To set the context of the importance of search engine optimisation (SEO) and driving organic traffic through search engines, it would be prudent to provide a relatively quick overview for marketers of any level…for purpose of this post I will be focusing on Google, which dominates the market and commands a 90%* share of all UK searches.
(I acknowledge that there are many other search engines and platforms for driving organic traffic, however we must start somewhere.)
Remember when this hit our computer screens?
Google was started in January 1996, by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were working on a new way to analyse the relationships between webpages using their technology PageRank.
PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites
Despite the cleverness of PageRank, savvy online marketers of the time soon realised that the algorithm could be “influenced” by building large numbers of links to a website in an attempt to inflate it’s PageRank score. Over the last few years, Google has implemented a number of improvements to it’s search engine algorithm and now uses over 200 ranking factors to determine the relevance of a website for any given search query.
Today there are many individuals and companies who offer SEO services, some of which still use what is often referred to as “black hat” tactics in an attempt to achieve quick wins using spammy or even illegal hacking tactics. More often than not, these tactics end up getting the website penalised and removed from Google’s search engine results.
So let’s get it straight now…before you read on, if you are looking for quick wins. This blog is not for you…
Google’s dominance of the UK search market…I thought I would refer to a slide I often show to new clients when presenting digital strategies. This data is regularly updated using The Word Search Engine Market Share data.
So why is this market share important?… Google handles billions of searches every month and for many users is part of the beginning, middle and end of their journey when looking for information on brands, products, services and information. In fact, between 60-70% of users refer to the internet before buying something, with 50-60% of users believing that the internet provides them with more information on a product or brand than they can get elsewhere. (These figures are rough estimates taken from various Kantar/TGI data – All UK Adults. Retail.)
Online search is an important part of consumer user journeys and the below chart shows an example of it’s placement during each phase of a consumer’s consideration of financial services products: (Source: Google Financial Services Data)
The challenge for any company or online marketer is capturing the interest of the user at the point of search and ensuring your website is visible in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the user’s search query. This is where a comprehensive SEO strategy is extremely important.
What Is SEO?
For many years, online marketers have been tweaking websites using a large number of different tactics to influence the position of their website in Google’s results pages. More often than not however, their focus is on improving website content for the search engines, rather than their target audience. This can be an online marketer’s biggest downfall.
Defining and researching the browsing habits of your target audience should be the very first step of any SEO strategy. Without this information, the very fundamentals of SEO cannot be implemented correctly. Below is my list of the high-level factors that make up what SEO is really all about:
- Target Audience Research – Who are they? Where are they online? What media do they consume? Etc. There is a large number of methodologies and tools available on the market to help you understand your target audience.
- Content Creation – Once you have identified your target audience, you must meet their consumption needs with great quality content, combining a good mix of textual and rich media, relevant to their search queries or browsing environment. This content is created for your website to capture relevant search traffic and to outreach to other websites in an attempt to gain editorial coverage and social sharing. (I recommend planning a three month schedule of content which can be reviewed for performance to inform the following three months and so on.)
- Webmaster Guidelines – I try not to refer to religion when making a point but there is a great saying in the Bible, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” – Kings 20:1. Have a look at Google’s webmaster guidelines and apply this saying to everything you do…Even the biggest of brands (see the following on Interflora and Ebay) have fallen at the wrath of Google when trying to cut corners and not complying with guidelines.
- Integration With Other Media Channels – There are significant overlaps with SEO, PR and social media and organic search is an excellent harvesting medium for above the line advertising activity. The right level of integration can generate large improvements across any organic campaign.
- Website Analytics – I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand your website analytics to identify which search phrases, content and referring websites are generating the best performing traffic for you. At a very basic level you should have Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools set up for your website.
I spend a large amount of time advocating the benefits of organic search and the methodologies that brands must adopt in order to achieve long-term sustainable growth. Of course I have only just scratched the surface of SEO with these five points…Search engine optimisation is extremely complex and I will be creating a separate post in much more detail on each of these points over the coming weeks. Building organic traffic through search takes time, and although positive results can be achieved relatively quickly if done correctly, it is also very easy to waste time and not get the results you desire.
If you are just setting out on your SEO or organic search journey, or you have an established website, the question I would be asking right now after reading this post would be, “Do I know who my customers are?”…
If you choose to get involved, why not see how well you know your customers by answering the following top-line questions:
- What is the age bracket of your target customers?
- What is the gender split?…
- What is their demographic profile?
- Can you list 10 websites that your target audience has a higher propensity to visit?
- What types of sites have they visited in the last 30 days, 6 months and 12 months?
- What content converts best on your website?
- What devices do they use to browse?
If you are struggling to answer some or all of these questions, or you know the answer and don’t know how to apply them to your organic search strategy, then please connect with me on Twitter @garyptaylor to keep informed how best to plan, implement and manage your SEO and organic traffic campaigns.