Investing in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can be daunting for clients. The changes to search engine algorithms mean there are no shortcuts to generating return on investment from your organic search marketing, so brands need to invest consistently in creating high quality content over longer time horizons than other forms of digital marketing to see great results.
While it can take time for the organic traffic that search engine optimisation brings in to start to hit a critical level, once there it can provide continuous traffic and leads to your business. Performing well in Google and Bing is already 'table stakes', as businesses understand the power of this continuous traffic.
Since most customers’ journey starts with some kind of search, being present for a customer’s "I want to know, I want to go, I want to buy" moments in the very search engines they are using has to be a priority for the modern brand.
SEO is an Investment, Requiring Time & Proactive Management
Back in the ‘good old days’ there were a variety of easy to implement tactics that would boost your website's organic traffic in a search engine, such as buying links and keyword stuffing. Simple, effective tactics that didn’t reward good content.
Thankfully, these old techniques don’t’ work anymore. Google has clued up to these dodgy ranking tactics, and websites found to use them now violate Google's terms of service which ensures their website will be removed from the search giant's results forever.
This has shifted the practice of SEO from trying to manipulate the algorithm, to working with it - using an understanding of what consumers and search engines define as useful content and generating organic traffic by being truly useful.
With 67% of marketers reporting that SEO was key to their content marketing strategy last year, investing in SEO helps to ensure the content you’ve worked so hard to create is able to appear in search and contribute to business performance.
The Multi-Channel User Experience
Searchers have a non-linear path to purchase, and the marketing channels that start a customer's journey may not get the attribution for a conversion in many situations. SEO is core to developing an understanding of “pull” content and how to get this content in front of receptive audiences as they search for brands to interact with along these paths.
Consider a consumer who realises they need help with project management. A (simplified) journey may look like this:
- Consumer sees an ad for a project management tool on their TV, “Product Z”, and realises that project management tools might help them save time at work.
- While sitting on the couch, they search on their phone for “how to save time using a project management tool”.
- They read a blog post on Product Z’s website that appeared at the top of search results, which gave them some helpful insights and showed their expertise in the space while developing brand awareness.
- Later at night, while browsing industry-related blogs, they see a banner ad for Product Z. Recognising the brand from their Google search, they click through to the website after being tempted with a 10% discount and convert.
The consumer above could have also seen their first ad in offline channels (a billboard, or while walking past an in-store display) and been prompted to research the claims the advertisement made on their phone or laptop.
That same consumer could have easily seen a competitor’s brand in search results, due to a well-optimised SEO campaign, and turned to that brand to solve their problem instead.
Investing in SEO allows brands to get better performance out of their content marketing efforts by ensuring it is served to a potential new customer at the time they are searching, on the device they are using.
Use Search Engine Features to Improve Business Performance
Search engines such as Bing and Google are important first steps for consumers looking for information businesses and services. Consumers expect to be helped at all stages in their journey, and there are a variety of features that need to be ‘optimised for’ in SEO to help consumers connect with your brand and drive awareness, leads and sales.
Few people use the Yellow Pages anymore. Optimising business listings such as Google My Business or Bing Places is now the best way to let consumers know in advance what to expect and to help drive offline visits. Give them directions, opening times and contact lines to help them get in touch.
Featured snippets that appear above other search results are on the rise - and competition for these feature boxes, which stand out from the crowd and spike impressions and brand awareness, is increasing. There are specific techniques which can be applied to content to “win” these coveted features, relying on SEO teams to analyse content and make the necessary changes.
Example of a “featured snippet” that appears above all other search results.
Knowing which snippets to target, and how, is the realm of SEO experts who need to analyse search results and work with content teams to get the right changes implemented.
Like featured snippets, optimising for voice is an active process that can enable brands to get in front of a captive audience on devices like home hubs and wearable devices. It’s a winner takes all game, with only the top performing websites being read out in voice search results.
Winning the voice search game isn’t a matter of luck. SEOs need to structure content in a way that will ensure it performs well and fits in with the structures that often get featured as voice search results.
SEO to Improve Customer Experience: A Quick Case Study
SEO can improve the customer journey by making the right pages available to customers (and potential new customers) at the right time.
Turning to Google is often the first step when looking up information about a company. Jumping online to access resources about them, what they do, how to pay bills or look for relevant updates are typical searches for information.
When working with a utilities company to improve their organic search performance as part of re-launching their website, we realised that they had two, three or more pages appearing for the same keyword search. The pages looked to be the same on the surface in terms of content but may have served slightly different purposes. These duplicate pages meant that it was difficult for:
- Google to rank the right page for a customer’s search.
- The customer to know which page was the right one, resulting in a frustrating customer experience.
- Our client to use their website as a tool to improve customer experience and support.
We realised we needed to cull the pages that weren’t fit for purpose, remove the duplicate content and have our client consolidate this into fewer pages that targeted more specific keywords around their customers’ searches for information.
The result was that after the website launch, we saw the number of pages that appeared in Google drop by half. Most SEO teams would have a panic attack seeing this.
After the website relaunch in the second week of December, the number of pages that Google had in its index for the website.
If this wasn’t a planned decrease, your analytics would display significant drops in total clicks and click through rate. However we observed a slight decrease in organic traffic, a big drop in impressions, but an increase in click through rate year on year.
Bounce rate and sessions per page also dropped significantly!
What this meant was that customers were able to find the pages they needed in Google the first time they looked. They weren’t presented with a multitude of pages, having to guess which was the right one and then heading back to Google to “try again”. Using SEO strategies, we were able to improve the customer experience and enable our client to make more effective use of their website as a customer support tool.
Succeeding with SEO
Properly optimising websites with a well-run SEO campaign is foundational to consumers’ online journeys. Consumers are turning to search to find all kinds of information before they even consider converting, so using search engine features to do so is important as they reflect the way consumers are looking to engage with brands. They expect to be able to find the information they need, when they need it. SEO campaigns are critical to identifying these trends and responding to them - ensuring your website can maximise its performance as your foundational digital channel.