Is SEO an Effective B2B Marketing Strategy?

Search engine optimization (SEO) and social media have proven to be effective at helping to drive certain marketing objectives, such as increasing Web traffic and boosting product awareness.  However, when it comes to lead generation and sales revenue, SEO and social media are proving less effective at moving the needle. Those are two of the key findings “The 2011 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO Edition.” The report was recently released by MarketingSherpa.

The report, which took the pulse of nearly 2,200 marketing executives specializing in search, includes an overview of the search engine market and benchmarks on organic search challenges, objectives, tactics, metrics and budgets. It also examined the impact that social media is having on SEO.

While 64% of respondents said they integrate social media into their search engine marketing plans, just 34% said they have formal a process to perform SEO practices; 46% said they have an informal process and randomly perform SEO practices and 20% said they have no formal process whatsoever for performing SEO tasks. Although SEO has been in play for more than a decade, many companies are still behind the curve with establishing processes, the report said.

There were some bright spots in the study. According to the study, 35% of respondents said SEO has been effective at increasing lead generation, while 26% said SEO has been effective at increasing online sales revenue.  Yet the numbers were less encouraging on social media: 18% of the respondents said social media has been effective at increasing lead gen and just 9% said social media has been a boon to online sales revenue.

The study begs the questions: Is skepticism about whether social media can drive online (and offline) sales revenue justified by the anemic numbers in the report or are the anemic numbers a result of a lack of process at integrating social into other marketing channels? Which came first – the chicken or the egg?

Right now, SEO is viewed as the more effective tactic for increasing bottom line and commonly measured objectives, such as increased Web traffic and lead generation, and not very effective at improving public relations and reputation, the report said. In contrast, social media is believed to be the more effective tactic for objectives that are new to measurement, such as improved brand or product reputation, and not very effective at driving lead gen and sales revenue. The goal for marketers is finding the right balance. Using just one tactic – either SEO or social media – is not as effective as using a blend of the two skill sets.