SEO is Dead, Long Live SEM

(Ping! Zine Issue 30) – Optimization is not enough to handle the increasing importance of search engines and all that is included with them. SEO was the process for increasing search engine traffic to a site through a series of tweaks, fixes, and techniques. Yet, increasing search engine traffic is no longer the main priority, capitalizing on the traffic you receive is. Therefore, SEM, search engine marketing, should become the new focus.

Calling SEO dead is a bit premature. Your site still needs to be optimized for search engines, but it also needs to be optimized for the traffic that comes in either from search engines, advertising campaigns, and social networks.

SEM is an all encompassing segment of the Web industry. SEM includes:

    * Link Building
    * Keyword Analysis
    * PPC and other Advertising
    * Organic traffic
    * Social Networking
    * Conversion Rate Optimization
    * Search Engine Optimization
    * Usability
    * Web Design
    * Content Creation and Copy Writing
    * Web Analytics
    * Viral Marketing

This is not an exhaustive list of course. With the passing of time, we see more and more items getting added to the list or a need to break things down further (for instance I could have said traditional marketing, banner and contextual ads, and the like to replace advertising).

The basics of this list can be placed into four categories:

   1. Content
   2. Credibility
   3. Usability
   4. Conversion

These categories overlap and complement each other. When one is done well it makes the others that much easier to complete. Of course the opposite is also true. When one is done poorly the others become harder to implement and in some ways impossible.

I don’t want to get too in-depth in this right now because I could go on for pages on why each is important and how they affect each other. Suffice to say; you need all of these and no one person can be an expert in all of them. Even if you learn all the ins and outs of each, you just won?t have the time to implement them all. To reach the next level of growth you will need to rely on all four.

The Foundation
The foundation of a good site is Content, Usability, and Tracking. When building a site from the ground up, you need to understand the focus of the site and its message. Once you understand the general message of a site (will it sell products, services, or just be an information site, maybe it will be a place for people to simply talk, etc) you can start designing the site. During the design process you should choose some sort of tracking/analytical software so you can gauge the power of your content, the conversion of your traffic, and what traffic streams are giving the best results. In this way, you can figure out which content is best, how traffic moves through your site, and which marketing campaigns need work. Tracking is so important that you should stop right now and start researching tracking programs if you don?t have one? Don?t worry I will wait.

You are now ready to build the site. Testing usability before the site goes ?live? is very important. If you have the money to spend, organize test groups. If you don?t have the money build a list of things to find on the site and give it to friends and co-workers. In both cases, you want to be around and observe them while they browse through the site. More often than not, test groups and friends will report a different story from what they actually experience. A friend might give you a 9 out of 10 for speed, when in fact the site was so slow in loading it made them want to pick up the monitor and chuck it out the window. When the site is as audience friendly as you can think of the next step will be to finish up the content you started (you did start writing the content, didn?t you?) and think of ways to build credibility. Also you may want to purchase the services of a consultant who can advise you on how best to optimize your new site for search engines and ad programs.

Credibility: The Long Road
Building credibility is tough work. You have to make sure you are right on things as much as possible or if you are found to be wrong to fix the problem as soon as possible. You need to be able to grow roots in the community of your industry and this takes time. Having a blog or forum can help, but you still have to go out into the world and discuss topics with others and to generate buzz for your site. You can write guest articles on other sites (places like actually give you a point system for writing on their site), develop community events, etc. The good thing about building credibility is that it will give you a network of peers and business partners that can help you with future projects, it will allow you learn even more about your industry, it will help you get valuable feedback on how to make your site better, it will generate traffic, and well the list goes on.

Converting Your Traffic
Like the other sections, I am only going to gloss over the details real quick. This will be covered later, but for now the concept of converting traffic starts with the analytic tool you installed on your site. As traffic comes pouring in from all over you can use analytic tools to see which campaigns are giving you the most traffic and where they exit on your site. For an information site, if they exit via a banner ad you have done your part to help your advertisers. If you are selling something, then the out page should be where they click on the buy link and purchase your product or service. By finding out where the traffic comes from you can see which sites and ads give you the best conversions. If it is a site that you have not purchased advertising for, then that is a sign that you should start networking with them. Talk to them about partnerships or joint projects to increase the flow of traffic. If it is an ad campaign, see what that campaign is doing right in order to adjust your other ad campaigns that are falling behind. When it comes to converting traffic, you need to develop a constant cycle of tweaking and watching. Use the tools at hand to find where the purchasing cycle bogs down and fix the problem. The reason why traffic isn?t converting could be that the process is too complicated or there is too much content on the page or there isn?t enough. The problem might also be traced to a page that doesn?t work. Through testing, you can finely tune your site. It may require a lot of work, but you need to ask yourself is it worth it to make several thousand dollars more? Hopefully, your answer is of course it is.

We have only really begun to scratch the surface here. Perhaps this article has given you some ideas on how to adjust your current site or how to build a new one. As this month continues to roll on, we will get more detailed to specifically what needs to be done and how you should go about doing it. Until then happy hosting!

About David Dunlap
Over the past ten years David has been a prolific author of hundreds of blogs, commentaries and reviews found here on , as well as and other sites around the Internet. David manages the daily operations at both WebHostBlog and Web Host Magazine & Buyer’s Guide, and as the head editor, David uses his unique analytical skills to ensure that both sites maintain their integrity and tough, but fair minded, reputations. Prior to his active career analyzing the Web Host industry, David specialized in networking and communications for the U.S. government. David’s expertise in traditional marketing and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has helped boost companies both inside and outside of the Web Host industry.