Search Engine Optimization agencies, professionals and in-house teams have difficult jobs – obtain improved organic search results as quickly as possible given a limited budget and timeframe, while Google changes its algorithm on a daily basis and competitors continue to optimize their web presence. I think it’s safe to say that managing the clients’ or boss’ expectations in this turbulent environment are almost more difficult than the moving target of SEO itself.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how the SEO landscape has changed for the better over the past three years, with Google’s continued and unwavering focus on the concept of relevance. However, three aspects of SEO have not changed at the same pace. The outcome is often a gap in expectations between the team delivering SEO services and the client literally banking on the results. The three aspects of SEO that I feel have not changed at the same pace as the SEO industry include:
- The way SEO services are marketed and sold.
- The processes around how SEO is delivered and reported on.
- The ability for agencies and in-house teams to prove the ROI of SEO efforts.
But the importance of SEO in the digital marketing mix remains unchanged and unchallenged. There are consistently 1 billion Google searches performed every day with 94% of those searchers clicking on organic search results over paid search results. Patience will continue to be a virtue to the marketer who invests in SEO over the long run.
Here are 10 SEO truths I have discovered in SEO conversations I have had with agencies, in-house marketing teams and end clients over the past 12 months:
SEO Truth #1: Rank Doesn’t Matter, Conversion Does.
If I had a dime for every time I heard the statement, “Oh, we don’t need SEO, we already rank #1 for [insert keyword here].”
I witness many SEO conversations where improvement in rank or position is the focus without any consideration given to web page visits and conversions. Many prospects, clients and bosses are lost in the infatuation of ‘Ranking #1 in Google’ and unfortunately because that’s what they want to pay for, that’s what they are sold and/or what we attempt to prove to them.
The more important metric is conversion.
So it could be that a client wants to rank #1 for ‘HR Software’, and they currently rank #5 for that keyword with a conversion rate of 5%, while a similar keyword phrase, ‘HR Software for SMBs’, has a conversion rate of 10% and is ranked #9. Clearly the latter should be the focus since it already has a higher conversion rate with a lower rank. Assigning resources to understanding the opportunities throughout the web presence, and optimizing content for the keyword ‘HR Software for SMBs’ is a better investment of time and money.
SEO Truth #2: Great SEO Results Require Great SEO Data.
SEO is the ongoing process of understanding a web presence, how it compares to the competition, which keywords are driving organic search conversion, and optimizing for those keywords by producing fresh, relevant content. This process is impossible without access to accurate, timely data about that web presence including: page-level rank, backlink metrics and social signals data, organic search keyword research, competitive intelligence, analytics conversion data.
Basing SEO decisions on old, inaccurate SEO data will yield corresponding SEO results. SEO data is the starting point to the entire SEO process and outcome. Great insights will lead to great outcomes. SEO data and SEO software should be considered a cost of doing business or executing a campaign just as email marketing campaigns require an email marketing platform.
SEO Truth #3: Report on Social Signals Just Like Backlinks.
Think of social signals as the new backlink. Now don’t get me wrong, backlinks are still important to organic search and should continue to be reported on, but social signals also deserve ongoing focus and integration into an SEO strategy.
It has been two years since Google and Bing announced that social signals are now factored into their organic search algorithms. Agencies and in-house SEO teams need to demonstrate that they are increasing the number of Likes, Shares, +1s, Tweets, Retweets and YouTube Views at both the web page level and the network level. Social signal metrics should be included in the monthly SEO report as well.
SEO Truth #4: SEO Technology is Telling.
Just as a sales consultant hired to improve sales processes and ultimately conversion rates would not attempt to do so without customer relationship management (CRM) software, neither should an SEO agency or in-house team attempt to effectively improve a web presence for SEO without some support and assistance from technology.
There are many SEO software and tool options – from full software systems to stand alone tools. SEO technology is required more today than ever before in order to assist in the ongoing efforts of keyword research, rank checking, competitive analysis, backlink discovery and tracking, content tracking, analytics, social signal monitoring and monthly SEO reporting capabilities. The technology and tools you select can make or break you too.
Going it alone, without the support of a technological foundation to track a web presence on a daily basis for the purpose of ranking higher organically in the search engines is like trying to do email marketing by BCCing your list from MS Outlook – your deliverability rates, open rates and conversion rates will be immeasurable and less than expected.
SEO Truth #5: Daily Insights into SEO Metrics is Essential.
The SEO reporting cycle is still very much a monthly process (although I’m seeing this standard move to weekly with larger agencies and marketing teams). Having daily and weekly insight into all the SEO metrics included in an SEO campaign is important to understand how your efforts are tracking towards the ultimate goal. Having the insight and intelligence to adjust the goal if more or less progress is being made than anticipated can only be accomplished with daily insight into accurate SEO data and metrics.
SEO Truth #6: A Backlink Strategy Without a Content Marketing Strategy is Just Plain Scary.
Even after all the Panda, Penguin and Freshness updates, I’m still amazed to see some agencies providing quotes to clients where the main thrust of the contract is a promise to build ‘x’ number of backlinks per month. SEOs should continue to deliberately build backlinks in directories that are industry or locally specific to the client, but that’s where deliberate backlink building should end.
To build long-term, non-spammy backlinks, an optimized content marketing strategy is required where fresh relevant optimized content is being produced on a consistent basis. Content in the form of blogs, press releases, case studies, and whitepapers wherein the content contains keywords that are driving organic search conversions as well as naturally occurring backlinks to the main corporate website. Not only will this approach to backlink building withstand the test of time, it will also create social signals which will also positively impact the web presence.
SEO Truth #7: Spend Less Time on Reporting, More Time on SEO.
A typical SEO contract consists of analysis, recommendations, implementation and reporting. The most painful of which is reporting - mashing together end-of-month reports from multiple data sources to demonstrate progress to the end client, never mind trying to make it look pretty. Laborious, repetitive reporting takes away too much time from what will really pay off – the doing of SEO.
This reinforces truth #4: SEO Technology is Telling. Making use of technology for weekly or monthly automated reporting will allow for more time being spent on the task of SEO which will yield better results for the client and will allow you to scale your business.
SEO Truth #8: Think Outside the Google Search Box.
Yes, Google continues to be the entity that SEOs attempt to please, and rightfully so. I can’t see this focus changing in the near or distant future either. With the continual convergence of social media and SEO, we also need to think about the prospect of searchers starting their searches directly on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. A web presence should be represented for its branded keyword phrases within these sites as well. Test your branded keywords and test your clients’ branded keywords to see if they return the expected search results on these social networks. If not, optimize!
SEO Truth #9: Communicate the CTR Opportunity Gap by Keyword.
Once there is an understanding of the high-converting keywords, it is worth the exercise of applying paid search volume data with organic clickthrough rates (CTRs) to communicate the opportunity gap between ranking #9 versus #3.
Let’s use the keyword “HR Software” as an example. The total Google search volume (U.S., Canada, and Australia) is 2,120 searches per month, combined with the fact that 94 percent of searchers click through on organic search results (GroupM UK and Nielsen, August 2012). Given Optify’s CTR data for positions #1 through #20, the opportunity gap can be communicated to the client.
2120 monthly searches * 94 percent = 1992 * 3.0 percent /30 days = 2 daily click-
throughs for position #9 in Google.com for the keyword "HR Software"
Position #9 will yield 60 clicks per month (2 clicks per day * 30 days) while increasing the position to #3 will yield 180 clicks per month (6 clicks per day * 30 days) presenting an opportunity gap of 180-60 = 120 clickthroughs per month. What value does this translate into for the client?
SEO Truth #10: It’s about the Hierarchy of Web Presence Optimization.
Search Engine Optimization is now more about Web Presence Optimization. As the ways we sell and deliver SEO services continue to evolve, the hierarchy of web presence optimization is a model that may help structure sales contracts and service delivery tasks while ensuring that keyword metrics are focused on conversion, backlinks are built out effectively, and social signals are integrated into the overall SEO strategy.