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Enterprise Marketing Survey 2016: Search Marketing Results

By Natalie Beach
June 23, 2016

Where does search marketing fit in large companies’ overall priorities?

Why is search uniquely challenging for enterprises yet critical?

We partnered with digital agency R2integrated (R2i) to explore these topics. We surveyed 500 marketing professionals and interviewed search marketing thought leaders. 

 

Key Findings

  • Search is part of the overall marketing mix for enterprises, but not a priority.
     
  • Proving return on investment is the #1 challenge for search marketers.
     
  • Businesses have a solid grasp on content creation -- they cite it as both the top priority and the lowest ranked challenge for SEO.
     
  • In-house marketers say traffic volume is the most important SEO metric, but agency experts disagree.
     
  • Nearly all search marketers are doing a mix of organic and paid search, not just one or the other.

 

The study consisted of 500 respondents who work in a marketing role at companies with at least 500 employees. About half come from companies with 1000+ employees. More demographics can be found at the bottom of this page.

 

Less Than Half of Enterprises Do SEO, PPC

Even though some use search marketing, more popular marketing types include website, social media, and print.

Still, a number of enterprises do search marketing. Specifically, 47% use SEO [search engine optimization] and 40% use PPC [pay-per-click advertising].

However, these numbers are low in comparison to other digital channels, such as company website, social media, and email marketing. Search also falls well below traditional channels, including print, television, direct mail, and events.

 

[Graphs from our survey can be downloaded from Dropbox.]

 

Search is a critical follow-up to many other marketing channels. Enterprises that do not address it are missing a segment of customers.

 

“SEO is inextricably linked to other channels like social media, content marketing, and even email and TV.

Many studies show that people pull out their phones immediately and do searches after seeing a television ad. They want more information, and if search isn't taken into account, the company isn't putting together the most holistic strategy possible.”
Kara Alcamo, VP, Digital Activation, R2i

 

Today’s search results page displays a wide variety of content including social, images, and video. SEO should be integrated into marketing as a whole in order to maximize the visibility of all of a company’s marketing content in search. 

 

“Modern SEO is really about the customer experience and about working with all other marketing channels. SEO content and customer content are not separate silos, but rather content needs to be created for both humans and search engines.”
Dan Golden, President & Chief Search Artist, Be Found Online

 

Few Say Search is the Near Term Priority

Although many enterprises have search marketing in the mix, just 5% say paid search and 4% say SEO is their priority marketing channel in the next 6-12 months.

 

 

Organic search is especially tough to prioritize, since it takes longer to see results.

 

“Everyone knows they need SEO in the long term, but budgets tend to follow the demand-driving channels that will best meet the goals of the current quarter. For the most part, an SEO effort is a long-haul: not something with near-term priorities but more a long-term effort focused on dominating the SERPs.”
Dan Golden, Be Found Online

It can be difficult for companies – especially large ones – to prove the value of search marketing and obtain resources for it. Many large companies do not allocate a specific budget for SEO since it can require a mix of time and resources from IT, marketing, PR, and other departments.

 

“If an SEO department or specialist doesn't have its own budget, half of their time becomes dedicated to finding projects on which they can piggyback. They simply have a goal in mind from an SEO standpoint, so they spend all of their time helping everyone else, hopefully making them understand that SEO is something to think about.”
Dave Rohrer, Founder, North Side Metrics

In some ways though, it makes sense that SEO is not thought of as the top priority. It should be positioned as an integral and supporting piece of all other marketing channels. SEO can’t perform well without first having great content.

“Successful SEO engagements have been those in which it has a seat at the table, without being treated as a separate venture. A page can't simply be optimized for search engines, it has to be sticky for people as well.”
Dan Golden, Be Found Online

 

 

Proving ROI is Top Challenge with Search

Proving ROI is the top challenge enterprise marketers have with search marketing, cited by 18%.

 

 

Proving the value of SEO may be more difficult than other marketing channels, given it is a constantly changing field with less predictable results.

“SEO has to deal with the black box of the Google and Bing algorithms. As such, it's harder to say what the result will be.

With TV advertising, ABC can tell us how many million viewers a program will have and what its demographic is. 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 get a budget for.”
Dave Rohrer, North Side Metrics

Another difficulty is that the results of SEO usually take months to be realized.

“One of the hurdles with organic search marketing in particular is that results are never immediate. People want to see value from their money, and it's a tough sell when you talk long timeframes before the ROI [return on investment] is returned.”
Stoney deGeyter, CEO & Project Manager, Pole Position Marketing

Proving ROI can also be difficult because the cost to invest in SEO is widely distributed and complex.

“A big challenge for return on investment on SEO is the fact that it's not as straightforward as a media spend. Paid channels have a media expense and lead reports. On the organic side, expenses are much more diversified between in-house teams, PR departments, IT teams, web development vendors and agencies. It's more complex to understand not only the full value but also the full cost of SEO.”
Dan Golden, Be Found Online

 

Traffic Volume is Most Important SEO Metric, Marketers Say

A crucial part of proving ROI is presenting the right metrics.

 

 

28% of surveyed marketers say traffic volume is most important, but agency experts argue otherwise.

 

“There are far more important metrics than traffic volume for most sites. I'm surprised that leads and conversions didn't top the list. Traffic without conversions is pretty pointless, really.
 

Also surprising is that keyword rankings makes the list at all. Rankings are a means to an end, never the end itself.”
Stoney deGeyter, Pole Position Marketing

 

Incoming traffic from search is simple to measure, but does not give a clear indication of success. More important is the amount of value that traffic is driving – the leads and conversions it brings.

 

“We’ve had clients whose traffic went down. When we analyzed it, we saw that it was irrelevant traffic, and their conversions went up just the same. The opposite could also be true: traffic may go up and everyone is happy, but it isn’t quality traffic. This means that the company is showing up for keywords that make no sense to them."
Kara Alcamo, R2i

 

“Traffic is only as important as qualified traffic, which is measured in terms of leads and conversions. We see this as the highest-value measurement tactic."
Dan Golden, Be Found Online

 

The metric most important to marketers is relative to the industry they’re in and business goals they may have. In the media industry, for example, traffic could actually be quite relevant.

 

“Publishers such as newspapers want eyeballs, so traffic is their biggest measure. Engagement with ads and rankings are important, but traffic volume drives CPM [cost per thousand impressions] and revenue. But for most businesses, I would personally focus on leads, conversions, and engagement before traffic volume.”
Dave Rohrer, North Side Metrics

 

Content Creation is Top Priority and Least Challenging

 

Creating high quality content is the top tactical priority when it comes to SEO.

 

 

To the sophisticated enterprise marketer, creating great content is broadly important across channels, not just created for the sake of SEO.

 

“Progressive companies don't produce content specifically for SEO. Instead, they integrate SEO into their content. A content piece should always be tied to a larger marketing campaign and overall goal, with a cohesive strategy behind what is being created and why.”
Kara Alcamo, R2i

 

And, content creation was last on the list of SEO challenges, with only 9% citing it as their #1 problem area.

This suggests that most enterprises have solid processes in place or services they use to generate content regularly.
 

“It's been interesting to watch over the past five years how organizations have built up their skills in content creation, and what services have come to exist in order to fill that gap, such as Skyword, Textbroker, and Contently. A few years ago, being able to create content on a regular basis was one of the bigger challenges companies were facing.”
Kara Alcamo, R2i

 

But, in order to make the most of your content marketing, it is important to make sure your website checks all the boxes from a technical SEO perspective.

 

“Before doing content marketing, the client needs to ask if the foundation of technical SEO on their site is in place. Many sites that I've come across, big and small, have had many technical issues and low-hanging fruit in terms of crawling and indexing. They need to slow down and make sure that their site is technically sound first.”
Dave Rohrer, North Side Metrics

 

Once technical minimums are met, content is critical for driving leads and sales.

 

“If on-site SEO isn't put together, the company will never win. A site needs to be structured in a search engine-friendly way.

But, on-site SEO will not win the game without strong content. This goes back to what the goal for SEO is: to drive leads and sales, like every other marketing channel.”
Dan Golden, Be Found Online

 

 

Most Use a Mix of Paid and Organic

91% of enterprises that do search marketing are using some amount of both paid and organic strategies.  53% say they focus on both equally.

 

 

Many search marketers believe there are benefits to pursuing both paid and organic results. One study published by Google even suggests that having both paid and organic search listings can at times increase click-through rate to both.

 

“Everything comes down to owning the digital shelf-space. Having 2 or 3 out of those 10 or 12 search results increases the likelihood of reaching the consumer.”
Dave Rohrer, North Side Metrics

 

Paid and organic complement one another and allow companies to broaden their reach.

 

“The great thing about paid marketing is it's much more immediate than organic. If you're starting an organic campaign it makes sense to jump into paid at the same time in order to see some immediate results while the organic builds.

Other benefits are the co-branding effect. Top rankings in both organic and paid for the same keywords often produce even greater clicks to the site than you'd otherwise get if those rankings were separate.

Also, since paid is much more controllable you can advertise in areas where organic hasn't been able to establish reach, filling in some critical gaps in exposure.”
Stoney deGeyter, Pole Position Marketing

 

Ultimately, companies will need a customized paid vs. organic strategy depending on their specific business situation.

“In terms of customer experience, users will see a single page of search results including both paid and organic.

There are instances in which a company may want to prioritize one over the other, but there are also opportunities to work together in order to get more out of both.

People have asked if they have to spend on paid search if they are ranking well organically, and there are arguments for both sides. The answer is specific to the scenario and it's an opportunity of figuring out whether something is right for the client or not.”
Kara Alcamo, R2i

 

 

About the Survey

The study consisted of 500 respondents who work in a marketing role at companies in the United States with at least 500 employees. About half come from companies with 1000+ employees. 88% are manager level or higher. Clutch and R2i partnered on this survey. Responses were collected between March and April 2016.

R2i created a summary infographic that can be found here: www.r2integrated.com/r2insights/2016-enterprise-marketing-survey

Graphs from our survey can be downloaded from Dropbox. Contact [email protected] with any questions.