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Google’s in a Hurry to Pick the Low Hanging Fruit

At Pubcon in Las Vegas I wore a badge around my neck that was different from everyone else. I made up a bright red SEO business card with SEO big and bold on it, and inserted one into the plastic sleeve of my Pubcon badge. Where everyone else walked around with all white 3×4 paper badges with their name printed in small black letters, I had a bright red “advertisement” for SEO front and center. It worked. I was approached by a good number of small business owners and employees who were looking to meet SEO people, or learn more about how organic search marketing could cut their marketing (PPC) costs.

In conversation they explained to me that if they could learn “even a few tips about SEO”, they would more than cover the cost of attending Pubcon. And of course there were plenty of “SEOs” taking advantage of that market opportunity, spouting trick and after trick to impress these innocents. Tricks are sexy, and SEO consultants are expensive. I routinely got the impression they were very cost conscious.

When the opportunity presented itself, I tried to ask some standard questions, in order to make my point:

Business person: “Consultants are expensive. SEO doesn’t seem that difficult. I have already learned some great tips” 

John Andrews, SEO: “Do you participate in Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing?”

Business person: “Yes. But it doesn’t work very well for us.” 

John Andrews, SEO: “Do you use bid management software, or have a professional managing the PPC account?”

Business person: “No. We manage it ourselves. What is bid management software?”

John Andrews, SEO: “Can I ask what your monthly spend is for PPC?”

Business person: “Well, it varies, I’m not sure, we’re moving away from some of it, the person doing it is still learning…(evasive) ” 

John Andrews, SEO: “Is it $100, $1000, $10,000, $50,000, or more?”

Business person: “$10,000”   <----- this was a typical answer, although it went from $2k to $35k 

John Andrews, SEO: “Well, at that rate of spend, you could hire a good SEO and eliminate half of that spend, recovering (typ $60k, as much as $200k+) per year while continuing to benefit from the free organic traffic you’ll get after your SEO consultant is down to a few hundred bucks or so per month of maintenance”

It’s true. If properly managed, an SEO consult should save you half your unmanaged PPC spend after a few months, worst case. A good SEO should be able to do better, and also open up additional opportunities that generate organic momentum with far more value going forward. No matter what, as long as a large unmanaged PPC spend is already under way (and I consider anything over $5k/month to be large), you should be working with an organic SEO.

Invariably the business people responded the same way. They want to bring back tips and start doing their own SEO. Basically, in conversation I learn that the person calling the shots is a higher up executive willing to pay Google for PPC but not a consultant for SEO. The people hired as employees are value employees, not performance employees. They are looking to bring back tips because the reward system in place at the company will credit them wth tips from a conference, but not strategic insights. The company execs can write off PPC spend with little accountability, but have to assume responsibility for the hire of a consultant.

Yet they are still acknowledging that their PPC expenditure is too high, and the PPC performance is too low. And now Google is in a hurry to get to those customers before the SEOs can close a deal. SERoundTable is reporting that Google is using automated phone dialers to cold call AdWords customers, with a recorded voice asking them to “…press 1 if they spend more than $5000 per month, press 2….”. They reportedly send human sales people to follow up on the leads generated.

Automated dialers cold-calling existing AdWords customers? Segmenting via an IVR system so sales can follow-up and pitch the Premium Services program? Funny how Google and I agree that $5k/month spend is worthy of special attention, but not-so-funny that so many business people at Pubcon were already spending more than that (sometimes 7 times that much!) without professional help nor bid management in place.

There are reasons Google is now a $150+ billion dollar company, and I think the same reasons are driving Google to reach out to that low-hanging-fruit before it rots.



  1. scoreboard wrote:

    I remember one of the guys at Google telling me what their internal research estimated as the percentage of Adwords accounts that meet break-even on their spend. The number was disgustingly low. Good for SEO’s. Bad for Google.

    That said, it’s really hard for those unsophisticated Adwords advertisers to meet ROI when Google is meeting its own ROI via the Quality Score “bot”.

    Friday, December 8, 2006 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  2. IncrediBILL wrote:

    Everything you said is totally true which is why I avoid those types as they are penny wise and pound foolish, doing all sorts of illogical things, and consulting for them will give you ulcers.

    With that mentality about SEO ‘tricks’ they probably aren’t running adequate testing on PPC ad campaigns either. They might as well just donate the money directly to charity where it will do more good than lining the pockets of Google, their share holders and MFA sites.

    Most of these companies need to simply hire someone to completely run their SEM strategy, not just SEO or PPC, it needs to be well coordinated combined effort to get the maximum ROI.

    Friday, December 8, 2006 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  3. David Temple wrote:

    Absolutely spot on. There is so much waste going on in PPC it is unbelievable. And only a small percentage is being spent on seo. A company I consulted doesn’t want to spend the money integrating their SEO and PPC. They pay their seo people very little and don’t want to mix the two. Talk about penny wise and pound foolish.

    Saturday, December 9, 2006 at 8:03 pm | Permalink
  4. Jamie wrote:

    I think your view of SEO vs. PPC misses the point entirely. I agree that people can derive great long term traffic and conversions from SEO, usually more volume that PPC. However, you should not view this as a zero sum game. “Well, at that rate of spend, you could hire a good SEO and eliminate half of that spend…” Wrong! Profits are profits, you should try to maximize in each channel.

    SEO and PPC should work together, not one at the expense of the other. By all means get the client to commit to a solid SEO program. In the meantime set a baseline for PPC performance prior to launching the SEO initiative. This way you’ll see how one affects the other as the SEO traffic and conversions start to kick in.

    Also, if they have a crap PPC program, then that should be cleaned up optimized on an ongoing basis. However, if the client is getting an acceptable ROI then they should keep at it.

    John Andrews Replies: Thanks for the input, Jamie. I think perhaps I didn’t lay it out clear enough. They spend a good deal on unmanaged PPC, and don’t have any money for a consultant. While I agree with what I think is your point (that PPC and SEO can be combined, as long as ROI shows it to be profitable), I can’t see through your logic above. On the one hand you suggest they need to track ROI and maximize profits; on the other hand you say that if they are happy with the PPC conversions, they should let it run. 

    I disagree. Optimize, optimize, optimize. And if you have unmanaged PPC spend, start by optimizing that. If you don’t have SEO, get started. That unmanaged PPC spend is a very good source of start up funds for organic SEO.

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  5. Jamie wrote:

    Sorry, that last sentence of mine was a bit confusing, agreed John, got to optimize and monitor your data and let that guide your spending. Nice blog btw

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 6:25 pm | Permalink