Search engine marketing and optimization are all the buzz in the publishing industry, but a new survey from Outsell Inc. shows that many publishers are opting for free, rather than paid, SEO and SEM services.

Chuck Richards, vice president and lead analyst from research marketing firm Outsell Inc., speaking recently at an ABM Leadership Breakfast, said that despite efforts to bring people onto their Web sites, the majority of publishers surveyed by Outsell say they’re spending little to no money on outside SEO and SEM services.

The survey found that 81 percent of publishers say they pay no money to an outside SEO firm. Most publishers say outside SEO services are either too expensive or too "cookie-cutter" for publishers. "A lot of publishers don’t believe that SEO firms understand their content because they’re focused more on e-commerce," said Richards.

Of those who do spend on outside SEO and SEM services, 30 percent said they spent less than $5,000; 4 percent said they spent between $5,000 and $10,000; 7 percent spent between $25,000 and $50,000; 15 percent spent between $50,000 and $100,000; and 4 percent spent between $100,000 and $250,000.

The average publisher responding to the Outsell survey had annual revenues of $30 million and an average staff of 400 employees, Richards said. Publishers also revealed that 64 percent of their Web traffic came from free services, with the highest proportion, 37 percent, coming from unpaid search engines. Other traffic sources included:

  • Paid search engines, 9 percent.
  • Direct to Web site, 34 percent.
  • Affiliate partner sites, 5 percent.
  • Product links, 7 percent.
  • Other, 8 percent.

In addition to search engine optimization, publishers should also be concerned with engaging users once they are on the site, Richards said. "We are in an attention economy," he said. "It’s actually an attention-deficit economy. You’re fighting second to second for attention online because the majority of users have their fingers on the back button and they’re ready to leave."

Richards said about 62 percent of traffic on Web sites at any given time is new and that publishers have, on average, five seconds to convince new users to stay. "Baby boomers read five or six words of a sentence and leave if they don’t like what they see," he said. "With the younger set, age 25 and under, it’s 1 to 2 words, and they won’t read dense paragraphs. Your content has to be bulleted and spaced and, if you’re not doing that, you’re losing out."

Who’s doing it right

Some publishing and information-related sites are making head way by growing overall revenues on their sites, Richards said. Those growing include:

  • Forbes, with revenues up 50 percent over last year.
  • TechTarget, up 46 percent.
  • GlobalSpec, up 44 percent.
  • Hoovers, up 40 percent.
  • CNET, up 21 percent.