SEO and search marketing are a vital part of any marketing strategy, linking together channels like social media, content marketing and offline advertising.

But a survey into the marketing channels used by large enterprises has found that 91% don’t prioritise search at all.

The research, carried out by B2B research firm Clutch and digital agency R2integrated (R2i) among 500 U.S. enterprise companies, found that only 5% of companies surveyed consider paid search ads to be a top priority marketing channel in the next 6-12 months, while only 4% are prioritising organic SEO.

Enterprises which don’t prioritise search in their marketing strategy are missing out on customer demand, as customers will often pull out their phones or go online to search for a brand after hearing about them on TV, by email or on social media. In any multichannel brand marketing strategy, search tends to be the glue that holds it all together.

So why are enterprises failing to give search the proper emphasis in their marketing, and what can be done about it?

Measurement and metrics

The enterprises surveyed by Clutch and R2i gave various reasons for why search isn’t a priority in their marketing strategy.

Among the respondents who are involved in search marketing, the top challenge was proving ROI from search marketing (cited by 18%).

Other challenges preventing enterprise marketers from making full use of search included technical skill (13%) and keeping up with best practices (10%).

A bar chart showing the top challenges with search marketing experienced by enterprises. At the top is proving return on investment, experienced by 18%, followed by finding a reliable agency or consultant (14%), upfront costs (13%), managing demand marketing platforms (13%), technical skill (13%), keeping up with best practices (10%), finding tools and solutions to meet needs (10%) and content creation (9%). Below the graph is a note reading "Percent of respondents involved in search engine marketing, N=215".

Kara Alcamo, Vice President of Digital Activation at R2integrated, agrees that it is difficult to “prove” ROI from SEO and search marketing, as there are so many different factors that can lead a buyer to take the next step.

“For example, did someone fill out a form because they saw a paid search ad, or was that paid search (Read more...) the last step in a series of brand interactions that included seeing a print ad, reading sponsored content, and seeing the brand at an event? More than likely, that paid search ad is not the sole contributor to a person’s decision to convert, but we aren’t able to track every granular interaction a person has with the brand.

That said, the first step is to ensure you’re tracking what you can, that those data sets are integrated, which will allow you to create an attribution model. This really should be a cross-department initiative, not limited to search or even to paid media.”

Many enterprises are also falling down when it comes to tracking the right metrics. When asked about the most important metric for SEO success, the most common response (cited by 28% of respondents who are involved in search marketing) was traffic volume.

Second was leads and conversions (cited by 23%), followed by onsite engagement (19%), keyword rankings (16%), and impressions, awareness and sentiment (15%).

A bar chart showing the metrics that enterprise companies consider most important for gauging SEO success. At the top is traffic volume, cited by 28%, followed by leads and conversions (23%), onsite engagement (19%), keyword rankings (16%) and impressions, awareness, sentiment (15%). Below the graph is a note reading "Percent of respondents involved in search engine marketing, N=215".

It is tempting to look at traffic as the best indicator of SEO success, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. If you’re getting a lot of visitors to your website, but hardly any conversions from them, then is your search marketing really doing its job?

Similarly, having a high keyword ranking might be meaningless on its own. As Krista LaRiviere points out in her piece on why conversions, not rankings, matter, a better-performing keyword is one which delivers traffic and conversions, not just one that appears higher up the SERP. One can lead to the other, of course – but it’s not a given.

With that said, tracking conversions from search isn’t always easy. The easiest way to track lead generation and conversion from search, says Kara Alcamo, is to ensure you’re tracking form conversions on your website…

“The more complicated method involves multi-touch, multi-channel campaign tracking in which you’ve put together an attribution model and are attributing ROI and conversions back to search even when they’re not last-click.”

If you use Google AdWords for search marketing, you can also use it to track conversions, including across devices.

Knowing which metrics to track and measure is crucial to proving the ROI for SEO and search marketing. And being able to make a strong marketing case for search is the first step to seeing more companies focusing on this fundamental area of marketing.

An integrated approach

As it is, Clutch and R2i found that less than half of the enterprises they surveyed (47%) carry out search engine optimisation, making it only the 9th most used marketing channel, behind such channels as print, direct mail and events.

Paid search advertising is even more under-utilised, used by only 40% of enterprises and coming 12th out of a list of the 15 marketing channels most used by enterprises.

A bar chart showing the marketing channels most used by enterprise companies. The most popular is website (84%), then social media (78%), print (65%), email (60%), television (57%), direct mail (54%), events (53%) and display ads (53%). To the right of the graph is a box-out listing channels which received less than 50 percentage points. At the top is search engine optimization with 47%, highlighted with a red box. Next is public relations (46%) and then radio (46%) followed by paid search ads with 40%, also highlighted by a red box. Last come mobile advertising at 38%, mobile app (37%) and content marketing (36%).

I asked Alcamo if this attitude could possibly be a result of enterprises not viewing SEO as a “marketing channel.” Do enough companies think of search as part of marketing, or do they view it as a separate area of technical wizardry that doesn’t concern marketing? Alcamo replied:

“SEO itself has changed so much that there isn’t a lot of “pure” SEO anymore. It’s a channel in the sense that you should have a dedicated expert who is focused on improving performance in organic search results, but its identity is inextricably linked with other “channels”.

A robust SEO strategy could include integrated efforts across IT, social, content, PR, and media. So I can see how it can be tough to draw the line between SEO and other channels.”

Alcamo believes that taking an integrated, inter-departmental approach to SEO is the best way to keep on top of the changing search industry and get the most out of your marketing efforts.

“I think even enterprises who understand the importance can have trouble executing on SEO strategies which require the involvement of many different departments.

I would look at your SEO resource as a consultant who should be involved in many efforts across departments, in addition to handling pure SEO. They aren’t going to dictate the information architecture of your new website, for example, but by bringing them in to review the IA before you move into development, you’ll ensure you aren’t missing any content that’s necessary to maintain or improve organic performance, and essentially save yourself more work and stress down the line.”

This article was previously published on our sister website Search Engine Watch.

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