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Ad Agencies Battle Search Engine Optimization

Advertising Agency SEO Flash! Clueless Ad Agencies Battle Search Engine Optimization With Branding Argument
Copyright © June 23, 2006 by Mike Banks Valentine

There’s a new blog called Tribble Ad Agency, spoofing ad agency (lack of) knowledge of search engine optimization that has SEO community chuckling and traditional advertising types fuming. The spoof site takes on ad execs by suggesting they are wasteful of client money with the tag line, “We look cute, but boy do we consume resources!”

The reference, for non-trekkies, is to a classic Star Trek episode about furry little adorable aliens that reproduce at an unbelievable rate and threaten to destroy the crew of the Starship Enterprise. More here.

The Tribble Agency site takes a jab at traditional advertising by suggesting that the industry is clueless when it comes to the web and especially organic search engine visibility and ranking. The following quote comes from the main page of the new site:

“Our Business Model is simple, never build something that could really help your company without our billable fees … Tribble Ad Agency got the rug swept out from under us and we never realized it until it was too late.  The entire planet moved to Google, Yahoo and MSN organic results and we were making print ads for magazines and our online marketing efforts yielded 100% unspiderable Flash websites that generated no traffic.”

A traditional advertising and branding apologist has posted a rant on the comment section of the Tribble Ad Agency blog. The post featured two jabs from the advertising supporter showing precisely the lack of understanding of SEO the spoof site is poking fun at when he says, “The only thing you SEO/SEM clowns know is how to add text to web documents.” Which is true at the end of the day. This is clear proof he doesn’t understand the value of text. He downplays the importance of search with the comment, “Search engines are pretty much a big generic network hub that focus on keywords, not branding.”

Showing no understanding of the value of text in web pages, nor any clue about the importance of search engines, er “generic network hubs”, (which do billions in business each) he amplifies the schism between advertising and search oriented minds. He clearly doesn’t understand the value of ranking well at search engines for generic keywords, which can’t be achieved by traditional print or broadcast advertising. People search for keywords online, and if a business web site ranks well for generic keywords which describe the brand, they’ll sell more products, both online and offline.

Danny Sullivan, of Search Engine Watch, created a blog post on June 16 discussing the branding vs. search tug-of-war.

Sullivan points out that he believes that branding DOES occur due to search when a particular brand shows up time and again for any particular generic search phrase. Sullivan gives a couple of examples in his comments to another blog where Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has taken an anti-branding approach for search. (Sullivan comments are partially quoted below and the Karp post is linked from Sullivans post above.)

“What do you think made Zappos a brand name when it comes to buying shoes online? Those magazine ads you saw for them? That TV spot? Wait — I don’t think they do that stuff. What they do is a lot of spending to show up in search engines when you search for “shoes” and related terms. You did a generic search, you keep seeing a particular provider, and you learn about that brand.”

I heartily agree that excellent search positions for generic searches can lead to one sort of branding for savvy online businesses. With the billions of searches done at the top search engines in a typical month, if one brand comes up in results for generic phrases more often for your product, you have achieved the type of branding that Sullivan refers to – at least among web savvy searchers.

While the advertising spoof site is fun and causes a lot of chatter in the forums and blogs, it points to a real issue and a glaring shortcoming in online work by many advertising agencies. That issue is that most ad agencies lack SEO capability and often downplay the importance of SEO to their clients rather than hiring an in-house agency SEO or SEO consultant. It is about looking good, rather BEING good. A good website performs on both branding and on search levels.

Many SEO firms offer to subcontract SEO to Ad Agency clients, but there appear to be few SEO’s that specialize in advertising work. The problem is that ad agencies love flash and produce extensive numbers of flash sites for their clients. Put simply – there is currently no way to optimize a flash site to outrank text based competitors online. So until advertising agencies fall out of love with flash sites, there will be little SEO work to do on those flash sites built by ad agencies. There is the additional problem of lack of tracking or measuring return on investment with flash based sites.

Marketing and web design firms, on the other hand DO clearly understand the need for their client projects to rank well in search engine results pages. Usually those design or marketing companies subcontract their SEO work to search engine optimization firms. Most SEO firms have regular marketing or design clients who consistently send SEO’s their important website projects for optimization work.

The SEO process for ad agencies, marketing firms and web development companies often runs into a twofold difficulty. 1) Visually oriented designers often insist on image-laden (or flash) sites with little or no text on the web pages. 2) Database programmers (php, cgi, asp gurus) rebel at any process that can NOT be automated – like SEO. The image heavy (or flash) site has almost no hope of gaining good search positioning without text, while the dynamic, automated site actually holds out some hope. Page titles and important page elements can be automated if original data entry into content management systems is done by someone with basic SEO understanding.

Content management systems don’t, by themselves, offer any obvious automated method of intelligently titling and tagging new pages of content – especially if those routinely adding content via those systems are not trained in basic SEO techniques. There are clear and simple methods of properly titling pages effectively for best search engine visibility that can be taught to those charged with adding web site content. The In-House New York Times’ SEO, Marshall Simmonds, recently offered guidelines to reporters and editors for headline writing using keywords in place of being cleverly obtuse as they have been taught for print versions of their headlines. That headline SEO effort is discussed in a SearchDay article by Danny Sullivan & Chris Sherman.

Marshall Simmonds’ NYT in-house SEO advice was taken to mean boring to one particularly uncreative reporter at the New York Times when he penned a piece titled “This Boring Headline is Written for Google.” I wrote a piece at Pandia Search Engine News about that story, but titled a bit more creatively, “Google SEO Sleeping Pill: Yawning at Dull News Headlines

Branding does occur through search. Organic search ranking for generic search phrases is critical to online success. Web page titles can include important keywords and still be creative and interesting. The same is true of titling company web site news, product web sit
e information, web site press releases, or even everyday web site product descriptions on ecommerce sites selling widgets. The problem is that keyword titling requires more knowledge than guessing at important keywords and using them in the titles. Keyword density, page placement of keywords, word order, along with some structural details of HTML are all part of a basic formula for determining best titles.

Content management systems post those titles to the page when new pages are created. Ad agencies need to train their web development arms in the above-mentioned basics of SEO. In-house content managers should be trained in SEO basics for major national brands. Content creators and managers will determine the future of branding in search. Ad agency branding stars who refuse to use actual text in non-image based words on client web sites are robbing those clients of search visibility and search branding.

Mike Banks Valentine operates SEOptimism, Offering SEO training of in-house content managers as well as contract SEO for advertising agencies, web development companies and marketing firms.

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