SEMPO Study: Online and Content Marketing, SEO Trends in 2014

Eager to perform even better, marketers can take note of trends and glean some key lessons from a SEMPO State of Search Marketing Report 2013, released last month by Econsultancy.

The report, now in its ninth year, offers some good insights about what online marketers worry about and how they’re spending their money on SEO, paid search, social media, mobile, e-mail and digital display marketing. The full report is available to SEMPO members, but an executive summary is available.

The good news is that online marketers clearly value online marketing based on responses from 400 companies and agencies. But they continue to fall short when it comes to integration. Sadly, the silos are apparent. Will that change in 2014?

At least content marketing comes out on top as a discipline that’s “highly integrated” with SEO (45%). Other digital marketing disciplines really don’t have much to do with SEO. For example, marketers say that email marketing is only “highly integrated” with SEO 13% of the time.

sempo online marketing study for seo in 2014

With mobile marketing, there are some contrasting views represented in the study.

For example, 83% of company marketers believe the growing use of mobile by consumers is a “significant” trend that involves SEO. And they say mobile is “somewhat integrated” or “highly integrated” with SEO. But only 3% of their budgets are reserved for mobile.

Here are a few other findings:

  • Nearly half of company budgets are spent on search (31% on paid search and 18% on SEO)
  • In 2014, 63% of businesses plan to increase paid budgets and 47% expect to spend more on SEO
  • Only 47% of company marketers believe Google+ has had a notable impact on SEO
  • Only 56% of company marketers believe the Google “promotional” email ads tab was a significant change

I’m really interested in some of the other details that the study explores. For example, 63% of company marketers and 90% of agency marketers say they’re “successful” or “very successful” with digital marketing.

But when asked about their ability to measure ROI, only 47% of company marketers selected “good” for paid search, down from 79% the previous year. Similarly, 41% selected “good” for email marketing, a decrease from 57% the prior year. SEO fell as well for “good,” dropping from 44% to 25%.

I’m not sure how you can be “successful” if you’re having trouble tracking the ROI.

The study notes that the “use of multiple devices by consumers” and evolving best practices in digital marketing may affect the definition of “good” over time in terms of ROI.

The study doesn’t dive into all of the ROI options, but it does acknowledge different objectives for each of the main marketing channels like:

  • Selling products/services
  • Generating leads
  • Increasing visitors
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Improve return on ad spend

It’s not enough to simply say a keyword phrase increased in natural search rankings or a click-thru rate improved with paid search. However, you can make web site analytics and marketing automation to establish and track specific goals.

The following posts and articles provide additional insights:

“15 Ways Marketing Automation Can Maximize Your Content’s ROI”

“Measure Your Content Marketing ROI with Call Tracking”

“Measuring the Impact of Your Content Marketing Strategy: The Pyramid Approach”

Social Media ROI: 14 Formulas to Measure Social Media Benefits

Over the years, I’ve been amazed at the number of businesses that don’t track their marketing efforts. They don’t have the right data and it’s sometimes an issue of following through with leads that come in.

For example, a sales rep may not chase down a lead for a $25,000 piece of equipment because he will get a bigger commission by selling a $60,000 machine. The lead stops at his desk and no one is accountable.

I’ve audited lead generation forms for clients and increasingly became less surprised when a legitimate prospect complained a third time that no one responded to the first or second inquiry.

When I’ve asked for the average value of a sale of a product, some new clients responded with silence. Really? Or, they’ve said that they sell many products and don’t have an accurate average. At that point, I’ve urged them to target top-performing products or products that haven’t been performing well. The point is to start with something until the data can be gathered, measured and analyzed.

Business can still do well with thought leadership, starting with simple how-to educational guides (no need for a giant white paper). Sure, your well-publicized content may generate 100 downloads in a few days. Although many people won’t be in buying mode, you can succeed with those who are ready. One executive told me he was absolutely thrilled when he started using guides to get in the door with some hot prospects even though other leads weren’t useful.

Years ago, I met with a company that sold gourmet food (including fish) online. If they spent $100 on paid search for a $95 sale, they were ecstatic. How can that be a positive ROI? It’s a matter of knowing the business, consumer behavior and customer retention. When that customer makes 10 more purchases over the next year – all stemming from that $100 investment – the ROI doesn’t look too shabby. Plus, you can incorporate referral programs that new customers support.

A home improvement company specializing in replacement windows can run banner ads on a TV station web site and generate enough new leads and sales. How about taking that up a notch? Have the TV station account rep increase the number of ad impressions when storm warnings are issued? Leads may increase with the heightened attention. The same company could showcase fresh web site content with winterizing tips for saving money. And the business will add another name, phone number and e-mail address that it can use again and again.

For companies that offer services, its important to track the investment in SEO and paid search. For example, you may find that it costs $200 to generate a lead from paid search and $150 from natural searches. But is SEO really the way to go? If it’s profitable, why not spend the $150? At the same time, would you disregard that $200 cost associated with paid search? It all depends on the length of the sales cycle and what you’re selling. Ultimately you’re more profitable clients may come from lead sources that seem more costly. You always need to look beyond the first wave of numbers. Don’t assume one lead source is too expensive; look at what the client ultimately bought.

I’m not saying tracking the ROI is easy or without complications. But you can drill deeper than merely looking at how many unique visitors your web site receives or how many people follow your company through social media.

Studies like the new one from SEMPO are great because they reflect interesting attitudes.

But the best data is in your company and organization. How well are you defining it and sharing it with the people responsible for different online marketing disciplines? Or, like the SEMPO study suggests, are you working in silos and not integrating campaigns? With better communication, you might just help multiple marketing channels at the same time.

What online marketing ROI tactics and strategies to you favor?