10 Ideas to Smooth Out Even Rough SEO/SEM Projects


By Scott Clark

Many of us have converged on Search Marketing from other disciplines, be it media marketing, advertising, web development or programming. This diversity is one of the reasons it’s so much fun to mingle compared to any one discipline.

But moving into SEM from other disciplines is not always easy. With web design and programming, the results are usually visible – there are phases of release and visible outcomes. The client nods approval while looking at a screen or printout and everyone moves down the project path. The ads run on the selected media property at the selected time. The ad proof is approved by the client before hitting the magazine. The client can be lazy in their review – they feel they’ve covered the bases by seeing something on the screen or in print. But you can’t “demo�? SEM results – there is no way to “beta�? a Google rank.

Outcomes are often dependent on product and presentation factors over which we have no control. So I’ve struggled, like you, with each unique, impatient and demanding client while learning things each time that make the next time a little easier. Here are a few that might help you.

1. Help the client understand how results will be measured. Unfortunately, some clients will begin asking you why they are not ranking a week or so after signing a contract. Even if you’ve carefully screened your clients, someone you’ve never met before, such as the CFO, will come “out of the woodwork�? and start to scrutinize your efforts in an unpredictable fashion. Be ready to re-explain.

2. Talk with clients about “frames of reference�?. Many times the client will use a different language from their customers, and therefore in their assessment of an SEM effort. Educated surfers use better-constructed queries than others with less experience. You can use search data and a lot of careful listening to help clarify the vocabulary of the searcher and understand the disparities.

3. Help the client think about real-world searching. I think businesses often think about their customers as sitting at a quiet, clean desk, lots of time, a super-fast computer, a big 24�? monitor and a T1 line all to themselves. This is rarely the case, of course, so it’s good to dirty-up the lens a bit and see what customers are seeing. Take them down the hallway to a PC, and ask them to look something up. Interrupt them a few times, call their cell phone, and generally make yourself annoying.

4. Introduce the client to the concept of split testing. Almost every client I say “split testing�? to nods, but few understand the concept. A hand out and 5 minutes makes it clear how keyphrases, ads, landing pages, and navigation flows can be tested and retested to improve site performance. A urst of confidence in my experience and the technique usually follow. You just showed that you’re not trying stuff at random.

5. Show the client how the customer is, really, the best designer. Even when hurting from writing a large check to a web designer for their current site, you must explain how split testing and other findings are to be folded into the site once proven effective, and why. Sometimes it’s good to show them the numbers so they can make the call.

6. Introduce your client to the eye-tracking concept and landing page design. Even if you don’t hire eyetracking reports, talk through some of the recent data. Let them get the feel for how people truly look at sites. The concept of the golden triangle, inverted pyramid and F-Shaped scanning are not black-magic, and clients find it both fascinating and comforting to know real-world testing has been done. This kind of a-ha moment relaxes the relationship even more.

7. Keep the client thinking about what’s going on. SEO can be a lonely road. Sometimes it’s like riding fences. Often we need to wait for data accumulation or for time to pass before executing a new phase in a link building campaign. But during these delays, we must still communicate. A quick email seems to do nicely. I have some automated systems that crank out some very, very simple PDF reports weekly.

8. Help your client keep true goals in mind. We often get absorbed with bringing people to the landing page and spend too little schedule and budget optimizing call to action and conversion goals. A 95% exit rate is a very bad thing indeed, especially if you’re paying for clicks, yet many forget it’s happening. It’s better to have fewer, better converting visitors in many cases, but some clients are initially obsessed with the visitor count. Sometimes introducing a simple grading system can take the focus away from “hits” and let you discuss quality of visitor more frequently.

9. Talk about the multi-visit sale. It’s amazing to me, but almost every client I speak with thinks of SEM in terms of the one-visit, one-sale mindset. Few consider the proven fact that many items require multiple visits to convert and your analytics and SEM success factors must take this into account. Not only must measurements allow for it, but the entire design process needs to consider this “fourth dimension.” People coming back to the site have a very different mindset than initial visitors. Help your client think in these terms too.

10. Set expectations – SEM is not easy. I’ve found that some of the best clients are those who’ve tried other methods first. If they’re not banned from these efforts, they have an appreciation for how hard SEM is. These folks are usually in a listening mood. But for some, who’ve been inundated with SPAM about $99 SEO from overseas, the 4-6 months’ effort to build strong organic rank can be too much to take. There is no one way to explain this process to clients except to say that it is going to take a while to accomplish and consider what works for different personalities. If they have great difficulty with this, have a PPC package available. You know the drill.

11. Bonus Idea – Explain #1 is often impossible, often not required for incredible success. Don’t go into a SEM project set up for client disappointment. #1 may not be possible, ever. Help clients understand that an across-the-board 5-position improvement for their 40 major keywords will quadruple their traffic, even if the improvement is further down on the SERPs. Focus on the business results, not the ego-driven Google-summit.

[The above article is a submission for Marketing Pilgrim’s Search Engine Marketing Scholarship Contest. Each Monday in October, entries will be published and the most popular article of the week will qualify for the $5,000 grand prize. If you’d like to submit an entry, please view the contest entry-requirements and guidelines.]