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3 Search Marketing Takeaways from 2011

December 19, 2011

Search Marketing Takeaways

The first words I uttered when 2011 arrived was, “Enjoy 2011, because the world is going to end in 2012”.

Of course I don’t really believe that, but it seems like only yesterday I was joking about it. Yet, what do you know – 2012 is less than two weeks away.

If search engines had zodiac years, 2011 would be the year of the panda… with a bit of honey badger thrown in for good measure. As usual, we saw countless updates to keep us all on our toes – from the string of Google panda and freshness updates, to other distractions such as authorship mark-up and schema.org, not to mention the arrival of the supposed “Facebook killer“.

So with all this going on, what key lessons did I learn this year?

1. Focus your Priorities

I’m not sure if you noticed, but Google et al. have no problem keeping us on our toes. And even though search marketers hate standing still, most days seem like having to go from running a ten-minute mile to a five-minute mile… and that’s not even taking into account your own company dynamics. Suddenly your smooth running track turns into an obstacle course, with several mud pools thrown in front of you along the way.

At any one time, there can be so many different areas to focus on and unless you have been blessed with unlimited resources, you simply can’t do everything (or at least, you can’t do everything well).

So what do you do?

  • Figure out what’s important to your program and what’s going to give you the best benefit (unfortunately, this isn’t always what’s the most fun)
  • Prioritize and do those things really, really well
  • Action those areas that you can (or more easily) control, and plan out how to influence those areas that “tradition” says you can’t

2. Remember, “All for One, and One for All”

With all the updates this past year, one thing is crystal clear: you can’t succeed without a tightly integrated approach to SEO, PPC and Social Media.

SEO and PPC

SEO and PPC work together. There’s plenty of cannibalization discussions out there, but overall you do get an incremental lift when using both together (a 2011 study found that PPC gives a 89% incremental lift in total site visitors – above and beyond traffic you would normally expect just from SEO).

One of my key learnings this year included how to report on success. If you are reporting out on Search KPIs to upper management, I’m an advocate of having SEO and PPC numbers combined. If you have solid PPC and SEO programs in place, there’s just too much interplay between the two to look at them in isolation, at least at that high level.

Now at an operational level, of course you should monitor the numbers separately. But this is needed more in order to manage and understand individual contribution and performance on a day-to-day level, so that tactical adjustments can be made, as needed. This is where the detail comes into play since there can be many moving parts. However, most times this detail can be difficult to quickly understand unless you are living and breathing search 24/7.

Social Media, SEO and PPC

We also saw social media becoming an influence where SEO is concerned. As Google continues in its quest for G+ domination, we need to keep a close eye on the growing importance of social signals.

On the PPC side, paid social (be it on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has also been taking steps forward with improvements in targeting, reporting, and arguably set-up… depending on the platform! One takeaway (quite basic, but often overlooked) is to ensure that a portion of your overall search budget gets cornered off to support these paid social efforts.

3. Balance your Learning and Doing

Unfortunately it isn’t possible to always “do, do, do…” without also keeping up-to-date on important changes that constantly go on in this industry. Similarly, there’s no point in learning and knowing the “theory”, if you aren’t going to apply this knowledge and test it out for your particular company or program.

Yes, best practices can often apply on a general level, but if you really want your program to excel, you need to figure out the best practices that apply to your specific situation, and the only way to do this is through testing.

So make sure you learn. Make sure you apply. Make sure you to test. And then repeat over.

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