SEO, PPC, ROI and WTF?
I just got back from SES new York. It was my first one. I’ve been in this game for 10 years, and always wanted to experience SES. Cost and timing always got in the way. I figured all the conference goodness was getting live blogged out anyway. But I was wrong. With more than 80 sessions, I hit about 12 of them. There was incredible value in the side conversations. It’s a social experience.
It was really interesting to be with rooms full of peers, all with different levels of experience and philosophies. No matter how confident (or cocky) you are, it still pulls you out of your comfort zone. You start questioning everything. You’re exhausted by the end.
One topic that routinely came up was the value of search for business. Old topic but finds new life each year. Is PPC or SEO better for your ROI? That’s such an executive level question, but to the shigrin of the asker, it doesn’t get answered straight forward. It can’t. The answer is “it depends.”
So I did attend one SEO only session where PPC came up. The feeling of the panelists was since everyone expects PPC to only be an ROI channel, compensate with SEO. Compensate? As in, clean up with SEO? It was a bit of a knock against the PPC definition of today.
Wait… It’s all coming back to me.
When PPC first came out, it was a way to help searchers, who were looking for yiour offerings, find your offerings. Period. Traditional marketing. PPC offered visibility into your efforts unlike any form before it. Television couldn’t tell you exactly who watched or acted on your ad. Billboards couldn’t do it. Magazines, bus wraps – everything – failed at providing hard data. So naturally, this amazing technology bombed us. A little later, google put out conversion code. Now we could tell how much money we made off an ad. We can report returns on ad spend. A version of interactive ROI became more and more of the focus. Soon, in some circles, it wasn’t about connecting users first. It was about buying revenue. The C-level was ecstatic. Marketers who got good at PPC looked like rock stars and happily spent ad budgets. Life got easy.
Avinash Kaushik had a keynote, and spoke about not just the micro side, but suggested we think about the macro side. What happened to marketing in search? What happened to the value of creating return visits, lifetime value, and brand awareness? Demanding solely ROI means a lot of bidding on brand terms, of which a massive percentage would be picked up by SEO anyway (since you almost always rank for your own terms). I know you have exceptions, and you need to compete against competitors who are going after your brand terms, but if you’re a shop selling dog gift items, and sell dog sweaters, bid the terms even if they don’t convert. Let people know you exist for when they want to buy dog collars or leashes. Get on their radar. That’s worth the cost of a click. You used to think your customers were worth more when you were blindly paying for billboards on the highway. Today, with Google being the most visited website in the world, I would put all my money in search first and foremost. Google owns your brand. Not you. Not your customer. Customers find you first through Google 9 times out of 10. If Google is your portal, advertise on it. Don’t be cheap.
I think the SEOs in this panel saw the miss on PPC, and suggested SEO to the rescue? If you can’t (or more likely, won’t) invest in PPC for the non-ROI of it, then maybe you’ll have some luck with the cheaper alternative – SEO. Branding, reputation management, controlling search engine real estate, and marketing can all be done with SEO. Though SEO is not an ROI channel (where the dollar can guarantee anything like PPC), it is certainly valuable as an avenue to reach massive, larger streams of qualified visits.
When I do PPC for my clients, I explain this value. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. But at least I tried. Technology spoiled us. We lost the real value of marketing and advertising. The 10:1 ROI focus is not the solution to online success. If you think it is, it’s time to look at the big macro picture.