What IT managers should know about SEO

matt_mcgowan.jpgMaybe we talk about Web surfing because to talk more about Web searching would bring up a topic a lot of IT managers don’t want to hear about.

Search Engine Strategies (SES) will be taking place in Toronto this June 16-18 2008 and will cover all manner of strategies enterprises are using to get discovered by customers online. Matt McGowan, global vice-president of marketing at Incisive Media and one of the show’s producers, took a few minutes to give me an overview of where the industry was heading, including for those who only spend some of their time working with marketing people.

1. To what extent, if at all, do IT professionals such as CIOs and IT managers have in search engine marketing? Have the tools and strategies matured to a point where this can be entirely handed off to the marketing department, or is there still a need for custom development or integration with other systems?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to both (1) paid placement, occurs mostly on the right hand side of the search engine results page (SERPs) in addition to the content networks and (2) natural optimization (SEO). Marketers use existing tools every day to optimize spend. That said, new tools are released all the time and existing tools need to be tweaked to keep up with the ever occurring changes in the industry.

As far as paid placement is concerned, tools have been created that make my job as a marketer much easier. For example, Bid Management Tools allow for, amongst other things, a central point to manage campaigns across multiple Search Engines (SEs) and centralized tracking to help determine ROI.

Technology plays a major factor in SEO as well, in terms of the platform on which content sits needs to be optimized. For example, if your Content Management System (CMS) uses variables instead of relevant keywords in the url generation process, some would say you are at a disadvantage.

Other tools can help marketers with both their paid and SEO practices, including Keyword Research tools, which have been developed to suggest relevant keywords so as to grow lists into the long tail and beyond, and Website optimization tools which help marketers and designers determine the look and feel that drives the best ROI/conversions.

That said, tools are not perfect. CMS’s, for example, do not help you write strong unique content or achieve inbound links (a major factor SEs use in determining site relevance to certain keyword queries).

There are a lot of tools out there and many of the most effective companies utilize many of them. That said, there are many companies (the vast majority) that still need to develop a better understanding of Search and the tools that currently exist. Technologists and Web developers will be needed to integrate these tools/platforms for some time to come, in addition as the SEM Industry continues to evolve these same people will be called upon to update their tools and create new ones to solve new problems (for example the integration Video, Social Media and other new assets the SEs have now learned to crawl – better tools need to be updated to manage these non-contextual assets).

2. Although Microsoft hasn’t managed to buy Yahoo (at least not yet) there seems to be an inevitable consolidation among the major search players. What impact do you think this will have on those trying to advance their search engine marketing strategies within the enterprise?

I define the major players here in North America to be Google, Yahoo, Live (Microsoft) and Ask (IAC) – at this time talk has been around MSFT buying Yahoo (either parts or the whole company), which would make MSFT the number 2 player in the space, or as some industry veterans predict, Yahoo incorporating Google’s search technology, which would decrease costs for Yahoo and grow revenues as Google monetizes Search better than Yahoo. There are other conversations going on around CashBack Live and talent acquisition but those are not as relevant to this question.

What impact would consolidation have, if it happened (which at least as outlined above looks like it will not happen)? It makes marketers nervous. Do we really want to be reliant on so few companies for such a major portion of our ad spend? If we continue to see consolidation, it would mean fewer choices which could mean higher prices, lower quality Search results (as competition does lead to innovation), or worse…

This is the kind of thing we discuss during our strategy sessions at the premier global SEM event series the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo – I would encourage all reading this to join the conversation sometime soon.

3. What are the characteristics of a company that has successfully mastered search engine marketing?

Great question – and based on the last two questions an obvious query…

A) Strong communication between IT, Web development and Marketing

B) Minimal bureaucracy – decision making ability lies in the hands of the people who get it

C) Willingness to test new ideas, tools and services

4. How do North American countries such as Canada and the U.S. differ, if at all, in their search engine marketing strategies and approach versus internationally-based firms, and is there something they could learn from one another?

I have not seen that many differences other than the culture and language.

5. What’s the best search engine marketing tip you’ve ever received, either from attending SES or elsewhere?

Paid Search – break your keywords into multiple buckets, each with its own purpose, goals and ROI expectations.

Organic (SEO) – don’t try to game the system, write good content on a sound platform. Be original.

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