July 18, 2016, 9:31 AM

Big companies aren’t big on SEO

Many say it takes too long and costs too much to move up in natural search results on Google and Bing.

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There was a time when online marketers were intent on getting their web pages to appear high on search engine results pages. After all, those listings were free advertising. And so was born the practice of search engine optimization, or SEO, designing web pages so that they will appear high on Google and Bing.

But it appears that SEO is out of favor with many large firms, according to a survey by market research firm Clutch. Many find that moving up in natural search results takes too long, whereas other forms of online advertising—including pay for the ads that increasingly take up more real estate on search results pages—delivers faster results.

Search engine optimization—the craft of making web pages show up higher in natural search results on Google and Bing—links to other such forms of marketing as social media, content marketing and email. That makes it an important strategy for businesses.

Only 47% of the 500 marketing professional surveyed said they use SEO. Clutch surveyed employees of companies with more than 500 employees, with 33% of responses coming from B2B companies and the rest from B2C firms. The survey was conducted between March and April 2016.

Some experts say marketers should pay more attention to SEO, because of its connection to other forms of online marketing.

“Modern SEO is about the customer experience and working with other marketing channels,” says Dan Golden, president and chief of search at digital marketing agency, Be Found Online. “SEO content and customer content are not separate silos. Content needs to be created for both humans and search engines.”

The study found that companies tend to favor marketing channels that produce quicker results. 22% of those surveyed said that they will make television their most preferred channel over the next six to 12 months; only 5% said paid search and 4% said SEO.

Following are the percentages of respondents citing their preferred marketing channel: 

  • Television, 22%
  • Social media, 16%
  • Website, 12%
  • Events:, 7%
  • Print, 5%
  • Paid search ads, 5%
  • Direct mail, 5%
  • Email, 5%
  • Public relations, 5%
  • Search engine optimization, 4%
  • Mobile advertising, 3%
  • Radio, 3%
  • Display ads:,3%
  • Mobile app, 3%
  • Content marketing, 2%

It can be difficult for large companies to prove the value of search marketing and get resources for it, the study says. Many large companies don’t have a specific budget for SEO because it can require a crossover of resources and time from I.T., marketing and public relations. “Every company knows they need SEO in the long term but budgets tend to follow the demand-driving channels that will best meet the near-term goals. SEO is a long-haul effort focused on eventually dominating search results pages,” Golden says.

When it comes to the problems that marketers have with search engine marketing, 18% say they struggle to show a return on investment. “SEO has to deal with the algorithms of Google and Bing so it’s harder to say what the result will be,” says Dave Rohrer, founder of marketing firm North Side Metrics. “With paid ads, we can pay a certain amount for clicks and see what percentage are converted to a lead or a sale. SEO is harder to measure and as a result, harder to budget for.”

Marketers also say they are put off by the upfront costs associated with gaining greater visibility in natural search results and find it hard to find SEO expertise. Following are the percentages of respondents citing these or other issues as most important: 

  • Providing return on investment, 18%
  • Finding a reliable agency or consultant, 14%
  • Upfront costs, 13%
  • Managing demand marketing platforms (DMP), 13%
  • Technical skill, 13%
  • Keeping up with best practices, 10%
  • Finding tools and solutions to meet needs, 10%
  • Content creation, 9%

Marketers have found different ways to measure the success of SEO, with traffic volume cited as the most important metric by 28% of respondents. But not everyone sees traffic as the vital metric that the survey indicates. “There are far more important metrics than traffic volume for most sites,” says Stoney deGeyter, CEO of marketing firm Pole Position Marketing. “I’m surprised leads and conversions didn’t top the list. Traffic without conversions is pretty pointless.” Leads and conversions came in second behind traffic as the metric marketers saw as most important in measuring their SEO success.

Following are the percentages of respondents citing the best way to measure SEO: 

  • Traffic volume: 28%
  • Leads and conversions: 23%
  • Onsite engagement: 19%
  • Keyword rankings: 16%
  • Impressions, awareness, sentiment: 15%

(The percentages don’t add up to 100 because of rounding.)

Marketers ultimately see creating content as the most important tactic to enhancing not just their listings on search engines but the success of their entire marketing strategy, the study says. “Progressive companies don’t produce content specifically for SEO, they integrate SEO into their content,” says Kara Alcamo, vice president of digital at marketing agency R2i. “A piece of content should always be tied to a larger marketing campaign,” 34% of respondents said creating high-quality content will be the SEO tactic they prefer over the next year.  Here are respondents’ SEO priorities: 

  • Creating high-quality content that earns links: 34%
  • On-site and technical SEO: 28%
  • Social media to support SEO: 20%
  • Local search: 14%
  • Guest blogging on other websites: 3%

(The percentages don’t add up to 100 because of rounding.)


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