There are many preconceived notions about search engine marketing (SEM), and some are actually misconceptions that become established myths. The most popular myths are those about in-house optimization, submission software, traffic quality, and lead superiority -- not to mention the guaranteed top-positioning myth. Below are a dozen myths that can lead marketers astray if left unchallenged.

1. In-House Optimization Is Cheaper

Research indicates less than 1 percent of marketing budgets go to SEM, so it's no wonder many Web sites will be improperly optimized. Yet SEM pros get better rankings faster because they've mastered the complex, technical, ever-changing submission process that has such a steep learning curve. Outsourcing is cost-effective because the pros benefit from economies-of-scale after the initial outlay in personnel, technology, and process development. In-house SEM lacks such cost maximization.

2. It's a One-Shot Deal With Submission Software

Submission software promises the moon. But how can software get the same kind of results reputable vendors provide for a fraction of the cost? There's no way software can identify keywords automatically or optimize your content and HTML coding. All the engines have specific submission guidelines that change like clockwork. It's not one-size-fits-all, and no software program can customize and update to the degree required for maintaining top listings.

3. SEM Leads Are Inferior to Traditional Media Leads

This is the opposite of reality. SEM leads are the most qualified leads you can get because people searching for products and services on search engines are in "action" mode and ready to buy. Search engine traffic is qualified because users initiate the search with a purpose, making these leads targeted and more valuable than those from the "broadcast advertising" methods used by traditional media.

4. SEM Traffic Isn't High Quality

Ideally, it'd be nice to have an integrated marketing campaign with TV ads, direct mail, email, banner ads, and search engine marketing, but not everyone can afford this. When your marketing budget is limited, the place to start is with SEM. A properly optimized site can produce leads and sales within a short time period. Case studies have shown that search engine traffic is equal to or better than traffic from more expensive sources.

5. Guaranteed Top Rankings or Your Money Back

Money-back guarantees are worthless in search engine positioning because outcomes are always unpredictable and ever-changing. New submissions are always being added to databases, changing rankings continuously. Bottom line: technicians simply cannot control the search engines.

6. You Need Listings in Thousands of Search Engines

Submission software claiming to "Submit to 1,500 directories and search engines" will get you listed in many FFA (Free For All) engines. FFA listings are worthless and don't begin to compare to directories and engines like Yahoo! and Google. A likely result: Your name gets on email spam lists.

7. Once You Achieve Good Rankings, You're All Set

Search engine positioning requires trial and error, and success is ephemeral. Today's top listings will change tomorrow; sometimes, listings change on an hourly basis. Maintaining positioning requires constant monitoring and tweaking. It can't be guaranteed, and results aren't permanent once achieved.

8. SEM Doesn't Give a Good ROI

This is actually a falsehood. The ROI for SEM is excellent compared to other marketing methods, especially when compared to keyword banner buys. Marketing Sherpa case studies also illustrate this by comparing the results of banner ads, direct mail and SEM. With SEM, you get better conversion rates, lower cost-per-click, and lower acquisition costs.

9. Professional SEM is Too Expensive

SEM has proven cost-effective compared to banner ads, direct mail, email marketing, and print advertising. For instance, SEM deliverables are half the cost of keyword banner campaigns, and SEM provides specific measurable results.

10. All SEM Services Are Alike

Fact is services and pricing vary widely. SEM is striving for ethics and standards although there will always be a few questionable providers. Ask your provider to define services, pricing, contracts, and reporting. Verify the provider's experience and proficiency by interviewing past customers.

11. You Can Save Money With Pay-Per-Click Engines

You hear about buying PPC traffic and getting featured listings for free in the major search engines. This is partly true because of partnership deals, but your best results come from a well-integrated SEM campaign that includes optimized pages for both human-powered and crawler-based search engines and enhanced link popularity. A PPC campaign can be expensive without cost management and ROI verification. Lastly, some users avoid featured listings because they consider them tainted.

12. A Buyers Guide to SEM Vendors Is Gospel

It would be nice to depend on an SEM buyers guide, but the industry changes too rapidly for any guide to remain current and accurate, even with updates. While I'm proud of the rating Web-Ignite gets in a popular industry buyers guide, I would still recommend that you get referrals from people you know and interview prospective vendors in depth. Always trust your own judgment above someone else's opinion.
May 9, 2002

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > Debunking Search Engine Marketing Myths