flow of keyword search traffic that you’re just around the bend from anyway.

HitTail is not analytics. It’s an approach to online marketing pulled right from the minds of some of the best marketing and busines gurus of our time.

But it’s the first act.

And after a little time away from HitTail to ensure that the first act is everything we promised (and it is), I’m stepping back onto the scene to plan Act 2.

Stay tuned.

Seth & Joel’s Best In The World Club

Mike LevinI’m really enjoying Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow. Its one of those marketing books that reinforces those things you already know intuitively, but a book puts in fresh perspective–much in the vein of the grandaddy of all such books, The Art of War. It’s about winning.

The point he makes is that with all the choice consumers have in almost every aspect of life, you have to be really extraordinay (the purple cow) to set yourself apart. I read it on the tail of Joel Spolsky on Software, another righteous read which among other things gives a rating system for software shops and employee interview screening practices.

And these two reads back-to-back, Wow! I feel like creating super-elite, got-their-act-together club, and hoping I got the right stuff to join. There’s a lot of edging around the concept of being the best in the world.

Remembering the role that being extraordinary, and thinking of yourself that way, plays in every day life motivates this post. You need to be pretty darn sharp to be hired as a software developer at Foggy Creek Software–or even be hired as an intern. Similarly, to break through with a new product, you have to be remarkably better or different, and ALSO have that difference easily communicated by your fan-base (that must exist) to even have a chance. Word of mouth (or Internet) advocacy is critical. You must design a product that can win the early adopters and also motivate your base. Success is built in at the product design phase, an won by releasing its potential, virally.

And I approriately come to that realization reading a Seth Godin Marketing book on the New York subway, tapping out an article one-handed on my iPhonel, and posting by email to Blogger, knowing its going to get the top position in Google on the topic I target, because of HitTail (Update: no HitTail suggestion was a perfect headline for this article, so I just used a headline I wrote–I’ll save the HitTail effectiveness demo for the next post).

Active VS. Passive Online Marketing

Mike LevinNow that I’m active blogging again, I want to point out exactly how effective HitTail has been at doing nothing–and how effective “nothing” has been as a strategy between major announcements. I’m reading Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, and he offers numerous examples of how if you don’t have something brilliant, its better to do nothing than to do forced or contrite promotions to keep the Marketing department busy.

Like everything else we do, we’ve broken the model by NOT inundating our userbase with permission emails. Free HitTail users keep getting it got free even though we’re been out of beta for a year, and paid users are getting their writing suggestions via email. We diligently collect HitTail quotes off the Web, and answer all questions (no matter where they’re posted). Besides that, all’s quiet on the email front.

Yes, even though we’re a company with roots in public relations, and certainly have the gift of gab, you’ll find no email newsletter from us with forced topics for the sake of keeping some artificial schedule. Instead, we put our resources put into providing a superior service, and planning a future for HitTail users that will surprise and delight you as much as our first go-around.

But what if you’re hungry for more?

We keep an active forum and blog with RSS feeds, and for the truly HitTail-hungry, they get their extra fix. For everyone else, we just gently reach pit by email when we REALLY have something to say, thereby letting you know its something to actually pay attention to, and not just noise.

The concept of “active” vs. “passive” online outreach comes to mind. Such concepts exist in sonar/radar (submarines sending out pings vs. just listening) and even in keyword position monitoring (querying Google vs. just analyzing your log files). Well, the same exists with online marketing.

A brilliant passive system is best, because its less spammy and obnoxious–putting particiants at ease because they SOUGHT YOU OUT. You reading this? Chances are, you found me– which has a little something to do with HitTail being awesome.

Kaizen Marketing through Analytics

Mike LevinWhy is HitTail the perfect complement to whatever analytics system you use today? Some folks will say real-time analytics isn’t important, but I’m telling you that it IS important by how it immerses you into the actual pulse of your site. For example, if your site hits the homepage of Yahoo, you know it in seconds, rather than the next day, after your servers have already been taken down. Now not everybody lands the homepage of Yahoo, but the same principle applies to if you get a single link from a single site–wouldn’t you like to reach out to them moments after they’ve established the link?

Another benefit of real-time data is just sitting there watching your search hits scroll by as they occur tunes you directly into the minds of your audience–in a way next-day statistical reports simply can’t. You are directly plugged into the minds of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of web travelers RIGHT AS they’re doing their thing. The image that comes to mind is The Matrix, watching all the green code scroll by, and seeing the woman in red amongst it all. But the difference here is that the people scrolling by are REAL searchers, and you can voyeuristically watch them do their thing. This EXISTS TODAY, and is sort of a Zen marketing state that HitTailers know well–contemplating the black river of keywords.

If HitTail wasn’t the and must-have second piece of tracking code based on it’s real-time feedback alone, then the way it provides actionable data without the chart fuss that cause paralysis through analysis should cinch the deal. HitTail is the paralysis cure, because you simply move left-to-right across 4 tabs and follow a recommended, proven, route (indeed, nearly mindless) process to improve your site. The process is scientifically built on William Edwards Deming‘s principles of total quality management (TQM) and the Japanese concept of Kaizen, wherein you take HitTail’s writing suggestions and engage in the website content release/feedback/release/feedback cycle immediately. It also works with PPC.

HitTail fills the desperately needed gap in marketing for a tool that dispenses with nonsense reports and jumps right to the bottom-line of what you should be doing to improve your site from a content-standpoint. It quite literally turns your entire website into a giant suggestion box that your audience unwittingly uses every time they visit you via search. The suggestions can be immediately plowed into either new website content in (usually) blogging software for the organic or natural search engine optimization (SEO) approach, or into long tail AdWords campaigns, that result in remarkably low cost-per-click (CPC), high click-through-ration (CTR) and a large number of total clicks. The snowball effect should ensue. None but a few marketing gurus in the PPC industry gurus ever noticed this effect.

Bottom line–no matter what your primary analytics package may be, be it Omniture SiteCatalyst, Google Analytics, WebTrends, Yahoo’s IndexTools, Microsoft’s Gatineau, or whatever–the must-have second piece of tracking code that should go on your site is HitTail, due to the benefits of real-time data and immediately actionable writing suggestions and super-charged keywords for AdWords campaigns.

Web News Hits – April 25, 2008 – Your Daily Source For Web 2.0 Links

Problogger writes an excellent article on “12 Ways to Be A more Interactive and Accesssible Blogger”

Wired discusses Amazon’s cloud computing capabilities:

“Key in your Amazon ID and password and behold: a data center’s worth of computing power carved into megabyte-sized chunks and wired straight to your desktop. Clones of that HP tower cost 10 cents per hour — 10 cents! — and they’re set to start spitting out widgets as soon as you upload the code. Virtual quad cores are a princely 80 cents an hour. Need storage? All you can eat for 15 cents per gigabyte per month. And there’s even a tool for monitoring your virtual stack with an iPhone.”

In an interesting development, Yahoo will be including Facebook profile images in its search results.

Chris Boggs at Search Engline Watch presents “SEO confessions of an Online Reputation Management Junkie”

“I admit it — I’ve been tracking search engine rankings for my name for years. But online reputation management isn’t all about ego or checking out a Friday night date anymore. Your career and future job opportunities are at stake.”

Time Magazine presents its first annual blog index. Surprisingly, the number one blog isn’t Huffington Post or Techcrunch — it’s Blog di Beppe Grillo:

Beppe Grillo, a popular Italian comedian, actor, and political satirist, writes one of the few non-English language blogs that’s become wildly popular worldwide. That’s because Grillo speaks the international language of outrage.”

And the The New York Times reports on the shift in online advertising, looking past mere increased brand awareness to as many clicks as possible.

“Is The Mobile Web Dead?” And Other Web 2.0 Hits

ReadWriteWeb asks: “Is the mobile web dead?”

Good question! We think it just might be that reports of its impending death have been greatly exaggerated. Certainly, having a fully-functioning mobile web requires a consistent web viewing platform and resolution (at least getting it down to four with iPhone, Opera, IE Mobile, and Android). Right now there are just too many flavors out there. At least with computer monitors, you can be reasonably sure that everyone will have at least 800×600 if not 1024×768 and greater — but with phones, there are so many formats!

Still, we think there is a lot of untapped potential with mobile.

Onto today’s other posts of interest:

Blog Storm ponders Google’s policy on using “widget bait” to rack up links

John Battelle notes that Google’s share keeps climbing…their search share, that is.

Meanwhile, Search Engine Land explores the search benefits of the blogosphere with a handy illustration:

Problogger looks at a “new breed of blogger,” inspired by this Seth Godin post:

DoshDosh explores the seven essential characteristics of a popular social media profile:

And finally, Techcrunch has announced that Twitter is testing advertising in Twitter streams…

…and that that there is apparently some confusion over deleting Facebook news feed reports from one’s profile.