Having a better understanding of SEO, and the factors that have proven to work over the past few years, while keeping an eye on emerging trends, like voice search and featured snippets, can help you more effectively incorporate an SEO strategy into your overall marketing plan.
Those that live and breathe SEO can easily forget that a lot of people, including those heading up businesses, are not overly familiar with all the jargon, technical terms and the exact make-up of SEO.
So, at the outset, let’s define SEO and provide some details that will help provide a well-rounded view of what it is, does and its importance in a business marketing strategy.
Knowing more about SEO will empower you to see its value and make it one of your marketing priorities in 2018.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Journal defines it as follows:
The process of optimizing a website – as well as all the content on that website – so it will appear in prominent positions in the organic results of search engines. SEO requires an understanding of how search engines work, what people search for, and why and how people search. Successful SEO makes a site appealing to users and search engines. It is a combination of technical and marketing.
There are two major parts to SEO
Using that explanation as our base, the following table provides details on the two major components that make up search engine optimization: technical and content marketing.
|This covers the technical, or structural, parts of your website, such as being mobile responsive, having a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) site and speed.
When website pages are created, there are various fields that need to be effectively completed in the content management system (CMS), the software application used to build your site, to ensure your site is search engine optimised. This includes things like: an Extensible Markup Language (XML) sitemap, Robots.txt file, plus things like a keyword relevant page title, page description and meta keywords.
This work also includes setting up the right headings, adding extra code so Google’s bots better understand your content, and also involves simple things like the naming convention of files and putting ALT tags on images so if they don’t display, or someone is visually impaired, they have a description of the image.
|This component of SEO is the most challenging and time-consuming.
It covers what you’ll do at the outset of your SEO journey like identifying your target audience; determining intent; establishing keywords to target; creating and optimising content and then promoting it across multiple channels.
Backlinks are vitally important when it comes to SEO. They’re the links you want from other websites to your site. And you want those sites to have what’s known as domain authority and topical relevance.
In addition, the links that are included on other websites to your site, whether it be your actual domain name, naked URL, or a keyword you’re targeting, need to be natural and relevant too. These links are called anchor text and require monitoring.
You also want internal linking to help visitors navigate and external links to other relevant websites.
Citations, or mentions of your business name and contact details, are also very important for local search, where listings appear under the Google map.
While technical SEO is something that you’ll continue to have done to your site as you add more content and pages to your site, your main focus will be on your prospective customers, the users, and fulfilling their needs with content, and ultimately your products and services.
Committing to a plan
A really important point about both SEO and content, in fact any marketing, is that you need to commit to a strategy that will guide you month by month to achieving your goals. And stay the course.
It takes strategic planning, skill, effort and consistent action, over time, to achieve results with SEO, and marketing more broadly.
And being steadfast in your approach will yield results and help move the needle forward on some critical business measures:
• increasing revenue;
• growing your customer numbers;
• improving retention;
• achieving profitability; and
• strengthening your brand, profile and reputation.
The changing face of search marketing
A whopping 84% of Australians are using the internet daily and 56% more than five times a day according to the 2017 Sensis Social Media Report.
As usage has increased exponentially over the past decade, the way we engage with search engines, has changed.
While a search engine has always been a machine-like, a software program, that has delivered information to us, it’s taken some time and no doubt some exceptionally talented people to build a program that matches, if not exceeds, a human’s ability to deliver what the searcher wants.
What that means is with Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) capability, its search engine has a greater ability to determine user intent and match consumers to the websites that are most relevant to their needs.
With the progress made within the discipline of AI, and its specific application via machine learning, SEO is changing too.
In the past, SEO professionals ranking websites did what was called keyword stuffing because that was what worked. Mentioning a whole bunch of search terms on a page, often in very unnatural ways, helped to rank a website on the Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPs.
While there is still some evidence of that today, it’s less prevalent because Google’s ability to recognise those tactics has vastly improved. In fact, Google penalises people, companies, for doing things that aren’t genuine and don’t deliver the best experience for users.
In many respects you could say that consumers, the general public, will always be winners, even if it takes some time to reach that point, because doing the right thing by the people who enable you to exist, who pay the bills, is the professional, ethical and right thing to do.
Google would have seen massive shifts away from it if it had it not acknowledged the massive opportunity before it and become complacent. While that seems unlikely now, it’s happened the world over where companies, big and small, have been more interested in making money than being true to their customer base.
And while Google is putting customers first, and there’s a good feeling that comes from that knowledge, it’s doing so because it’s commercially advantageous. It’s able to provide successful outcomes for people searching, and companies advertising. Is it a perfect balance? Well, that’s in the eye of the beholder perhaps, but being customer-centric sure beats the alternative.
For chief executives, general managers, directors, business owners and marketing professionals who want their companies to be their best, lead the way and deliver real, relevant, authentic value to their customers, this is very good news.
Some examples of intent-based searching
It’s useful to look at some examples of intent-based searching and how it can help shape your company’s approach to SEO.
When you visit a search engine, whether it be Google, Bing, Yahoo, YouTube, Amazon or a host of others, you’re obviously looking for something and you have an intention or reason for doing so.
Generally, you want to solve a problem, and so you type in a few words or sometimes a complete question to find the information that will provide the answers you’re looking for and deliver the solution.
Google is also responding to what other people have searched for so you get some predictive recommendations as you start typing.
For instance, you could search for:
Keyword [what]: interior design old and new
Intent [why]: recently purchased an old house to renovate
Context [because]: want to transform it into a contemporary space while retaining character elements.
Or, another example:
Keyword [what]: who offers business coaching services in Adelaide?
Intent [why]: to develop a team member
Context [because]: project officer has been doing an excellent job and you want to reward and support her to take the next step in her career.
Going through an exercise like this with search terms specific to your industry or sector can really help to inform how you approach content and how you can best respond to demand from the market.
SEO and your business
Consider for a moment, if you will, these questions:
When people are searching for the products and services your business provides, what are they searching for?
What are the reasons, or context, they’re searching?
The other question is: who are these people and can you align search intention with your customer segments and offers?
Continuing to develop your understanding of your customer will help improve your approach to SEO and the results you achieve.
Depending on the reason someone is searching, it will be important for you to distribute content that helps satisfy their ‘why’.
Considering content formats to accommodate the different needs of your market
Developing content will take some time and before you get started you’ll need to consider the most effective format for delivering your message.
It may be that you create multiple versions of your information across different platforms to satisfy various target segments.
For example, while an article, or blog, about business coaching will give some people what they want, other potential customers may like to see:
• a short video;
• listen to a podcast;
• read some case studies; or
• consider some customer reviews.
While it can be hard to do, it’s really important to put yourself in the shoes of your customers, and your prospects, about what they need to convince them to take the next step with what it is you’re offering.
How can you more effectively demonstrate your capability, get them interested, give them value and see them become customers, repeat buyers, advocates and brand champions?
Having a social presence and encouraging sharing of content
Social media is super powerful as you well know.
With Facebook having 2.07 billion active monthly users, it’s a channel you can’t ignore.
Whether you think your customers are there or not, there’s a fair chance some of them are through sheer weight of numbers.
But whether you decide to have a business Facebook page or turn to alternative sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ or other channels, your decision should be primarily driven by what your market uses not what’s easiest for you.
Realistically, what’s manageable for you is going to be a factor, no doubt, that’s human nature, however, ensure that if you do only choose one platform, that a good proportion of your customers use it and you have a real chance of making it work for you.
A social media presence will increase awareness of your business, help you build relationships with customers and potential buyers, strengthen your brand profile, establish you as a knowledgeable, credible and reliable source, and also signal to the search engines that you have a following and are attracting a level of attention.
Remember the content part of SEO is ultimately about selling your product or service
Whenever you’re preparing content, regardless of the channel, it’s important to understand the role it plays in the customer journey.
Is it helping to make someone aware of what you offer; is it demonstrating that your business is worthy of consideration; or is it convincing them of the need to purchase?
Using the example above about business coaching services, you may have a central article about that topic as your initial piece of content.
Supporting that initial awareness piece could be a number of short customer stories highlighting how coaching helped them. The stories could cover the main reasons people are searching, such as: accelerating development of a team, reward for an individual or helping someone who is stuck in their career.
The next piece of content may be in-depth case studies about the benefits of coaching, or it could be a video demonstration of several coaches in action so a prospect can observe their style.
Or, based on knowledge of the market, what you might be doing now is offering a free trial so that someone considering coaching can get a taste of what the session would be like for them personally.
This pathway not only makes good business sense but is beneficial from a search perspective too because you’re anticipating user intent and appropriately and relevantly meeting needs.
Have you got calls to action on your high traffic pages so visitors can take the next, natural step?
Content can drive and help you maximise opportunities so it’s important that you think about SEO and content in a strategic way and plan accordingly.
What about the implications of voice search on SEO?
It’s predicted by companies like research and advisory firm Gartner that 30 per cent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020.
Other industry participants and commentators anticipate it will be more like 50 per cent.
Audio-centric, hands and eyes-free, searching is definitely on the rise.
Think about the way in which your searching would be different if you were speaking the request.
Take an example like wanting to know if your local swimming pool is open.
Typing a search may look like this: North Adelaide swimming pool opening hours.
A voice-activated search may sound like this: what time is the North Adelaide pool open today and what time does it close?
With voice-responsive search, it means that the accessibility of web content becomes more pervasive in our lives. Think about how many more places you can use search if you don’t have to type or look at a screen. The possibilities are endless.
As machines become increasingly able to recognise natural language processing and speech patterns, SEO will certainly need to keep pace too.
Voice searches are similar to long-tail keywords; the longer, more specific phrases people use to find what they want.
Take a moment to compare how you speak to personal assistant Siri, or Google Home or Alexa personal assistant digital devices, compared with typing a search request. Sometimes the words you use will be exact, or very similar, but other times you’ll find the language and phrasing is quite different.
Voice is one, prominent emerging trend and something called feature snippets is another. Let’s take a moment to find out what this means.
Did you know there was a Google ranking for position zero?
With all the talk of getting to number one in Google, ‘position 0’ sounds odd, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a thing that’s been around for about two years and you would have noticed it but probably didn’t know what it was called.
Here’s an example:
The entry, or search result, is called a featured snippet and it’s the presentation of this information, and the blue link that appears underneath it, that gives companies a zero ranking.
Rob Bucci, Search Engine Watch, defines featured snippets in this way:
A featured snippet is a summary of an answer to a user’s query, which is displayed on top of Google search results. It’s extracted from a webpage, and includes the page’s title and URL.
There are three main types of featured snippets: list (as in this example, bulleted and numbered), paragraph (the most common) and tables.
Some industry participants, such as Stephen Spencer, Search Engine Land, says for competitive industries where your website may be outdone in terms of backlinks and other SEO factors, that through the content you present, position 0 appearances could enable you to get a boost to your page visibility and organic rankings.
While the majority of position 0 snippets come from page one ranked URLs, that’s not always the case so if you’re on page 2, this could be something to consider, along with working on all your other SEO factors. And if you’re on page one now, but towards the bottom of the page, this could make a positive difference to your business as site owners report much higher click-through-rates (CTR) with featured snippets.
It’s important to note that if you are a local business wanting to appear in a Google map listing, then you’re better off investing your time and energy in ranking in the map pack as a comprehensive study by Stat Search Analytics found that featured snippets never overlapped with the local map listings.
You will have seen Wikipedia appear in a lot of featured snippets and the information that’s presented gives clues as to what Google and users are seeking.
The information provides clear, accurate, user-intent based responses to frequently asked questions (FAQs).
If you’re in a market that attracts a lot of FAQs or has terms that many people look up because they require explanation e.g. Virtual Reality, then featured snippets may be worth some focused attention.
If you’re interested in featured snippets, the first thing to do is determine whether they come up for your industry and if they do, whether you receive any, and how your competitors are faring. There are a number of tools, like SEMrush, that can assist with your discovery.
Even if you don’t see the immediate relevance or applicability for your business of voice search or featured snippets, it’s beneficial to improve your awareness and knowledge of these trends and keep a watch on these topics over the coming year.
A content strategy that works hand-in-hand with the technical aspects of SEO is a must if you want to be a serious contender in your market.
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