I have a confession to make. Despite having been in the digital marketing game for a good ten years I hate SEO.
OK, let me rephrase that. I hate explaining it to anybody who isn’t interested in understanding it properly. Infuriatingly, there’s still a prevailing attitude that SEO is some sort of ‘special sauce’ that you sprinkle onto a website to make it jump straight to the top of Google’s search results. While that may have been possible in the bad old ‘black hat’ search marketing days, it’s certainly not the case anymore.
So, when I came across a networking event on how businesses can benefit from SEO knowledge, I immediately signed up. Not because my SEO skills are out of date (although it’s always useful to brush up), but because I need to help people understand that SEO is more of an ongoing experiment rather than a ‘one size fits all’ magic wand.
The event's host, Gary-Eoghan Gallagher began the session by promising that he and his panel of fine digital minds (Dylan Macdonald, Keri McCool, Grant Ruxton and Alan Fair) would ‘dig deep into the pockets of SEO’ and they did not disappoint. We were taken right back to basics with an examination of what every business needs to know about search optimisation in 2015. So, if you’re still trying to get to grips with the recipe for that elusive SEO sauce, the seven ingredients below are a good place to start:
Lesson 1 - what does Google want?
At its core, Google wants to return the best possible answer to any given search query. You need to understand how your audiences are searching for your services and use the same words they are using. In any industry, it’s easy to get sucked into a ‘jargon bubble’ without even realising it, so make sure you do your keyword research and carry this language over to your offline marketing as well.
Lesson 2 - match your content to your audience
Again, you need to do your research and get to know your audience so you can tailor your message and content accordingly. Content marketing doesn’t mean creating a brochureware site and sticking a blog on the end of it. Neither does it mean endlessly repeating the same keywords. Google rates quality content and understands relevance, so use synonyms and personalise content to your audience. Remember, content is king (there, I’ve said it!)
Lesson 3 - Google's free analytics tools are your best friends
Never think of SEO as a standalone tactic. It’s not a magic bullet - it’s a part of an overall strategy and should be constantly tested and analysed. Your weapons of choice, Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools will help you understand exactly what’s going on with your website. The better you become at using these toolsets, the more you’ll be able to make decisions based on data instead of going in blindly.
Lesson 4 - don’t ignore Bing and Yahoo
While you never hear anybody say ’Bing it’, Bing has actually become a widely-used search tool for many PC users. With Bing’s respectable U.S. search market share of over 20% and Yahoo's recent search deal with Firefox having boosted its share to 12.7%, you might find your target market isn’t even using Google. As it stands, both search engines are still way behind on context and relevancy but they might catch up one day. In the meantime, the advice is that whatever optimisation you do for Google, it will have a positive effect on your Bing and Yahoo quality score too.
Lesson 5 - mobile search has eclipsed desktop
The online mobile market is at an all-time high. For the first time, mobile search has overtaken desktop search, leaving business owners to adapt their search visibility strategies to keep up. With the advent of so-called ‘mobilegeddon’ earlier this year, it will only get worse for websites not optimised for multiple screens. The fact that some optimised websites are tearing ahead on Google search that would otherwise have no right to do well, shows the shape of the algorithm just now. So make your sites responsive or adaptive or regret it.
Lesson 6 - clickthrough rates are vital to SEO
Clickthrough rate (CTR) is possibly the biggest factor used by Google that is often ignored by the SEO community. In a similar way to Adwords, Google uses CTR to adjust its ranking according to whether a page link has been clicked on more or less than would be expected for a particular search query. While many website owners focus solely on where their listing appears in search, it’s also important to optimise the copy and keywords presented in search results. Love it or hate it, clickbait-style links do work for some types of content as evidenced by the likes of Mashable.
Lesson 7 - video has become an SEO heavyweight
Video has been threatening to dominate for two to three years and, in 2015, it’s safe to say that video is an essential part of effective SEO. When done correctly you should not only see an improvement to your overall search ranking but a reduction in your bounce rate. As we all become lazier at reading online, video content keeps audiences engaged, and on-page for much longer than mere text. So what do you have to do? Firstly, you need to manually edit video transcripts rather than rely on automated audio to text conversions. Also take care to use keywords in your filename, title and add extra text onto the page to maximise search engine visibility.
Final thoughts - what does the future hold for websites?
Given the time, effort and resource that goes into maintaining and optimising websites it might seem that for some brands, having a website at all is becoming less appealing. Some brands can do well promoting their content via social platforms which is easier and cheaper and may allow you to target certain markets more precisely. The panel agreed, however, that social sites like Facebook simply don’t let you control the narrative or the sales journey. It’s also impossible to predict the future for these platforms as they rise and fall in popularity with different audiences and technologies. As one panel member put it: “it’s like owning your own property vs renting”. As everyone on the panel and anyone in digital marketing agrees, an integrated, multi-channel approach which includes SEO is the key to reaching an online audience.
So, spread the word everyone and don’t expect to get to the top of Google search unless you have a decent content marketing strategy (and a lot of patience). You might even discover that you secretly love SEO.