Agency advances own lead effort with SEO push

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Problem: Maritz, a St. Louis, Mo.-based marketing services company, offers multiple services to clients, a laundry list that includes services in the areas of customer research, communications, incentives, meetings and event management, rewards, travel management and customer loyalty.

Yet despite its various capabilities, Maritz was having trouble getting the attention of customers and prospects online.

"We weren't appearing in the top 10 or the top 30 in Google, MSN, Yahoo! and the other major search engines for the keywords that relate to our business," said Laura Carter, director, corporate Web services at Maritz.

Maritz wanted to come up on or near the top of natural search results for keywords and phrases such as "corporate meeting planners," "customer loyalty programs," "customer satisfaction research" and "sales incentive programs."

Worse, the few leads coming through the Internet, weren't "necessarily the right type of lead. It wasn't targeted," Carter said.

She added, "In today's world, when people do an RFP [request for proposal], they usually have a short list and know who you are. Now, we feel they're going to Google, they're getting their shortlist through Web research, and you have to show up if you even want to be a player."

Maritz definitely wanted to be a player, so it sought an SEO agency to help optimize natural search results. Where did it turn? To search, natch.

Solution: "I went out there and started searching the Web," Carter said. "I went to Search Engine Watch [the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization's site] to see who the thought leaders were, who was speaking at events. I was also looking for a strong measurement tool so that I could measure ROI."

The company hired Oneupweb, a search agency, both because of its experience in the field and measurement capabilities.

The engagement started out with deep research in which Maritz divulged as much as it could about the nature of its business, competition and position within the marketing services arena.

Oneupweb began in-depth research and, armed with that information, established the best keyword set for Maritz. The next step was building content on Maritz's Web site around those keywords in order to assure a high ranking in natural search results.

In addition, Oneupweb also conducted a comprehensive site analysis to determine if its contents were "crawlable" and easily indexed by the major search engines.

"You are trying to make sure there are no technical roadblocks," Carter said, such as improper coding, duplication of content and navigation hurdles.

Once keyword recommendations were made, the marketing and IT teams at Maritz were brought in to the process to approve the recommendations and make any necessary structural changes to the Web site.

It took about three months overall to optimize three of Maritz's five Web sites. The remaining two were optimized about two months after that.

Results: In September 2005, 131 Maritz keywords for its research business appeared in the top 10 search results rankings. This September, that number catapulted to 297. Other business divisions saw similar gains. For the Maritz main, or corporate, site, 97 were in the top 10 in September 2005, and 209 in September 2006; Loyalty drew 62 keywords in the top 10 last year, versus 180 this year; travel drew 225 this year, compared with 103 last year; and finally, its incentives business site had 91 keywords in the top 10 positions in September 2005, compared with 170 this year.

In addition, an average of 25% of unique visitors to each of the business unit sites came from search engines, and visitor traffic overall has more than doubled, Carter said, and those numbers have been sustained.

Even the PR department has begun working closely with marketing on SEO so that press releases are optimized.

"At first they were a little nervous," Carter said. "It takes many approvals to get a release out, and this added another layer to that process." However, Oneupweb turns the optimization recommendations around very quickly, usually within 24 hours; and the PR department has become more proactive as a result.

"We're getting some best practices in place so that, as we do additional releases around our new business model, we've got that discipline there. We embed tracking code within those, so we can track ROI and see who came to your site because they read a press release. If they convert, it tracks that, too."

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