The Place of SEO in Internet Marketing

A year ago a client came to me. He had employed an SEO for approximately two years, and Internet sales were non-existent. He had top ranking on all the relevant keywords, and WebTrends held evidence of an impressive amount of traffic.

“Why aren’t we moving the product?” he asked. I asked if he had ever considered retaining the services of an Internet marketing consultant. He replied that he had employed an SEO for two years.

That was his mistake. To be sure, it’s a common mistake. Go to any SEO forum, and you’ll find SEO’s throwing out terms like ROI, marketing strategy, and conversion ratios when they are discussing meta description tags and search engine rankings.

Meta tags are not a marketing strategy. Pages titles do not affect conversion ratios. ROI has little to do with search engine optimization. Search engine optimization does not sell the product; it never has and it never will.

SEO’s Failure to Convert

One SEO professional complained, “I’m spending hundreds of dollars on Overture bidding for search engine optimization keyword phrases. I’m getting hundreds of hits off the listings, but no new customers. Not even one.”

She went on to blame Overture for sending her low quality traffic.

The problem was two-fold:

  • An assumption that traffic, especially “targeted traffic”, will magically convert into sales.
  • The low quality of search engine traffic – whether it be Overture, Google, MSN, LookSmart, HotBot or AllTheWeb.

    The Quality of Search Engine Traffic
    The Internet as a marketplace has trust issues; anybody can put up a website.

    Talk is cheap. HTML is even cheaper.
    -Peter Da Vanzo, Search Engine Blog

    The simple fact is, most consumers don’t need what you have to offer. Even if they do need it, they can get it elsewhere. More often than not, they can get it elsewhere at a better price, from some merchant with a better marketing strategy, more credibility, more convenient location and better looking sales people.

    The majority of effective marketing revolves around building the brand name. Brand is trust, and trust is the only thing differentiating you from thousands of your competitors who offer the same damn thing you offer.
    -John Scott, Internet-Marketing-Research.net

    When a consumer finds a link to Quality Web Hosting.net on another site, accompanied by the words, “Proudly hosted by”, this referral must be considered a quality referral.

    When a consumer finds a link to Quality Web Hosting.net in the search results pages of Google, MSN, AOL or any other search engine, no credibility attaches to that link. This is a low quality referral.

    When a consumer searches Google for dedicated servers, they will find:

  • www.dedicated-servers.co.uk
  • www.skynetweb.com
  • www.dialtone.com
  • www.hostway.com.au
  • www.sod.net, ETC

    Do these top ten listings give these sites credibility in the consumer’s mind? Does the fact that www.dedicated-servers.co.uk is listed #1 give it more credibility than RackShack or ServerBeach or RackSpace? No. In fact, it only reinforces the idea that search engines rank sites randomly.

    Dedicated-Servers.co.uk may have a #1 listing for that search term, but that listing does not give it even one ounce of credibility in the consumer’s mind.

    A newsgroup post saying, “I’ve been with such and such dedicated hosting for a couple years now, and it’s very reliable,” – that would create a level of branding.

    Traffic Doesn’t Equal Sales
    An assumption exists that traffic, especially “targeted traffic”, will magically convert into sales.

    Traffic, no matter how “targeted”, does not equal sales. Achieving sales is in many ways similar to courtship. The way SEO professionals approach it, you’d think they go running through the streets with a placard that says, “I’m horny” when they want sex. The SEO’s only marketing strategy is exposure, and simple exposure to the product does not achieve sales.

    All over the Internet, sites achieve targeted traffic by the thousands each day. And those same sites don’t sell diddly squat.

    In order to achieve sales, a solid marketing strategy must be in place. A combination of factors designed to convince the prospect of their need or want for the product, and then to convince the prospect that you are the ideal merchant from which to buy the product.

    Almost any market you enter, you will have competition. What can you offer that your competition doesn’t? What sets you apart? In most instances, the only thing setting you apart from your competition is the URL in the address bar – the name of your business; your brand.

    Search engine optimization doesn’t address these issues. SEO doesn’t sell anything. It never has; it never will.

    Marketing is Sales

    Selling A Tool
    One client approached us to optimize a site for a new tool he had invented. He wanted to sell his invention for $3 a piece via the Internet. This seemed a tad on the impractical side to us.

    We put in few phone calls to Lowe’s and Home Depot. A couple weeks later, Lowe’s made a generous offer, and our job was done. That’s marketing.

    Marketing Creates Sales

    Marketing is selling. Not advertising; not “hits”; not creativity awards; not search engine ranking; marketing is simply selling the product.

    Brand is Often the Only Difference.
    Most consumers don’t need what you have to offer. Even if they do need it, they can get it elsewhere. More often than not, they can get it elsewhere at a better price, from some merchant with a better marketing strategy, more credibility and better looking sales people.

    The majority of effective marketing revolves around building the brand name. Brand is trust, and trust is the only thing differentiating you from thousands of your competitors who offer the same damn thing you offer.

    Let’s say you offer hosting, for example. Why would somebody choose you instead of one of your competitors? If you’re thinking price, think again. Price does not drive sales. Value drives sales. Price can be the same across the Internet, so in order to increase perceived value, add brand (credibility).

    The Bottom Line

    Marketing is not SEO; SEO is not marketing. SEO is not a marketing strategy. High search engine rankings do not create credibility.

    Consider the fact that search engine traffic is low quality traffic to begin with, then add in the fact that search engine traffic often accounts for less than 20% of all traffic to a website. How much is SEO worth now?

    But wait! We’re not done quite yet. SEO is proving to be fairly worthless even when it’s good SEO. But how many “professional SEO’s” practice truly effective SEO?

    One high profile SEO recently stated: I freely admit that I don’t optimize for highly competitive keywords. And, I don’t optimize for one-word keywords, and many two-word phrases that might be extremely competitive.

    And she isn’t alone. In one SEO forum, a so-called professional boasted of his inability to achieve ranking for competitive keywords:

    If you want bragging rights, chase the big ticket terms like “Search Engine Optimization”. The other 3000 related terms are still up for grabs.

    Was he ridiculed? No; he was applauded! It seems to be a disturbing trend spreading rapidly through amateur SEO circles. Before long, we might expect to have a professional organization dedicated to these SEO amateurs: Ineffective SEO’s Professional Organization?

    I find this trend of SEO incompetence revolting beyond description. Suddenly it’s okay to take a client’s money and not deliver the goods? In the real world, we call that fraud and get the district attorney involved; yet on the Internet these people brag about it and give seminars?

    Summary

    If your primary objective on the Internet is to be profitable, the choice of whether to pay for search engine optimization or not should be carefully considered.

    The majority of the highly successful sites do not practice search engine optimization. Highly profitable websites are profitable because of solid marketing strategies, not search engine traffic.

    The most profitable websites, in my experience, achieve less than 5% of sales from search referrals.

    When all is said and done, it’s a rare occasion that search engine optimization can justify a $4,000 price tag. Search engine optimization should only be used in conjunction with the implementation of a solid marketing strategy.

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    1. Marketing Creates Sales???
      Marketing is selling. Not advertising; not “hits”; not creativity awards; not search engine ranking; marketing is simply selling the product.

      I personally think, marketing prepare and support sales. Do you?

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