The research collects findings from 121 Hong Kong trading firms involving in foreign trade through telephone interview. Also, a separate focus group was held with 8 marketing managers and 1 search engine optimization (SEO) specialist. We believe the implications also apply to other geographical areas.
We have extracted part of the results to present in this article.
1. Employed SEO service or Exercised SEO Before?
103 (85%) respondents reported that they have neither employed any search engine optimization service nor self-exercised any search engine optimization service. However, 18 (15%) respondents pursued some sort of search engine marketing including search engine submission to search engine optimization.
2. Importance and Concerns of Search Engine Marketing/Search Engine Optimization
A rating scale of 1 to 5 was employed, with 5 means Very important and 1 means very unimportant. Respondents reported that they perceived that search engine marketing could be a cost-effective method to help them get new overseas customers (rating 4.7).
Respondents also considered the following factors whether they would use a search engine marketing firm: 1. Pricing (4.6), 2. Deliverables (4.8), 3. Guarantee Clause (4.0), 4. Ranking against rival firms (4.7), 5. Possibility to get to Top 10 ranking (4.1), 6. Chance to increase response rate (4.8)
3. Paid for Performance Search Engine Marketing
This question has an explanation about the meaning of paid for performance search engine marketing. The question includes pay-per-click and paid-for-inclusion plan.
Again, a rating scale of 1-5 was employed, with 5 means Very important and 1 means very unimportant.
The respondents expressed that they concerned the possible high cost (4.8), potential fraudulent clicks (4.9), delivery of message to right persons (4.7), and time required to manage the campaign (4.2).
4. Understanding of Search Engine Optimization
This question asked about their knowledge of search engine optimization techniques. Respondents were given 3 choices: 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. Don't know.
31 respondents perceived that the major task of search engine optimization was adding keywords in Title and Meta Tags while another 62 of them were not sure about the answers. 108 respondents did not know link building was an important factor that could help them improve search engine ranking. Interestingly, 72 respondents believed that program ¡§submit to 1000 search engines¡¨ could increase their website traffic. 101 respondents did not realize that content analysis and improvement measures such as keyword density ratio and keyword proximity ratio played a role in search engine optimization.
In general, most respondents believed that they did not possess sufficient knowledge on search engine optimization.
5. Focus Group
Another 8 marketing managers were invited to a focus group interview. 4 of them had experience in employing search engine optimization firms, and another 4 considered using search engine optimization services but finally had not taken action. An SEO specialist was acted as a moderator in the interview.
In the interview, they generally agreed that search engine marketing could help them to generate business leads. For those who did not use SEO service expressed that they abandoned to pursue as they could not make up a decision. First, they were not familiarize with how to achieve good search engine ranking. Second, the pricing scheme offered by different SEO firms varied greatly from US$19.99 to US$5,000 up-front fee, and some also required US$500 to US$5,000 monthly service fee. However, the SEO firms could not express clearly the deliverables that clients could obtain and they also refused to clearly explain the methodologies that they would use. These facts made the interviewees very difficult to persuade their boss to use SEO service.
In addition, the interviewees expressed that they feared that SEO firms would require many website changes, and some changes like keywords stuffing in Alt Tag or put too many texts and too little graphics in web pages make the site looked unprofessional.
Another point made by interviewees was very interesting. For those who have employed SEO firms, some of them perceived that they were being kept in the dark as they did not know what the SEO firms were actually doing! When they scrutinized the changes made by SEO firms, they found that the SEO firms have just written some keyword phrases in Alt Tag, Title Tag and repeated them in Meta Tags. Then, the SEO firms only ran reports for them in the subsequent months and asked them to wait for the results. Finally, they found that they had not got any extra traffic from keyword phrases suggested by SEO firms while the SEO firms claimed that they had achieved more than what was written in the guarantee clause (e.g. 20 Top 20 rankings in major search engines). Only 1 interviewee felt satisfied to the chosen SEO firm. This was because they knew the deliverable, got desirable number of top rankings, and a piece of link exchange software and they could continuously manage link building themselves after the project end. The SEO firm also provided suggestions for them to maintain ranking afterwards.
Also, participants voiced out that they also wanted to know their search engine rankings against their rival firms.
6. Implications to Business Firms
In general, it was a consensus that search engine marketing could help to generate new business leads. However, it was not a simple activity. Most business firms lacked the knowledge and tempted to use an SEO firm. However, quality of SEO firms varied. In order to select a good SEO service, business firms should define clearly their objectives. E.g. some firms might simply define that they wanted a better ranking than their rivals or that they wanted a better conversion rate. Then, it was suggested that the business firms talk with the SEO candidates and try to differentiate which one was more knowledgeable. Moreover, business firms should discuss with the selected SEO firm in order to get an agreement on the number of deliverables and project schedule.
From the research findings, many business firms were yet to optimize their websites. That means if you first optimize your website, you could have an advantage over your rivals in search engine exposure perspective.
7. Implications to SEO firms
SEO firms should spend time and clearly explain to clients the SEO techniques and methodologies that they would use. Some SEO firms might fear that they would expose their ¡§top secret¡¨ techniques. However, you could not get business if your clients could not understand the SEO processes and failed to persuade their bosses. In addition, SEO firms should apply optimization techniques with a consideration of usability of websites. Do not make the site look silly or unprofessional. Also, clients would not mind your using of optimization software such as Webposition Gold and they do want to know how you would serve them.
SEO firms should assist clients to devise a measurement matrix for the campaign. This helps the decision maker to make judgment and explain to his/her colleagues and boss. Clients would feel more comfortable to do business with you.
Moreover, SEO firms should define clearly what would be delivered to clients and the delivery schedule, e.g. how many ranking reports, keyword research result, etc. In addition, SEO firms should contact clients frequently and report the progress. Clients would then understand that you were indeed working for them and you could help to set or adjust their expectations.
Finally, SEO firms should offer assistance for clients who want to terminate the relationship and to maintain rankings themselves. The idea looked ridiculous but the clients would be satisfied by such offer and would probably recommend you to other firms. After all, clients who ceased to work with you might be due to many other reasons but not your performance. Why don't you give them another ¡§candy¡¨ and maintain a good relationship?
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