In “SEO 101, Part 1: What Is SEO?,” my article last week, I described search engine optimization as an essential part of online marketing and development efforts. But some merchants wonder if SEO really matters to their bottom line.
Why Is SEO Important?
In the U.S. alone, searchers conducted 18.5 billion searches in May 2014 across the top five search engines, according to comScore’s search engine usage report. That’s an average of 58 searches per American citizen per month. Search is second nature to all of us – on our phones, at work, at home, at school. We’re surrounded by devices that can search the web, and that easy access to information is addictive.
Will your site show up when someone searches for your products?
SEO ensures that you do.
Consumers trust search engines to give them the right answer. They overwhelmingly assume that top-ranked sites are also the best sites. Marketers know that the top sites are the ones that have the strongest SEO programs, but the majority of the population has no idea what goes into a top ranking. To them, top is best.
That sort of trust results is an implicit endorsement of the top ranked sites. Your site will be seen by more consumers and clicked to by more consumers, yes. But it will also gain brand awareness and credibility.
Let’s not knock the consumers and conversions, though. Awareness is great, but search engines also send consumers with money to spend. Those consumers want something – they’re searching for something specific – and you can sell it to them. But only if you show up high enough in the rankings.
If you don’t rank highly in search engines, your competition will. Your competition will get the brand awareness, the implied endorsement, the customers and the conversions. SEO helps you win a larger share of the pie.
Where you rank also matters, of course. A Compete study from 2013 showed that 53 percent of searchers clicked on the first search result. This number will vary wildly by searcher, search query, the brand recognition of the sites ranking below the first position, and other factors. But on average, about half of your potential customers will click the number one search result. If that’s not your site, you likely lost the sale.
That’s why SEO is important.
SEO vs. PPC
Even if you have a pay-per-click advertising campaign in place, you still need SEO. Ideally, you’ll do both SEO and PPC, because they produce the best results when managed together.
Regardless, as shown above, the same Compete study showed that organic search results win 85 percent of the clicks in search results, with paid ads winning 15 percent. Searchers prefer organic results, though studies have shown that over a third of searchers don’t understand that search engines display ads in search results.
SEO also costs less than PPC. Many think that SEO is free. Well, that’s kind of true. SEO does not require payment for placement the way that PPC does; so in that regard it is free. But SEO does require strategy, management, and implementation, just like PPC.
If you’re an SEO expert already, it costs only your man hours to strategize and implement. If you’re not an expert, you’ll need additional man hours to learn and test your new knowledge. Testing your knowledge on your live ecommerce site may result in negative performance at first, which is another cost. Or you could hire a reputable agency to manage your SEO, which will cost agency fees plus the man hours to manage the agency and implement their recommendations. These same costs exist in PPC, however. So, all told, SEO involves less cost than PPC.
SEO also results in longer-term benefits. When you stop a PPC campaign, the benefit stops. No more visibility, no more traffic, no more sales. When you finish an SEO project the benefits continue to produce results.
PPC does have some strong benefits of its own. The ability to pay for placement means you can experience quick results if you have the funds. PPC also allows you to test and modify ads quickly according to trends and marketing campaigns.
Smart search marketers will manage their SEO and PPC campaigns together, using the data from each to optimize the other.
SEO Needs Marketing Support
SEO should never be your entire marketing campaign. If organic search drives the majority of your traffic and sales, your marketing plan is built on a shaky foundation.
Algorithm updates occur without warning and can have negative impacts that take time and man hours to recover from. Competitors can launch big SEO efforts of their own and push your site down the rankings. Your own marketing and development teams could accidentally make changes to the site that reduce or completely destroy your site’s organic search performance.
These are drastic situations, but I’ve seen each of them happen. What would the impact to your business be if your organic search traffic dropped by a third, a half or 100 percent?
These doomsday results aren’t typical. You should absolutely still do SEO — as part of a well-rounded marketing program. In fact, other marketing channels are critical to extending the visibility of your site’s content. That visibility is needed to gain additional links and mentions for your ecommerce site, which also strengthens your SEO program.
But SEO, as many benefits as it brings, is not a stand-alone strategy. I addressed that topic several months ago, in “SEO as Stand-alone Tactic Is Dead.”
For the next installment of this “SEO 101” series, see “Part 3: Keyword Research Planning.”