Thirteen Most Common Search Marketing Mistakes

February 11th, 2009

top search marketing mistakesYesterday, I attended a few talks at SMX West and one that I liked in particular was “The Dozen Most Common Search Marketing Mistakes That Chief Marketing Officers Make”. It should have been renamed “The Thirteen…”, because that is how many were presented by the panel (maybe someone was superstitious). If you are guilty of not understanding search marketing and the benefits it provides, this list of common mistakes will give you some insight on how to change and influence your marketing strategy. Alternatively, if you are an advocate of search marketing and understand it well, these tips can help you educate, advise, and influence others within your organization.

For the most part, these critical concepts have to be adopted at the top level. In the past, I have personally struggled with educating others about search marketing strategies (employers as well as clients) and found it a tough battle, sometimes taking up a fair amount of my time until they understand the strategies.

The panel included Brian Kaminski (from iProspect), Karen Weber (from Irwin Union Bank), Keith Dieruf (from Ameriprise Financial), Jody Farmer (from, Bill Muller (from iProspect), and Chris Sherman (from Search Engine Land, who acted as the moderator).

Business owners and Chief Marketing Officers (in larger companies) need to

  • realize that search marketing should be an integral component of the overall marketing strategy
  • be able to distinguish mistakes from best practices in search marketing
  • enable a 360 degree communication within the company with regards to search marketing intellect

Mistake # 1: Failing to set measurable goals for your campaigns.
You should be breaking down natural and paid search with measurable goals and baselines. Perception is dangerous, paid has more exposure, but it is important to set goals for natural search as well. This will allow you to justify expenditures, such as increasing marketing budgets and resources. Measurable goals will also uncover and flag areas that are working and those that aren’t. It is also recommended that you track your return on investment.

Mistake #2: Failing to assign dollar value to every “conversion action” available on your site.
Define a value to other conversions or actions (intermediate benchmarks) on your site that are not the final sale per se. This is very important especially for long term final conversions, where prospects may visit your site multiple times or engage with you in other ways before actually becoming a customer. These intermediate benchmarks can include simple things like newsletter sign ups, RSS subscriptions, and content downloads.

The panel suggested that you should assign monetary value to those conversions to look at long term return of investment (ROI). Set intermediate steps and measure. You’ll have to get a sense of value for each intermediate step and assign it a value that you believe is accurate. Also, if you are in a larger organization, bring in other departments to get a sense of value. Assumptions need to be made. It will be hard, but adjust it as you move along.

Keith also reminds us that we need to understand that websites will deliver different experiences for different people and it is not always the sale per se that is the objective of the visit and the company will benefit in other ways (investors, employee recruiting, PR).

Mistake #3: Assessing the success of search marketing using solely a direct marketing model.
Looking at pure return on investment is probably not the correct way to look at it. Look at funnel metrics. Consider the rest of the benefits that trickle over into other areas. You can miss the fundamentals of stuff that can benefit over time (quality score, lower costs of Pay-Per-Click bids, and organic search almost has a permanent benefit).

We also have the attraction of measuring 1to1 correlation, but we may be missing the branding effect. It goes further with organic and paid – you will have a magnifying (halo) effect 1+1=3. Also realize that not all conversions are done online – search can trigger offline interactions (call, visit store), so try to have some mechanism to measure offline as well.

Mistake #4: Treating search engine optimization as a project and not an ongoing process.
We all have a desire to set immediate metrics, but don’t get caught up with it. Search engine optimization (SEO) is not a “set it and forget it” deal. Algorithms change, your competitors are taking part of Search engine optimization tactics constantly, new products are being added to your site, messaging may change or be revised, news articles being added, and they are all opportunities that you may be missing out on. Bill shared with us that they tracked some clients that were “set it and forget it” types and after a year without tweaking their Search engine optimization efforts (dealt as a one-time project), they lost 1/3 of their rankings. Bill reiterates, “Try to recoup and it will take a year to catch up. Do not set it and forget it!”

Also consider universal search, you can take advantage of constantly maintaining relevancy in the search engine results pages and get multiple placements with digital assets such as images, videos etc..

Jody shares his analogy of wheels that spins shouldn’t stop – it will take more efforts to get it going again. Things like fixing 404’s logging into webmaster every day or even setting up redirects for disabled pages- SEO needs constantly massaging and it all takes a long time.

Look at ROI for your SEO programs, understand benchmarks, constantly set base lines and set it up right, even if you have to get a firm to help you set it up.

Mistake #5: Making a number one ranking as your most important objective, when it may be costing you business.
Sometimes the cost of first place ranking in the search engines results ends with you loosing. You may spend what it takes to be number one, but find the conversion value may not be what you thought it was.

Don’t get caught up with being number one – the objective is to obtain a certain return on investment and not the rank. What’s important is setting objectives and not getting lost in those objectives. In some situations, your ROI may be better if you are in third or even sixth place. Also, don’t get fixated and put all SEO resources on one or two keywords – it isn’t good practice.

Mistake #6: Focusing on big keywords and forgetting the long tail keywords.
Long tail keywords can be less expensive and can give you (or your clients) the ability to find all your products. Use pay per click to go after long term keyword and it may be a difference of bidding .50 cents per keyword click to $11 per click for a head term. Also, make sure you look at your ROI of tail terms versus long tail. Head and tail terms can express the time of the buying cycle or mindset of your site visitors. For example “car” and “buy car” are different keywords that tell you where person may be in the buying cycle (research vs. ready to buy). Read more on long tail here.

Big keywords are the keywords at the head and for the most part are highly competitive and can be more general. Long tail keywords are down the popularity curve but may be more specific. Most people will try to go after the head, highly competitive terms (which may cost a lot for PPC or hard to tap into organic search).

Jody shared with us that for all searches in 2008, 28 percent had never been searched before. And that may be an indicator of how many long term keywords are out there to go after.

Mistake #7: Engaging in paid or natural search engine marketing, but not both.
If you don’t engage in both natural and paid search, you won’t get maximum benefits. Also, one feeds into the other – you can leverage what you learn and tweak the other. It is a proven fact that approximately 30 percent of clicks are on paid ads and 70 percent of clicks are on natural listings on a search results page. If you spend the time to do the work on your PPC copy, then use it for your SEO (on your pages). And if you spend the time for your SEO for natural search, use it for your paid ads.

Bill shared with us that there are studies out there that prove engaging in paid and natural search is 1+1=3. Jody also backs it up, that it is a multiplier with both. Together they perform better than individually. Why does it work? It gives more credibility if you show as a paid sponsor and natural placements.

Another good reason to use both is that it may be hard to be number one in either spot (organic or paid). Both search tactics normalizes your revenue if the algorithm changes in the search engines and it shakes up your natural rankings. Paid is the balance and if paid goes up organic is your fall back.

Mistake #8: Using your language and not that of your customers.
You need to bridge the gap on the terminology of what your company wants to use versus terminology of what people use to look for you. You should not push your message. By bridging the gap, you will be successful on casting the visitors in.

Ignore what you think you know and learn what you see. Look at your log files and onsite search reports to understand the language more. Don’t try to change the way people think about your product or it will costs you millions of dollars. Know how they speak and use it. Bill had a good example of a company that was using the terminology of “house warmer” when people were really trying to search for “candles”, or a company that was focusing on “lending money” when people were searching for “borrowing money”.

Internal education is key. Keyword mapping is one solution to communicate with your team internally what is important organically, show them the keywords and the volumes, and map them to what terminology your company may be trying to push. Show the company what opportunities they are missing for search terms.

Mistake #9: Optimizing only your web pages and not your other digital assets.
It’s about taking advantage of universal search – start using other things for your benefit. This includes videos, blogs, press releases, and optimizing things that show up in local search. Keyword mapping on external profile pages and digital assets on third-party sites also benefit your search efforts. This all helps in stacking the results in your favor and helps with reputation management. Read more on my post on universal/blended search here.

Press release optimization is a very popular recommendation from Chris, Brian, and Keith. It’s simple to do, you can show the value (measurable), and it is a very effective way to show up multiple times on a search results page. Read my blog post on “How to Optimize News Releases for Search Engine Optimization“.

Mistake #10: Treating your search marketing and other channels separately, instead if integrating them.
Bill shared with us that 57 percent of searchers are triggered from offline campaigns like TV and print (Super bowl ads are a great example). And then 39 percent of those will buy it if found online. Huge conversion! So it’s important to use the same keywords that are used in offline marketing pieces in your online search! Do the optimization before the pieces hit the streets, especially if it is a campaign with unique keywords or taglines. Creating and capturing demand – it’s search insurance.

Mistake #11: Failing to bid on terms for which your site ranks highly within the organic results.
You may have number one placement in organic search and that page may be a softer branded page. You can leverage the 1+1=3 benefit by having a paid ad on that same results page, which can be linked to an entirely different page. The paid ad can link to a landing or promotional page that may convert better (with better call-to-actions) than the softer page that is ranked naturally.

Mistake #12: Bidding solely on branded terms and ignoring non-branded terms.
Depending on what you want to accomplish, bidding on non-branded keywords may be important for acquiring new business. Branded keywords are where they already know you, so put content in front of people who don’t know your brand. Non-branded keywords may be problem oriented keywords and the searcher is looking for a solution. So you have an opportunity to drive content to users that don’t know your product and you may have the solution. Non-branded terms help with getting you out there for awareness and at the same time they can also be where the best conversions come from.

Mistake #13 attributing conversions to the last click, when there may have been many clicks.
There are many clicks that don’t bring conversions but are influential. We are inaccurately attributing prior actions. We need to understand interrelationships of non-branded and branded search events as well as purchase paths better. For example, most companies are not measuring if a visitor clicked through a PPC ad, then left, and then came back through a banner ad, then left, and finally came in from another banner and converted. Most tracking systems attribute that last conversion to the last banner and ignore and give no value to the first PPC ad. Attribution modeling would measure out all ads and give credit to them for the final conversion. Some of these models can be quite complex with different values on the different actions and may follow certain formulas or rules.

Bill states that companies that are not doing attribution modeling may lose out. Attribution models effectively move measurement away from the last click before conversion, so that you see the benefit.

To learn more about attribution modeling, watch Attribution Management video on Search Marketing Now.

Are there other common search mistakes you personally encountered or learned from? Feel free to share and post a comment below.

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