Business Intelligence in Search Marketing

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Written by Scott Orth –

This…Is…Awesome!  I was just browsing through some of my old presentations and articles, and I came across a post from 2007.  We’re talking EIGHT YEARS ago! The post is about the importance of business intelligence in search marketing.

Sometimes it just hurts to be in front of the curve!  In 2007 I was preaching business intelligence in search marketing at a time when my words were echoed by the eerie sound of crickets.

It took a while, but finally the search marketing industry was forced into line. At least most of us. Believe it or not, there are still a few fools who continue to think simply increasing traffic is enough.

Please enjoy this read from my archives (January 2007)…


Search Engine marketing is no longer about showing up in the top ten results. Well okay, that is still important, but it’s only one piece of the overall puzzle.

As sophisticated businesses and marketing agencies embrace the world of Internet Marketing, Search Engine Marketers (SEM’s) are being asked to deliver a level of strategy and value never before expected. With the bar raised, we must now focus on targeted business goals to prove ROI.

When I’m discussing a million-dollar engagement with an enterprise client, I’d have to have more than the luck of the Irish to land the deal with simple promises of first page Google listings and increased traffic through Pay-per-click. Okay, I’m only part Irish – but luck shouldn’t be the deciding factor anyway.

In today’s market, it has become important to prove how SEM will increase sales, lower customer acquisition costs, decrease customer service expenditures, and achieve or exceed overall, pre-set, business goals. I’ve even been asked to provide accurately projected and guaranteed ROI ratios from one enterprise client. That can be a dangerous corner to stand in when your success relies on Search Engine response.

You might ask ‘do business goals really fit in with SEM? Shouldn’t a business strategist or traditional marketer be focused on that instead?’ Short answer…No!

Though someone within your client’s organization is likely accountable for broad planning, budget creation, and ROI development, they will most likely not have the expertise to understand how various search patterns, landing pages, and targeted conversion paths will affect their bottom line.

That said, it’s time for a much-needed reality check. If you’re a Search Engine Optimizer who knows how to get top organic rankings on the Search Engine Results Page through ethical, white-hat methods, great! If you’re a Pay-per-Click expert who understands how to drive traffic through thousands of word variations, geo-targeting, and broad/exact phrase settings, excellent! But if that’s all you know, then your future in this industry is limited.

Here are the facts (or at least my humble assessment of them): if your skills do not include business analysis and strategic consulting, even though they may be well developed and important, you’re missing the big-picture. Right now, Directors, VP’s, and C-level executives all tell me the same thing, “If you expect us to transfer 10 – 20% of our traditional marketing budgets to the Internet, you must be able to substantiate the broad and granular successes – both in the short-term, as well as through on-going trends.”

I could just say, “Sure, we can do that.” – But how do I know what I’m promising, unless I truly understand what “success” means for the client?

Let’s dig a little deeper…

When you engage a new client for Search Engine Marketing, what’s the first step in your campaign? Is it…Keywords? Wrong! It should be an analysis of the client’s business. The list of items to investigate can be long, but should start with the following:

  • Marketing plan
  • Branding initiatives
  • Sales channels
  • Prior successes/failures
  • Past goal patterns
  • Current goals (broken down by variables)
  • Obstacles to these goals
  • Current audience segmentation
  • Internal structure
  • External image
  • Site metrics (usability, trends, baseline)

Keywords now, you ask? Almost, but not yet.

The thorough business analysis you perform will allow you to build a targeted list of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) based on the type of site, conversion points, branding, and several factors specific to the site in question. The assigned KPIs will then be used to track the success of the campaign and your work.

Finally, once you and your client are in agreement on the KPIs and the broad and granular goals of the campaign, then, and only then, should you begin working on key term development.

I understand many will say that’s way too much work to go into a campaign before even starting search term development. If that’s your stance, that’s okay, but realize that the rest of the industry is developing sophisticated ROI processes and demanding 10 to 20 times the professional service fees of those stuck in the old, simple-ways of SEM.

So, to review, what is the overall goal of an SEM campaign?

  1. Drive traffic to the site
  2. Create exposure on the search engines (branding)
  3. Improve online sales (e-commerce)
  4. Improve offline sales (leads to phone, form, or other contact)
  5. Elicit downloads (indirect conversion)
  6. All of the above
  7. None of the above

If you answered 1, you may be right. Although, if you answered 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 you may be right as well…or you may be wrong. My point is, the goals of the campaign may differ for each client. If you don’t develop KPIs and business goals with your clients in the beginning, you’ll have no idea what successes to strive for; nor will you know whether or not your clients agree with your assessment of success.

SEM is more sophisticated than it was two years ago. The days of simply driving traffic and getting paid for it are over. I know, I know – I’ve shed a few tears myself.

If you want to survive in today’s SEM market, you need to bring a higher level of business intelligence and strategy to the table. Know your client’s business, and understand their goals. Most importantly, get the client’s sign-off on the goals of your campaign and stick to them. If the direction changes mid-stream, get new sign-off; ensuring that you are always on the same page as your client.

Oh yeah, and it doesn’t hurt if you deliver a few first page search results as well!


Scott Orth is the Owner of Thrive Business Marketing and an independent contractor focused on the stability and growth of online and on/offline merged businesses. His expertise in online customer acquisition and customer experience design has directly created over $100 Million in revenue for his clients in the past 5 years.

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