This study by the Aberdeen Group from October 2008 describes Search Engine Marketing best practices based on a survey of over 200 companies of all sizes and demographics, and companies mostly from North America (64%). The study divides the companies into Best-in-Class, Industry Average, or Laggard based on return on marketing investment, and in the last year – change in brand awareness, change in web conversion rate, and change in web traffic.
Because of the breadth of the study, I will focus on exploring the points of differentiation between the Best-in-Class and everyone else. If you want more, I encourage you to download the complete study here, and check it out yourself.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
SEM is the process of getting your company to the top of search engine rankings. The study divides SEM into three categories, organic search, paid search, and paid inclusion. We see organic search and paid search in the picture below:
These three sites (with the Wikipedia entry leading) bubbled to the top of the search for SEM by building inbound links, optimizing their web site for key words, etc. They also did not pay to appear there. Thus, this is the organic search.
Paid search results show up in the shaded area. As you might imagine, the more popular the keyword, the higher the price a company has to pay to appear in those results. Additionally, a search engine uses an algorithm based on relevance, quality, and many other factors to decide whose ads to display.
Factors of Interest
Although Aberdeen studies performance across five categories – process, organization, knowledge management, technology, and performance management, this post will only explore process, knowledge, and performance management.
Looking at process (approach to daily operations), The Best-in-Class enterprises were significantly more likely than the Industry Average (66% vs. 41%) ) to have a formalized process for SEM initiative development. This finding suggests the Best-in-Class use their time more efficiently than their peers. Because of their formal process, Best-in-Class companies can spend more time on creating an SEM initiative and less time on how to create an SEM initiative like their not-as-effective Industry Average peers.
Within the knowledge category (putting data in the right people’s hands at the right time), Best-in-Class companies are much more likely to be able to adjust their SEM initiatives in real time (74% vs. 50%). I believe this is a huge strategic advantage for Best-in-Class companies. Because they can adjust the execution to provide rules and accountability, to create a team dedicated to executing SEM initiatives.
Most importantly, the Best-in-Class dominated all rivals in all categories of performance management: Access to real or near time analytics to track initiative performance (79% vs. 63%), historical analysis of SEM initiatives (74% vs 57%), and the ability to compare organic search, paid search, and paid inclusion results (69% vs. 35%).
Implications for my Business
The most fruitful areas for exploration are in process development and performance tracking. My business could add significant value to our clients by 1. helping businesses develop formal SEM initiative systems, and 2. implementing performance tracking systems to provide analytical insight on past data and 3. providing real time SEM adjustment capabilities.