Update: this post was first published in 2012. I’ve revisited it to update for today’s very different marketing landscape, treating SEO as part of a much larger and more integrated marketing plan.
What is SEO?
Let’s start with the basics – what exactly is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)? Well, unless you’ve been living under a stone for the past decade, you’ll note just have integral search engines are to our lives. We search when we want to know something, when we want to find something, when we want to compare something, when we want to purchase something, and so forth.
SEO in its purest form is the practice of ranking a website on a search engine, to attract relevant and valuable traffic to your website. There are a large number of ranking ‘factors’ that determine how and if you’ll achieve this. These factors change on a very regular basis as major search engines fight to outsmart those who exploit the system.
Why SEO is important
It isn’t always the case that SEO should be a major marketing focus for your business. An example of where it isn’t the most relevant channel of marketing would include businesses that have a very clearly defined list of target clients. For example, if you only work with governments/councils or hospitals in the UK.
In this instance, the target list is so clear that you might be better off with more direct marketing or Account Based Marketing (ABM) to reach your intended audience. Waiting for your target customer to have the need, and then hoping they find you via a search engine is waiting until it’s too late, in my opinion. That being said, being ranked in the right places will act as a back stop for you and can increase trust, authority, and brand recognition.
If you’re not in that group of businesses that sells to a very specific selection of clients, then SEO should absolutely list as one of the areas that your business can reach more customers. In a 2018 survey by HubSpot, SEO presence was still the top marketing priority for businesses.
SEO has stood the test of time because it delivers measurable results time and time again. There are some key reasons as to why this is the case:
- People using search engines are in the moment and are searching with the intent to take action. You wouldn’t search for “buy flashing LED dog collar” unless you were in the market for one.
- Search engines are the #1 place used to conduct online research. In fact, according to a study by Fleishman-Hillard, 89% of customers begin their buying process with a search engine.
- According to a study by Chitika, websites listed on the first page of Google take 91.5% of all search traffic, meaning page two onwards is a battle for the scraps.
If those reasons aren’t enough, you might want to conduct some searches on keywords that relate to your products/services. If your competitors are out-ranking you, it could be an indication that they’re also benefitting from more leads and sales than you are.
How SEO is ‘done’
As an SEO agency with an 8+ year track record, we know a little bit about what it takes to succeed online. So what do we do? I’m going to briefly share with you some of the processes we go through on a day-to-day basis.
The first question you might have is around agency vs in-house SEO. I wrote a blog post that covers that topic in more detail, but essentially you want to make sure that you have a budget and a timeframe allocated so that you can invest in your SEO marketing. Either path will require patience, a clear and focused strategy, and of course someone to do the work.
The place to start is with a strategy. This involves analysing (if you can) what your website does for you now, and where your competitors stand in relation to your business. This gap analysis will enable you to get some context as to where you are, giving you the opportunity to set SMART goals towards where you want to be. You may also want to run a technical audit on your website to highlight any issues that might need addressing. It’s important that your website is in the best state it can be so that your efforts aren’t wasted.
You might find that there are plenty of opportunities for you to rank for keywords that you’re not currently ranking well enough for, or at all.
In the diagram above, you can see that there are a number of keyword opportunities for my test website. I’ve even highlighted positions 4-10, which could be ignored initially. What about those keywords ranking 11-20 that are just shy of the first page.
Setting a clear goal to increase your organic traffic by a % is a good place to start, and is even more effective when there is a link to a conversion of some sort. E.g. if you currently average 100 sales from 10,000 visitors, is it feasible that you might increase this to 150 conversions if you were to increase traffic from (relevant and targeted) keywords to 15,000 in X months? This is a very simple example, but I hope it demonstrates the theory.
In order to rank, you must have a landing page to send traffic to. This should follow a structure that is optimised for rankings – using header tags, body copy, image tagging, schema, and more to maximise the chances of ranking the page for your given terms.
Starting local might be a worthwhile target, since your competition will naturally be less given geographic constraints. A study by Review Trackers estimates that 35% of all searches are local, and conclude that 53% of local searches will typically visit a business within 48 hours of a search. Add to this a huge increase in ‘near me’ searches over the past couple of years (see image above), and the opportunity to commerce becomes very clear.
Once you have your strategy and your goal(s), you will need to create a plan. At Zest, we call these a Strategic Plan of Action (SPoA), and they are our roadmap to success when managing client campaigns. The analysis that we conduct as part of our diagnostic reveals evidence-based insights that we can transfer straight into a work flow.
The analysis and audit work that you conduct at the beginning of an SEO campaign will give you plenty of work to get on with. You should map this out in a plan – we do this over a 90-day period – and prioritise in order of importance.
Once you have your work flow, you will need to execute against it. This might involve website fixes, content creation/amends, link building and outreach, and other tasks. Aim to review the results of your work periodically and ensure that you’re tracking and measuring results correctly from the start.
Throughout your SEO work, you will want to review the results of your actions. This is made much easier if you have clear goals from the start, and have a plan that is being execute on and tracked accurately.
How SEO is changing
SEO, and digital marketing in general, has completely changed from what it was just a few years ago. Integration has become key, with your exploits in SEO affecting how your website design should work, to influencing your social strategy, and more.
As an integrated digital marketing agency, we try not to silo the channels we work on. Instead, we focus on the objective or problem itself, and use the multitude of skills that we have available in-house to achieve results.
At the heart of our work are the conversions that truly matter. A combination of beautifully-crafted landing pages, an experimental PPC campaign to uncover keyword opportunities, and then a long-term SEO campaign to target the performing keywords over a longer period, is just one example of how we might deploy a strategy.
The changes in SEO are apparent mostly in the way we use mobile and voice search, with devices such as Alexa and Google Home changing the way we interact with our homes and cars. 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020 if comScore are to predict correctly. There were an estimated one billion searches via voice search in January 2018, according to Alpine AI.
Whatever the correct stat at the end, it’s fairly safe to say that mobile and voice are rising rapidly, and this is where we see the most opportunity for our clients. It’s where most businesses we see fail massively (at the time of writing), because their websites and the experience that goes with them are still tailored only to desktop users.
If you’re reading this, you might be early enough to get a head start on your competitors. So I’ll leave you with these three questions:
- Are you benefitting from the clear opportunities that SEO presents your business?
- Are you ahead or behind of the curve when it comes to mobile and voice search?
- What are you going to do differently to get the results that you desire?
If you’d like to speak to one of our expert consultants about getting ahead with SEO and digital in 2018 and beyond, fire up a live chat with one of our experts to discuss your project. Or you can head over to our Growth Calculator to calculate your revenue growth potential and to discover the two key objectives that you need to achieve to send your revenue skywards.