In the wake of Jason Calcanis letting everyone know that search marketing is worthless, SiliconValleyWatcher Tom Foremski weighs in with his own views: “SEO, beyond basic principles, is not worth it”—I beg to disagree.
There are several misconceptions here that I need to take one at a time.
First, Tom opens the piece quoting an IDC study by Sue Feldman that “shoots down” the idea that the majority of traffic to Web sites come from the top search engines. I haven’t seen the study, but it appears that this study lumped all searches into a pile and says that only 30% of them are happening at Google, Yahoo!, and friends. I have not seen that statistic before, but it doesn’t shock me. Undoubtedly many searches are done using Web site search facilities—70% could be the right number for that.
I’m not sure what you do with that number though. Suppose I told you that only 5% of the clicks on the Web were made at Google and company and 95% happened on other Web sites, such as the ones Google leads to. Would that lead you to the conclusion that you shouldn’t optimize for search?
The problem with this logic is that there is no distinction being made between how customers find your site and how they find a page after they reach your site—they are two related, but different animals. To say this in the most extreme way, people searching on Yahoo! aren’t at your site, and the only way you get them there is to appear in Yahoo!’s results.
After they find you, then they can use your search facility to find where they want to be on your site. And they can bookmark you and return to you without searching again. But being MIA in Yahoo! means that customer never finds you and instead goes on to another site. This is so basic that I am not sure how the SiliconValleyWatcher can watch so closely and not see it.
If they can’t find you, they can’t buy from you.
The second problem is Tom’s belief that because he personally gets only 5% of his visitors from search marketing that it isn’t worth it. You might imagine that blogs (especially successful ones like Tom’s) get more of their visitors from subscribers than other types of Web sites do. But those 5% of visitors are still important—they discover the site for the first time in many cases, and they become new subscribers, which seems important to me.
Most Web sites get far more than 5% of their traffic from Google and friends. IBM, for example, draws 25% of its traffic from search engines, which is worth millions a year. Before focusing on search marketing, ibm.com drew 1%. You do the math. Someone was getting that business—just not IBM. Now IBM gets 25 times more.
The last problem is that Tom believes that there is a choice that has to be made between optimizing for search engines and for people. What’s true is that you have to choose between spam techniques and writing for people. And he is right that you should always choose people.
But there’s no need to avoid search marketing techniques to help people. Be careful to use the best words for the subjects you talk about, ensure that your content is crawlable, and be interesting enough to draw links—those search marketing techniques are good for people too. There’s no need to choose between search engines and people. Do the things that help both.
Search marketing is the cheapest way to get traffic to your site—my Skinflint’s Guide to Search Marketing is living proof. To ignore these simple, free techniques is a huge error.
I haven’t seen the study, but knowing Sue Feldman, it would surprise me if her study tells you that we are overestimating the value of search marketing. What it might tell you is that we are grossly underestimating the value of Web site search—it is far more important than most of us believe. When people come to Amazon and type in a query, they expect it to work or else they stop doing that. The same is true for every company’s Web site.
If your Web site’s search doesn’t work the way you’d like, check out IBM’s . It’s easy to install and costs nothing. (Did I mention it’s free?) My advice is to continue to emphasize search marketing and to increase your focus on search for your own site. It’s a false choice to pick between them. One gets you the traffic and the other sells your product to them. Don’t choose between breathing and eating—you need them both.