BrightEdge Seeks Order, and Profits, in the Wild West of Search Engine Optimization

6/14/10Follow @wroush

There’s not much distance, in the minds of many Web merchants and publishers, between the terms “search engine optimization consultant” and “snake oil salesman.” That’s partly because SEO—the attempt to bring more traffic to a website by improving its ranking in the unpaid section of a search results list—is a messy art with many complex variables. It’s also because so many “black hat” SEO consultants prey on gullible clients, and try to game the search engines through underhanded tactics like keyword stuffing and invisible text.

Now there’s a new SEO gun in town—San Mateo, CA-based BrightEdge. Through better measurement and what it calls “pure white-hat SEO” techniques alone, the company can vastly increase the revenue its customers earn through traffic from unpaid search results, according to founder and CEO Jim Yu. (Also called “organic” results, these are the links that appear in the central column of a Google, Bing, or Yahoo search page. Which implies, I guess, that the pay-per-click ads in the margins are “inorganic.”)

BrightEdge announced the general availability of its Web-based SEO platform today, after three years in stealth mode and closed beta testing with a handful of customers like VMware, MySpace, and Branders, a marketer of brand-customized promotional products. BrightEdge’s service, designed for large enterprises managing extended Web properties, can provide a precise understanding of the return companies are getting for their SEO efforts, not unlike the statistics provided by paid-search platforms such as Google’s AdSense, Yu says.

There’s certainly room for improvement in what passes for SEO today. One study by Boston-based search engine marketing firm iProspect shows that AdSense ads on Google pages attract only 28 percent of users’ total clicks, while the other 72 percent go to organic results. “If organic search is driving three or four times the value of paid search, why do marketers focus first on the paid side? It’s because you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Yu says. “Google has done a great job of helping marketers measure the return-on-investment of paid search…but to do the same thing in organic search is nearly impossible. Our goal at BrightEdge is to make [organic] SEO as simple as pay-per-click.”

BrightEdge isn’t the first company on the enterprise SEO scene. Xconomy’s San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow has chronicled the rise of San Diego-based Covario, for example, as it helps giant customers like Intel, Adobe, and Procter & Gamble track the success of both their paid-search spending and their organic SEO efforts. But Yu, who formerly helped to run Salesforce.com’s AppExchange directory, says that his 25-employee startup, which has raised $8.5 million in financing from Battery Ventures, Altos Ventures, and Illuminate Ventures, offers truly different methods for quantifying and improving revenues from organic search.

One element in BrightEdge’s offering is what it calls “closed-loop analytics.” That’s really about the ability to track the impact of specific SEO-driven changes in a website’s content. BrightEdge’s servers constantly poll the search engines to see where a given page ranks for hundreds of key search terms. Importantly, they monitor incoming traffic to see how … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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