It's a tough time to be an online marketer. Now that online marketing is recognized as an essential acquisition and awareness strategy, companies are expecting more impact and immediate results from their efforts. And with enterprises investing heavily in building their online marketing teams—in terms of headcount, technology, and budget—expectations are higher than ever.
The problem is that with the bevy of opportunities for generating revenue online, marketers are unsure where to invest for best results.
Although pay-per-click (PPC), online ads, and email campaigns will remain core components of any online marketing strategy, their widespread use is reducing their effectiveness.
It's time to consider an alternative approach that has been around for as long as e-commerce itself but has often been neglected: search engine optimization (SEO).
In an Internet business environment that expects real-time responses and immediate results, SEO has struggled to capture the imagination of online marketing teams. Organic search has long been deemed unlikely to have an immediate impact. Incorrectly labeled "free search," in contrast to paid search (where each Web visit has an associated cost), SEO is left to fend for itself.
But SEO and organic search can be one of the most powerful revenue-generating channels available to an online marketing team. It can also help businesses run their marketing programs in a smarter way:
- Lead Generation. For most enterprises, SEO's primary contribution is organic-search leads. Such leads deservedly have a reputation for their quality, producing qualified prospects resulting in rapid customer acquisition.
- Competitive Intelligence. A thorough understanding of your competitors' SEO strategy provides not only information about how to outplay them in search rankings but also intelligence about their product positioning, messaging, and target markets.
- Customer Intelligence. With the emergence of social networking, search engines can provide insight into your target markets. Information captured from such new sources can also provide immediate feedback on new or updated products and services, as well as an understanding of longer-term market trends and developments.
- Brand Monitoring and Protection. Whether it's a positive news article, a customer complaint, or a posting from a competitor, search engines are becoming an early-warning system for enterprise brand identity by allowing for prompt, targeted responses.
- ROI-Driven SEO. With the right technology in place, SEO initiatives can now be held to the same standard as the rest of your online marketing operations in terms of quantifiable measurement. Only with such measurement will companies be able to gauge the real return of SEO projects and make accurate budgeting decisions.
- Enterprisewide Involvement. Collective intelligence about a company's SEO initiatives and goals is essential. Organic search performance should be driven by every employee who touches the Web. When everyone is mindful of SEO and understands best-practices, organic search results become even more successful.
If SEO is to be an effective and consistent online market channel, it is far from being "free," requiring a dedicated headcount and budget. And there's no doubt that benefits will be realized once those measures are put into place.
The emergence of a new type of online marketing management platform—i.e., enterprise-class SEO platforms—is on pace to ensure that those platforms become part of any core online marketing solution, and as critical to an organization as CRM is to Sales.
Enterprise-class SEO platforms provide comprehensive SEO performance management that can improve the productivity of the entire marketing organization, not just the SEO manager. They also allow companies to discover new keyword opportunities through competitive intelligence, develop strategies to maximize their potential, establish metrics and reporting to monitor performance, and justify continued investment through ROI analysis.
With the availability of enterprise-scale platforms, it's time to take a fresh look at SEO—but it needs to be done now. Unlike many other online marketing channels, SEO provides a first-mover advantage to the player who takes the initiative. Organic search and SEO are now recognized as a need-to-have marketing channel. With the information gathered from an effective SEO management platform, people can become smarter about their businesses and can run them more profitably.
Once you've reached the top of the organic rankings, your position can be very difficult to challenge. And when you're at the top, it's a good time to be an online marketer.