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The Million Pound SEO Question – How would you spend a £1M Budget?

Often in the world of search your ideas and scope are limited by the available resources and budgets. The knack of a good SEO is working within those parameters, but what would you do if there weren’t those limits?

So I fired up my Rolodex and asked some of the great and good of UK SEO and asked…

You’ve been approached by a start up backed by some of the biggest VCs in the world. They’ve got one mission to beat Amazon at it’s own game. They’ve hired you in-house and given you a million pound budget to spend.

Where and what would you spend the money on?

Kelvin Newman, Creative Director – SiteVisibility

There’s a huge number of hygiene issues you’re going to want to ensure you’re absolutely spot on with. If you’re taking on a strong incumbent these aren’t voluntary – they’re a ticket to the lottery, they won’t guarantee a win, but ignoring them will make loss inevitable.

You need to pick your battles, I’d try and find a ‘type’ of query which isn’t currently being served effectively. In this example I’d try and own product comparisons searches like ‘macbook vs. macbook pro’ etc. These types of searches aren’t well served but do have volume. I’d ensure that for any search terms which has a commercial value for the business that they had the best possible content in existence for that term.

You are not going to compete in this sector by flying under the radar. You need to make a splash, ideally a big splash, and regularly.What’s the best way of doing this? by making high reward bets. Not all of these bets will be successful, but you need to ensure when they do they subsidise the less successful efforts. Think of it as a venture capital style approach to link building, PR and social media.

Tim Aldiss, Operations & Account Director, No Pork Pies

SEO is most commonly put in a silo in one corner. Every now and then a project comes along that places SEO at it’s heart. To my mind this is where SEO should be – it’s the most logical place to look at the how’s and why’s of building your website, and marketing is after all why you build a website, right?

The unlimited budget would allow the creation of a website that would be based on extensive research of the market opportunity at a keyword level. It would allow substantial linguistic work and meet user experience design head on. It would form the back bone of a site map of the website that would negate the need for user experience as the user would be delivered seamlessly to their destination. It would unleash data analysts to visualise the structure of the information relevant to the audience and the product in 3 dimensions. It would allow performance insight the ability to timeline profitability based on distinct measures of search success.

But it would also allow for an outline for the delivery of creative-inspired content. An area sadly underutilised in SEO. This is the realm of the advertising industry, and the term – creative – is often misunderstood and misused. Great ideas transcend medium, but SEO as a vehicle (and combined with social media as channels) is an underused path for creative content. We’re just seeing the start of this with campaigns like Greenpeace’s Detox SEO campaign but there’s so much more integration with creative genius at this level.

This is the tip of the content continuum, which stretches down through actually useful research documentation, visualisations such as infographics and motion charts, great guest blog posts, editorials and articles.

Only problem with this approach… getting the design right!

Still if it all goes wrong you always have someone to blame!

Samuel Crocker – SEO Associate Director, OMD
This is a great question and to be quite frank, I often wish I found myself in this very situation looking after a product with some budget to spend on the launch. It’s probably worth mentioning that if we are talking about the full online spend you can get a rough idea of what I’d do based on this post – but for the purposes of the response I’ll stick to this being just the SEO budget

There are a number of serious considerations to take into account here and if the game is to beat Amazon at their own game I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there will be a lot of considerations and we’d be building a very big site. If I had that sort of money and that sort of scale to consider I would want to give a considerable amount of thought to how the site would grow and how the architecture would all piece together. I would almost certainly use some of this budget for some consulting time and to exchange some ideas with someone who specialises on I/A specifically – and I would probably go with Richard Baxter (I’m guessing he’s not cheap). For the sake of argument, between my time and a bit of Mr. Baxter’s consultancy fees let’s assume I would spend ~20k on the upfront SEO costs and full spec of the site.

In addition to the spend on the planning itself I would also want to invest quite heavily in the launch and some pre-launch activity (PR, linkbait, etc.). If there were any hope for this to take off I would want some top quality dev invested into this and we’d probably be looking at another £10k quickly chewed through on costs here prior to launch.

There’s no doubt for me that I would want to have unique product descriptions (short term) as well as UGC (long term) so for something the size of Amazon I think you could easily spend £100k to employ good native English speaking copywriters and perhaps a person or two to proof-read all of the content. I would plan to spend at least £50k in the creation and maintenance of a blog in year one (in terms of creative for the blog itself, linkbait, as well as staff) and look to expand this in future years.

Staff I would like to employ:
1 Full time Copywriter/Blog Support
2 Full time Linkbuilders/PR Specialists/Social Media/Seeding folks
1 Full time technical SEO
1 Full time developer – I want some of their time so I figure I’ll have to pay for at least one of their salaries out of my budget

For the sake of argument, let’s say that’s another £165k – bringing us to a total £345k

If I am going to leave a job to go work in house on such a big project that will undoubtedly have a lot of stress associated I’d want to be rewarded well and would expect a decent salary (hey, it’s all hypothetical, right?) – so let’s say I’d expect £85k for such a move which brings us rapidly up to £430.

In addition we’d have to look at the cost of tools, managing a team, conferences, research and development/SEO learning and additional spend for occasional freelancers, additional linkbuilding resource, and a whole host of other things I’ve left out, I’d say we need to set aside at least another 50k for a buffer.

Now, given that this would be the cost associated with getting us through year one, there will inevitably be other costs along the way (domain acquisition, freelance designers/content support and potentially the need for foreign language content, linkbuilding and customer service) I think this would realistically take up all of the budget until we hit a large enough return to cover the costs of our overheads and hopefully carry on doing it for a good number of years and grow the team over time

Tim Ireland, SEO Strategist – Jellyfish
Let’s say for the sake of argument that I wanted to use this million quid to get as many kites as high as possible in the sky for as long as possible; there are two ways you could go about it, and a world of variety between the two extremes

1. Conceive and release an idea virus that prompts people to build or buy their own kite, and fly it of their own volition, at their own expense, using the prevailing winds.

2. Buy kites, hire flyers to fly the kites, buy wind machines to create/enhance the wind.

The purchase of 100 wind machines, capable of getting maybe 200-300 kites in the sky (at a very modest height): a minimum of £500,000; half your budget (yes we actually researched this). I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Plus, the movement of air isn’t the only prevailing wind to take into account; there are predictable (and sometimes temporarily fashionable) ways that other human beings like to interact with each other, and if you can tap into this natural force in a way that is favourable to you, there are similar advantages to this as there are to using existing winds over creating your own.

In short, I would use the million to ride a wave, not make one. The bulk of the spend would be research and creative, with the intention being to capture a natural community force, and exploit it… as sensitively as possible.

Jason Ryan – Freelance Digital Strategist
Given my digital experience, I would naturally come at this from a strategic point of view. It would be very difficult to build an Amazon clone and beat Amazon at their own game, no matter how well the site is optimised for search engines.

I would also avoid a massive Above the Line brand building exercise as the budget would disappear very quickly.

In considering this scenario, I immediately thought of Instagram. I am a long term signed up member and huge Flickr fan, and until recently I thought that Flickr was the be-all and end-all of photo community/sharing sites; but I am hugely impressed and inspired by what Instagram have done. They have found a single point of difference from Flickr and exploited it – providing a engaging mobile experience through a real time stream of photos. I am finding Instagram so much more immediate and engaging than Flickr right now and can see how Instagram could quickly build additional services and products around this core offering.

Of course it would not be simple to do this with Amazon, a site that is so mature and comprehensive, but I would initially look for that point of difference, and base my engagement and marketing strategy on that.

It is important that all product descriptions, categories and related information should be shareable and well optimised for search engines – but the real value to customers will be evident in the user experience and the ease in which the offering can be integrated into their everday lives.

Perhaps the strategy should be to provide an improved social commerce layer that is available to everyone – retailers and bloggers alike; by providing site owners a smart way of filtering and selecting products that are related to the content on their sites or to the subject of their blogs; and integrating those products and product descriptions seamlessly through APIs and widgets, all of which can earn the site owner revenue and provide search equity through links and social interactions.

I would therefore spend the initial million by researching the customer need and the strategic opportunity; investing in the core digital service and the user experience; ensuring that all site content and product information is well optimised and shareable; enagaging with early adopters and advocates; and spending the remainder on tactical paid media.

Samantha Stratton, Digital Marketing Director – Koozai
To start with, I would go back to basics and review the site to ensure that it is fully optimised for the search engines and has decent, unique content. Making sure the fundamentals are in place for any search project is a key element to the future success.

Although a million pounds sounds like a great sum of money, to take on Amazon, you would need a lot more than that for your marketing budget! With this in mind, I think the most sensible thing I would do to aid a higher conversion rate and revenue sum for a new business is to run targeted PPC campaigns and use the budget for spend on AdWords. This would allow the new site to be seen high in the search results and the ads can appear instantly without having to wait for the search engines to index the pages.

To attempt to take on Amazon, a lot more would need to be done to create a brand that people are aware of and want to buy from. Most people know and trust Amazon so this is a massive task in itself.

However, if we are looking at getting more creative I would focus my attention on social media and create awareness of the new brand in this way. With social, I think a million pounds would go much further than standard search. Setting up a bespoke Facebook and Twitter Account would not eat up much of the funds. I would then use these to create an element of fun around the brand so that people want to link to the site automatically and talk about it across the web.

Oreo have done some great things with customer competitions and Lick Race is a good example of this. This exact match domain (http://www.oreolickrace.co.uk/) has a significant element of fun and bloggers have been talking about it and linking to it without being asked. The competition was also promoted heavily on their Facebook and Twitter profiles and drove a lot more brand awareness.

On top of this, Amazon do offer a product feed so if the start-up was selling similar products that fit into Amazons categories, I would look at getting the products listed on their site. This would give me some brand exposure but also give me additional revenue to ensure that the start-up business could continue to run into the future.

Kevin Gibbons, Director of Strategy – SEOptimise
Great question! I’ve probably thought about this a bit too much, but other than giving SEOptimise a £1 million SEO contract, I’d split the budget something like this:

£500,000 – An extreme PR campaign – looking to generate a huge amount of online buzz, attention and links. Think big, think crazy, think anything to get media and press attention. So hire a team who can help you to brainstorm and carry out these ideas – as long as it’s legal that’s fine!

£200,000 – Social media campaign – continue your crazy PR ideas with a social media campaign. This is all about creativity and creating something remarkable that will naturally be shared and generate huge amounts of attention. Sounds easy doesn’t it?! Use the music angle, hire someone like the Rage Against Machine guy who got the Christmas number one – and figure out a way to get people talking about your new brand on Facebook and Twitter.

£100,000 – Top quality content – hire celebrities & run big events – e.g. interview actors/actresses, music artists, record labels, radio DJs etc and guest write on their sites too. Run events, festivals, online music concerts – basically get as much attention as possible. A £100,000 budget sounds a bit low, but get sponsorship, sell tickets, do joint promos with the celebs and I’m sure you can save a bit of cash. This gives you some great content which naturally generates attention and links.

£100,000 – Buy a competitor domain – Ok you’re not going to get a top competitor, Play.com sold for £25m last month, so that’s a long-way off budget. But maybe you could find a dormant domain which is ranking in the top 50 positions in Google, which would give you a much better starting point to compete.

£100,000 – SEO & link building – Obviously you need to get your on-site SEO straight and also think of ways to generate quality user-generated content which can rank for a long-tail of terms. But make sure you focus a large percentage of the budget towards link building. This is where there is a huge difference between your site and Amazon, so think about how you can create a strategy which can realistically create high-quality links which have a chance of influencing search rankings and competing with Amazon. Sound difficult, but maybe you could start replicating their best links – or at least bribing the owners to switch them to you!

It’s a big ask – but I think you’d be well on your way with that approach. And if all else fails, just hire a hacker to take down Amazon and 301 everything to your site! Ok, maybe don’t do that one!

Gareth Hoyle, Director – Manual Link Building
1 – I would invest a decent amount in a cleanish aged domain

2 – I would invest in at least 10 product code microsites per week hosted across different C Class IPs

I would use the microsites to sell individual products but feed back into the main site through “view other PRODUCTNAME”

3 – I would employ a team offshore to review products on our page and feed them out to review aggregators
I would also run some form of social media “booze for reviews” scheme

4 – I would link building to all pages and include a large element of social interaction (manipulated plus ones, fb likes, digg votes)

5 – FB competition – outreach to key influencers on industry forums and get them blogging about us and our product range in exchange for free products

6 – I would use some budget on PPC to piggy back my rivals brand searches

7 – I would also PPC on diverse phrases loosely related to my products – eg – If someone on hollyoaks gets a new TV – I would purchase ‘hollyoaks’ and link the ad to the TV that is featured on screen

Chelsea Blacker, Head of Search – Tamar
1) Amazon has 11 categories of products, so will I. For each category hire an SEO exec outside London at starting salary of £19,000. Total cost: £209,000

2) Most CMSs have horrible URL structures, pay my chosen CMS whatever ridiculous upsell price they demand to get custom, relevant URLs which accurately reflect the navigation. Cost: £20,0000.

3) Create social media communities around each of the 11 categories. Each should have their own twitter account, fb fan page, stumble upon account, reddit profile, squidoo, etc. Every day, my 11 execs must share have at least 3 interactions on each platform.
Cost: Free.

4) Build social media communities. After 2 months of 3 interactions a day, start buying followers, fans, friends, etc so the profiles build up a bit of authority.. Give each category a budget of £200 to do so. Cost: £2200

5) Build an App. Just joking. That would be a waste of time for any retailer. http://www.chelseablacker.com/2011/10/are-catalogue-apps-worth-it/

6) Ideally, I want 5 reviews for each product I’m selling.

Amazon has 351,000,000 page indexed of which I’d assume most pages are products. That means each exec needs to pull reviews for about 30,000 product pages. Whoo! Let the automation begin!

Each exec would identify 10 sites with product reviews relevant to their assigned category. Then I’d expect them to work with my developer to scrape reviews for products from those sites. Cost: £20,000 freelance developer building/tweaking a scraper tool

I’m not a big fan of spinning tools, but in this case there is little choice. Get a spinning tool and some O Desk employees in india to start spinning the scrapped reviews. Set up an O-Desk budget of £4000 for each category. Cost: £30 tool & £44000 O-Desk budget

7) Attempt to build some viral content. Give each exec a £60,000 budget to come up with some cool sh*t. They’ve been immersed in their given subject, I’d trust they are now experts in their fields and know what their communities would want to see. Let them manage it as they see fit.

So how would you spend the money?

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6 Comments
  • hyderali on October 24, 2011

    Apart from Samuel Crocker, Samantha Stratton, Kevin Gibbons, Gareth Hoyle & Chelsea Blacker I didn’t understand what others are trying to say.

    I especially like Kevin Gibbons idea of spending 1 million in which he bifurcated step by step involving how much money will be required.

    I don’t think 1 million is enough to outmark Amazon from its own game. There needs to be proper planning, marketing & technical things to be done. As, samantha pointed out social media would be the best to cover up & promote the brand.

  • Alan Charnock on October 24, 2011

    I would take half the budget £400k and pitch someone like Wikipedia to let me piggy back off the back of their pages and advertise my products on the pages they have already ranking with a link back to my £100k new site.
    Another£100k would go into writing and creating one of the biggest unique sites out there.
    The next £70k would go into buying domains with history and populating them with mass amounts of regular content, creating my own network which I could then use for links.
    The final £100k would go on Social Media, and would be used to scream about the website from the hills.
    The final £130k even though this says dollars but i can’t be bothered to work out the conversion but I would head over to this is why I’m broke and shamelessly buy this http://www.thisiswhyimbroke.com/the-water-jet-pack so I can hover around and promote the site in a different way.

  • dan barker on October 24, 2011

    Here’s mine:

    It would be called ‘The Experiment’.

    Here’s the breakdown of funds:

    £100k – Hire the best volunteer coordinator in the country.
    £100k – Hire the best partnerships person in the country.
    £100k – Hire the person with the best philanthropy network in the country.
    £100k – Hire the best lobbyist in the country.
    £500k – Very fast prototype development.
    £99k – Legal.
    £500 – Buy ‘theexperiment.com’.
    £1 – Anti-Amazon smear campaign.
    £499 – Contingency.

    First we’d prototype the whole thing up & make it as search-friendly as humanly possible. We’d build it to allow anyone & everyone to earn future money each time they bought, reviewed, wrote a blog post about, linked to, or shared a product on the site. We’d call this ‘Jobification’. The word would catch on, & would bring us a scrillion visits over a 3-yr period.

    PHASE 1 – the setup:

    In phase 1, the site would be UK only.

    1. The volunteer coordinator would create an army of volunteer staff to help the partnerships, philanthropy, and lobbying people.
    2. The partnerships person would sign up every large company, bank, prison, hospital, school & other local authority entity in the country.
    3. The volunteer coordinator would then comandeer every empty building the country, each to be filled with any homeless & unemployed who would be willing to pitch in.
    4. The lobbyist would get us a deal whereby every corporate partner would get a £150m tax break for every £100m they donated to ‘The Experiment’. (instant £15bn here)
    5. The lobbyist would then secure 20% Time in all schools, universities, prisons & hospitals, whereby students, patients & inmates would be given one day of the 5-day week to work on ‘The Experiment’, writing blog posts, reviewing products, chattering in the communities, jaffacaking across twitter, facebook &c. This would be our ‘SEO activity’.
    6. The money would begin to roll in & the model would be tuned.

    PHASE 2 – the payoff:

    This is the point where we’d launch international & eat our monolithic competitor for brunch.

    1. The philanthropy person would nab us £100m in funding which we’d use to bribe the Olympic Committee.
    2. The £100m Olympic Committee bribes would be used to gain massive coverage during ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ & bring in international customers.
    3. The international customers would bring us a ton of money which we’d plough back into UK taxes, and into funding our giant army of ‘Jobified’ inmates, students & patients.

    And of course – when it utterly failed – we’d have more than £1m worth of links and content out of the whole thing anyway.

  • James Norquay Australian SEO on October 24, 2011

    Here is my way to spend the budget for this client.

    1. Phase one for me would be looking at purchasing a domain for the VC’s, this domain would be keyword rich/brand-able and most of all be indexed in Google hopefully with links, I would look for aged domains (budget 100k)

    2. Phase two would involve working with developers, consulting on the new design, picking a highly SEO friendly CMS, wire frame reviews and reccomendations. (20k)

    3. Phase three Content writing, on site optimization phase, where we could write killer content for the website and also have content ready for the blog. I would invest wisely and hire university students who are at the top of their class. We would have specialists in 20 sub sections. This would be phased over 1 year at a cost of ($200k)

    4. Phase four – PR and online buzz campaign – we would invest in gaining news PR for the website in 3 phases using top PR agencies split over 4 times at a cost of (200k)

    5. Social campaign, build a huge following and link up SEO via various social channels, competition involved – (150k budget)

    6. On going link building/social media activity/ competitions to drive links – (90k)

    7. On going monthly cost (2-3 people working on the account full time doing analytics, reports, on site, management of copy writers.
    ($20k) ($240k.)

    Total spend 1 Million.

  • Caroline Bell on November 11, 2011

    Interesting article and comments! I’d probably tell the VC’s to keep their money as I don’t see £1million being enough to even start to compete with Amazon.

    Tweet button appears to be broken BTW….

  • Alex Hunt on January 1, 2012

    How to beat Amazon with 1M – Its not about paying for SEO.

    IT IS ABOUT PAYING AFFILIATE MARKETERS.

    If you offer them an easy to use affilaite marketing systems you will soon pick up 100,000+ affilaite marketers providing SEO for FREE.

    In effect they are doing SEO on their sites to get the affiliate commision of the traffic/sales you push to them and it would be worth far more than £1M.

    Amazon do annoy alot of Aff marketers – take Germany for instance… If you are in their Aff sceheme and sell a E5,000 coffe machine they cap the commision at E10. So as you can see there are people just waiting for a better affiliate commision and we are talking tens of thousands of affiliates.

    In effect spend £0 on SEO and spend the rest on paying affiliates more for doing a good job pointing highly quality traffic at the site.

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