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SEO gains attention in search

Search engine marketing continues to grow, spurred by consumer use of the Internet to find information. But while the furious pace of growth from earlier years has slowed, marketers continue to demonstrate strong interest in non-paid search thanks to its relative low-cost and improvements in metrics related to the ROI of search.

This year, search engine marketing is expected to grow 14% in North America, according to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO). Of the 1,471 marketers and agencies recently surveyed by SEMPO, companies plan to spend 43% more on SEO in 2010 compared with 2009 and 37% more for paid search.

“We’re seeing a little slowing in paid search growth,” says Tim Kilroy, VP, natural search at search agency PM Digital. He points to higher prices as a reason.

On the other side is SEO, which “has been overlooked” for years and is now getting more attention, Kilroy reports. Marketers have discovered SEO because it doesn’t strain their budgets and because improvements in analytics offerings from companies like Google and others make it “easy to understand the relationship between natural search rankings and revenue,” he says.

Upscale men’s clothing cataloger and Internet retailer Paul Fredrick recently tasked PM Digital with optimizing its search rankings.

The work initially consisted of basic adjustments to the website, such as refining page titles and descriptions.

“We’ve had a well-established paid search program running for years but, we’re a little bit more nascent in our SEO efforts,” says Scott Drayer, director of marketing at Paul Fredrick. The current site wasn’t built with SEO in mind, he adds.

When insurance firm Combined Insurance wanted to rebuild its website, it too saw an opportunity to incorporate SEO. “Unlike other advertisers in this space, we don’t have large advertising dollars,” says Deborah O’Connor, VP of interactive marketing at Combined Insurance. “We knew that if we could optimize around SEO, we could optimize our advertising dollars.”

The insurer turned to iCrossing for the rebuild, and the website’s traffic has increased 35% since the 2008 relaunch. The company reports that site-generated leads are up, too.

Next up for Combined Insurance is a social media strategy intended to boost natural search rankings. At Paul Fredrick, the company is planning to leverage the brand’s social media efforts for SEO purposes, as well as initiating a link-building program.

“Social media and natural search are on a huge collision course,” points out Kilroy.

“There is such an enormous overlap between the two because the way people are searching is no longer through Google.com but is taking place on Facebook.”

Most agree that succeeding at search means integrating your other online tactics, as well as regular tweaks and revisions. Combined Insurance revisits its natural search strategy every six months to ensure it is still working.

“If you don’t refresh, you miss opportunities,” says O’Connor.

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