Friday, March 27, 2009

SEO & SEM For C-Level Executives

I have encountered a number of C-Level executives (CEOs, CIOs, and CTOs in particular) who are looking for guidance on a number of aspects around effective web presences. At the heart of this issue is the need for a high-level understanding of SEO and SEM. So, for their benefit, as well as for the general benefit of the Netverse, I thought I would provide an overview to these topics.

We'll start by defining our terms. SEO is Search Engine Optimization, which generally refers to optimizing ones website and pages to enhance ones placement in search engine result pages (SERPs). This placement is often referred to as "organic" because it comes from work you do on your site. My feeling is that SEO is a bit of a misnomer. After all, webmasters are not optimizing any search engines, but rather optimizing their website. Digital Asset Optimization is a better term in my opinion, plus I like the way that DAO reflects Tao (The Way). But SEO is well understood, so let's stick with that.

SEM is the other hand to SEO, the Yang to the SEO Yin. SEM is Search Engine Marketing, which generally consists of purchasing keywords and marketing links to drive traffic to your site. The fine folks at icrossing have a white paper from March 2007 called "Search Synergy Report" which concludes that a combination of SEO and SEM is more effective than either approach singly. Here, over two years later, this is not a revolutionary thought, but rather part of the standard practices for many successful sites.

I would also like to mention that there is a vast sea of acronyms surrounding this dense area of Internet technology. Don't be put off by it. This is not rocket science, but rather an ongoing dance of search companies trying to determine the highest quality content while websites try to figure out what the search companies are looking for so they can appear to have the highest quality content. Dynamicism and change are the constants in this equation.

SEO & SEM In Brief

Enhancing a website for organic search optimization is still very straight forward and can be summed up as follows:
  • Have a domain name that matches your industry and purpose.
  • Have a clear focus for your site. Make that focus permeate through your site.
  • Ensure that your pages (or posts) have the name of your site in a text form that can be read by spiders.
  • Ensure that your keywords and meta description match your message.
  • Ensure that your pages have great titles. A great title is clear and describes the content well.
  • Obtain links by creating unique, distinct and high-value content. Then, participate as a good citizen by reading and commenting on blogs, posting articles that can define you as an industry and thought leader. Your bios on other sites should link back to your site.
  • Each page or post should have a clear and consistent focus. Along with your descriptive title and heading, you should use consistent language in your pages and posts.
  • Be conservative with your links out and cross links within your site.
  • Use available tools to analyze and improve your site. DAO is an ongoing process, not a one time event.
Your SEO efforts will be supported by a thoughtful and consistent SEM practice. This practice should include:
  • Active Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns across major search engines
  • Active ad campaigns across major search engines
  • Active monitoring of campaign returns, landing page conversions, and website utilization and traffic patterns
In spite of the vendors who promise top rankings in a day or less, the industry consensus is that quality sites are built over time. Consistency and focus are the most important elements. Supporting the delivery of your message with well-selected paid search marketing will increase the visibility over your site, but only quality and an unique value proposition will create sticky visits to your site.

My advice is to be a good netizen and create something of unique and real value to improve enhance the SERP position of your site. Pay attention to the mechanics of your site by focusing your message so that search engine crawlers can understand your message and weigh it appropriately. In summary, honest, hard work and attention to detail are at the heart of mastering SEO or DAO and SEM.

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