By Tom Schmitz
Is your marketing pound wise and penny foolish? What do I mean, and how does this impact search engine optimization (SEO)?
Pound Wise Marketing
Getting in front of decision makers and their influencers is difficult.
That is why each year, companies that sell big-ticket items enthusiastically commit large chunks of money to purchase email lists, sponsor webinars and push out press releases. They exhibit at conferences where they hand out professionally designed and printed brochures. They build websites filled with sales content.
Businesses do this to generate interest and capture those all-important leads that marketing teams pass on to sales reps. They have to. In competitive markets, if companies do not show up, they remain unknown, unremarkable and uncompetitive.
The MarketingSherpa 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report [PDF] shows trade shows, webinars, and email among the most effective marketing tactics.
Investing in these tactics is what I refer to as being “pound wise.”
Pound Foolish SEO
In the past, this marketing strategy had the dual benefit of being a sound SEO strategy, too. All those conferences and press releases created links on trusted sites. These inbound links generated domain authority that drove optimized pages into the rankings.
Today, however, search engines consider these placed links. Many of these types of links no longer pass PageRank or authority. Other types are under scrutiny — in fact, it’s likely that Google and Bing engineers are even now working on algorithm updates that will spell their demise.
I do not want to raise the specter of Penguin, Google’s algorithm to punish domains that actively acquire links designed to manipulate rankings.
In my opinion, press release and conference links and the like fall into the types of links Google says it ignores. For SEO, these links neither help nor harm. While such links are a direct result of financial exchange and therefore “placed” (rather than editorial), the links are still the result of legitimate business.
What I am saying is that the SEO benefits of pound wise marketing have and will continue to diminish.
Penny Foolish Marketing
For this argument to work, SEO must be recognized as important to the organization. If a company conducts business or develops leads online, then SEO is most certainly significant.
By being penny foolish, I refer to underutilizing marketing that does not directly generate names and emails. I am generalizing here. These are not strictly big ticket versus small ticket marketing expenses. And yet, much of what I intend to discuss costs less than prospecting lists, four-color brochures or trade shows.
The marketing and sales funnel does not begin with the pitch. It does not begin with identifying market-qualified prospects. It starts with brand awareness, and the best place to build awareness today is online. Every buyer and decision maker and all of their influencers across all your personas, are online and use Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Before the World Wide Web, salespeople held the initiative because they possessed all the information. If you wanted to find out about specs, features, availability and just about any information outside your office — anything that was not in a newspaper, magazine, journal or textbook – you had to go to salespeople. Today, most information can be found online.
Thanks to this plethora of information, conveniently indexed by search engines, potential buyers only need to type in a few words describing their business needs to unveil the latest technologies, products and services — and to identify which companies offer them.
Buyers can research vendors’ brand strength, reputation and market penetration in addition to product features and benefits. More and more, buyers call sellers first, not the other way around. This is characteristic of inbound marketing.
Penny Wise SEO
Look at the MarketingSherpa chart again. SEO is the most effective lead generation strategy listed.
Because it is increasingly difficult to buy one’s way to the top of the search engine rankings, companies that make sustained efforts, informed by best practices, can enjoy a marketing advantage. While all the same companies may show-up for the same trade shows or buy the same email lists, many businesses still depend on pound foolish SEO.
Get penny wise. Plan for and invest in present-day SEO.
First, make sure you have good SEO research and build a plan. Set up SEO tools and analytics.
Next, make sure your existing content is well written and optimized. Is your website both user- and SEO-friendly? Good basics prepares your website to compete for rankings. Not having a solid SEO foundation can limit visibility.
Content marketing and SEO are interconnected, so get to work creating content. After the basics, content is still the best way to attain SEO success. Just like SEO, though, the rules of content marketing have changed. Rand Fishkin offered a good roundup in his deck Cracking the SEO Code for 2015. Rand encourages us to create content that is:
- Uniquely valuable
- Has a great user experience
Fishkin also suggests publishing content that is strategic and relevant to your business, targeting likely people that will share or link, and engaging in a sustained publishing effort.
This is difficult. Most businesses never start, or they abandon their efforts before experiencing real benefits. The flywheel analogy applies, so start sooner, not later.
I like to repurpose content and create topical campaigns. Here is one itinerary you can follow. It is an example of how to publish multiple pieces and generate leads from one topic.
- Begin with a whitepaper. Put it on a landing page, behind a form to capture leads.
- Blog about the whitepaper. Explain why people should read it.
- Use social media to send people to the blog.
- Later, release an infographic based on the whitepaper.
- Blog about the infographic and also link to the whitepaper.
- Use social media to build interest in the infographic.
- Later, hold a webinar on the same topic. Announce it on the blog when you release the whitepaper and infographic. Invite people that download the white paper. Promote it to your in-house list. Share it on social media.
If you are hard up for topic ideas, read industry blogs and conference agendas. Search for content marketing ideas. You will find dozens of lists. Keep a notebook for ideas or write them on Post-It notes and stick them on your wall.
Keep a constant flow. The more often you blog topics of substance, the more often you can promote products and services, or share company news without it appearing spammy. No one will follow your corporate blog if all it does is self-promote.
Most successful blogs begin with one writer or personality then add authors when they become successful. Use only writers that are committed. Avoid handing out writing assignments to your employees on a rotating basis.
Use SEO keywords; especially long tails that include shorter keywords. Keep in mind, though, not every post needs to target an SEO keyword or phrase. Similarly, it is good to link to other pages or posts when they are relevant; just do not force it.
Use both social media and your business network to promote content. Pretty much all your content should receive attention from your company’s social media accounts. You will likely get more traffic and word of mouth by pushing to or emailing your business lists and contacts, especially at first. Be judicious and match content to individuals one-by-one. If it is a good match, share. If you must convince yourself, it is probably best to not bother someone.
This is only a taste. The important take-away is to prioritize content and SEO. Remember, inbound marketing generates leads. SEO impacts lead generation. Organic search leads close eight times more often than outbound leads.
One Final Thought
The marketing funnel is widest at the top, where brand awareness is built. Content marketing is great for building brand awareness. Even if your content and SEO do no more than expand your brand recognition, it will make outbound sales leads more receptive.
I expect, however, if you can sustain a strategic, thoughtful and sustained SEO and content for a year, you will enjoy real benefits at every level of the marketing and sales funnel.
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