With any investment, you have to assess several economic factors before making a decision to pursue it. The same is true with an investment in search engine optimization (SEO). However, research we commissioned from Forrester Consulting shows that nearly 70% of brands lack the comprehensive toolset required to understand and accurately quantify the impact of SEO, therefore, deprioritizing it as part of their marketing strategy or rendering SEO a non-starter.
Consequently, 56% of brands continue to prioritize paid search over SEO – a fundamentally flawed strategy. Here are three major signs that your marketing budget is misaligned.
SEO Is the Smallest Part of Your Marketing Budget
If you take a cross-section of your marketing budget, and the resources you have earmarked for SEO is not near the top of the list, you are (or will be) outspent and outperformed in search by a competitor – perhaps one younger with a more inferior offering. Twenty years ago, nobody would find fault with your decision-making if you chose to hold off on investing in SEO when the industry was in its infancy and shrouded in uncertainty. However, early adopters have been the biggest winners, and today, SEO is the only means for sustainably securing market share in some of the most competitive search spaces.
Newer and smaller brands that have greater agility and foresight to place bets on SEO have been able to somewhat easily steal market share from established Fortune 500 companies that are slower to adopt it. The search playing field is level-set and 100-year old multi-national companies with household names need to prioritize SEO to compete.
But how can these upstarts compete and even pick the pockets of major players? Because they zero in on specific areas of interest, establishing themselves as experts and strategically investing to become the entity that best satisfies search intent while maximizing the user experience.
Where mega brands are spread thin, search competitors are often laser focused. If you are the mega brand with thousands of SKUs, you have to be smarter about the information you provide online, how you’re targeting your audience and how you’re organizing data for both users and Google to remain the most qualified source with the highest-ranking potential. For companies that have been around for decades, this often starts with consolidating heavily bloated websites.
You Are Overly Dependent on Short-Term Wins
The vast majority of companies are overly invested in paid advertising, addicted to quick, quantifiable results and conversion rates. However, there is absolutely NOTHING sustainable about paid advertising. While the results are easily quantifiable, CPA data doesn’t support the investment over organic search. Companies can acquire customers via organic channels at a fraction of the cost of paid channels.
That fact may be lost on many executives. Forrester found only 30% of companies have the proper tools to accurately measure organic opportunity and performance. Without the proper data, there can’t be a proper investment. Companies need to invest in the proper scoping of organic opportunity and the proper measurement of organic performance to plan their budget appropriately. The result should be the proper pairing of short-term wins with long-term investment strategies – the same as any well-balanced investment portfolio.
A long-term strategy starts with first identifying the correct organic opportunity to pursue, and then providing the proper runway (24+ months) to allow the organic search initiative to mature and pay real dividends. It also pivots, using the proper tools to measure performance and adjust accordingly. Combined, there is no doubt that organic SEO would be a more rewarding investment opportunity.
Again, it’s all about balance. Once your organic search initiatives start to pay off and you’re securing upper search real estate, you can and should turn down your paid ad spend. Companies actually inflict harm on themselves by overinvesting in paid search, even after they increased organic spend. This is because clicks that should go to organic wind up going to premium paid placements that detract users from clicking on the organic results they worked so hard to establish. My advice to executives is to curb your dependence on short-term wins to buoy company performance with the maturation and intelligence of an evergreen SEO strategy.
As an added insight, three out of four marketers also opt to throw more money at paid opportunities in times of crisis in a costly, reactionary attempt to balance/neutralize online sentiment and brand perception instead of investing in preemptive organic measures. This is also a flawed strategy. While crisis management is an ongoing process, organic SEO is the most effective strategy (both in terms of cost and performance) for navigating a crisis when pursued proactively, establishing a much stronger and sustainable set of organic search results. This leads me to point #3.
You Have Yet to Invest in “Branded” SEO
In a gossip-driven culture predominantly influenced by viral activity, brands have been destroyed overnight due to a weak or vulnerable brand reputation. SEO has more traditionally been used by online retailers as a means to improve the rank of their website within “product”- or “application”-based searches that are more transactional in nature. However, a brand’s online reputation AND the reputation of its executive team are directly responsible for either accelerating or derailing performance. This is especially applicable for B2B and investment firms where the vast majority of relevant user searches and online inquiries are brand related.
As such, 80% of SEO managers agree SEO is more important now than ever before and will become even more important as time wears on, Forrester found. Yet 7 out of 10 marketers aren’t investing in SEO to improve online perception. In 2020, brands need to be working every day to improve their perception in order to maintain their competitive edge, accelerate performance and build immunity against future crises. This is your lottery pick for 2020.
The gut-wrenching feeling of missed opportunity is exactly what most companies that continue to hedge their bets on SEO will feel year after year. It’s similar to passing on an investment opportunity that continues to double in value because they had a false sense of financial security. Maybe they felt safer stuffing marketing dollars under their mattress, thinking them best allocated elsewhere, or knew they were late to the game and opportunity had already passed them by. Best to not compound bad decision making.
Joseph Torrillo is Vice President at Terakeet