It might sound crazy, but driving increased traffic to your website through SEO and paid search may be damaging your brand, rather than helping it. SEO and paid search efforts can be valuable ways to increase site traffic, but launching these efforts without first developing a solid business and marketing strategy is risky. If done incorrectly – without a winning strategy in place – SEO and paid search could actually threaten your marketing efforts and possibly erode your brand name. You also risk wasted time, money and effort – and may also alienate prospective customers.
But there’s a solution! By conducting the following five assessments of your business prior to launching an SEO or paid search campaign, you’ll build a bullet-proof business foundation while greatly increasing the chances that your SEO and paid search campaigns will thrive.
1. Branding Assessment
Before launching your SEO and paid search campaigns, determine whether your branding is truly effective. Many companies skip this step, but the right branding will serve as a solid foundation, generating greater results for your SEO and paid search efforts. If your brand is in good shape, you’ll drive more revenue for the same (or even less!) effort. That’s just smart business. Yet, companies often plow ahead full-force with SEO and paid search campaigns with brands that are taped together with rubber bands, silly putty and band-aids.
A B2B e-commerce company was eager to launch their first SEO campaign and had earmarked a large percentage of their marketing budget to the endeavor. Yet their online business had no identity, mission, personality, positioning or differentiation. In contrast, their competitors looked far more professional, reliable and credible. Regardless, this company insisted on moving forward with SEO, hoping to drive more traffic to their site.
This is a doomed plan. Even if the company increases traffic to their site, there’s no compelling reason for site visitors to trust them or purchase from them. The company’s poor brand image is apparent. Their time, funds and energy would be better spent on building a strong brand first, and then launching an SEO campaign. Otherwise, their revenue results will continue to lag far behind their traffic numbers indefinitely.
2. Audience Assessment
It’s critical to understand your audiences prior to launching SEO and paid search campaigns. Certain companies rush to create online campaigns without fully understanding their priority populations and crafting customized marketing messages targeted to defined personas.
An online apparel retailer believed that their audience included all mothers. Market research showed, however, that fashionable, upscale, metropolitan moms wouldn’t even consider shopping on their site, but budget-seeking moms would. By changing their approach – and messaging – accordingly, this company’s search campaigns performed more efficiently and increased revenue.
3. Analytics Assessment
Because SEO and paid search are so data-heavy, you’d think that all search marketers start with a major analytics analysis. However, all too often, they don’t, which is a problem. Analytics reveals important marketing insights, which can be key to a successful search campaign.
A national food brand was optimizing their website and launching a new paid search campaign. After reviewing their web analytics, it became clear that driving additional traffic to the site would actually create poor brand experiences. Their analytics revealed that their average site visitor came to the site only 1.1 times. There were hardly ANY repeat visitors. People clearly didn’t like what they saw on the site, so they never came back. Before driving more visitors to the site, the company needed a major site overhaul to help attract and retain their customers.
A B2B documentation company wanted to launch a new search campaign, hoping to drive additional traffic to the site. Their web analytics showed that their website had a conversion rate of 0.3%. That’s not a typo! It was truly that low. The source of the visit didn’t matter – the conversion rate was consistently dismal. Clearly, they needed to fix their website prior to focusing on SEO and paid search. After creating customized, redesigned landing pages, the company was able to increase both their conversion rate and revenue. Subsequently, their search campaigns generated much greater business results.
4. Business Model Assessment
Struggling companies often assume that their business models are working, but their marketing campaigns are underperforming. But what happens if the business model is weak and/or outdated?
Every industry can go through disruptive innovation. At one point, Smith Corona was the world’s leading typewriter company. Over time, they believed their marketing campaigns were failing them, but in reality, their business model had become outdated. Tweaking their marketing campaigns didn’t matter. They needed to blow up their business model, switching their focus from outdated typewriters to innovative computers. Amazon is an example of a company that disrupted the book industry in the 90s, introducing a revolutionary e-commerce model. They’re doing it again with the innovative, timely Kindle today.
Is your company focusing as much attention on your business model as your SEO and paid search campaigns? Tweaking a campaign can lead to improved marketing results, but to maximize your business performance, you need a current, competitive business model.
Sometimes, adjusting just one aspect of a business model prior to SEO or paid search can make a huge difference in your campaign results. A music studio wanted to grow its revenue. Instead of incrementally capturing more students to take music lessons under its existing pricing system, the company needed to overhaul its business model to perform more like a membership-based health club. Changing that one element of the model improved their financial performance dramatically. Consequently, their SEO and paid search resulted in an increased profit per student and the company grew in an accelerated manner.
5. Website Assessment
Assuming you’ve defined a solid brand, identified your audiences, gained insights from your analytics and created the optimal business model, the next step is conducting a website assessment.
If you’re driving traffic to a site that doesn’t satisfy visitors’ needs, it doesn’t matter how much traffic you generate. As more traffic visits the site, more people suffer through a poor user experience and associate that negative experience with your brand. Therefore, you need to first ensure that your site is fully satisfying your site visitors.
A B2B corporate gifts company wanted to launch an SEO campaign. Their business model centered on an audience-segmented approach, specializing in the education, healthcare and government sectors. Even though their business relied so heavily on segmentation as a competitive advantage, their website felt “cookie cutter” and didn’t spotlight their customized solutions. The company redesigned their website, focusing on different offerings for their core audience segments. Their subsequent SEO campaign increased traffic in line with their differentiation, producing better financial results.
If you hope to maximize business results through SEO and paid search, remember that these efforts do not work in a silo. Instead, they’re part of the overall business and marketing strategy, and without solid foundations, any SEO and paid search campaigns will fall short of its potential. Therefore, it’s critical to first build your brand, understand your audiences, measure their online behavior, build the right business model and launch the right website. Only then can you maximize your SEO and paid search results.
About the Author: Tom Shapiro is the founder & CEO of Digital Marketing NOW, a full-service digital marketing and design firm that offers strategy, web development, design, SEO, conversion optimization, social media, email marketing and more. Tom cuts through all the hype and develops clear, differentiated marketing strategies focused on real results for his clients. Throughout his career, Tom has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies including P&G, HP, IBM, Sears and Kraft Foods.