Search engine optimisation or SEO allows us to maximise the number of visitors to websites or social media by ensuring that the site name and links appear high on search engine results with appropriate key words and ads on search engine sites to get high click-through rates. Ultimately, as marketers, we’re always looking for ways to improve rank on listings, purchasing paid listings or a combination of search engine-related activities coordinated with traditional media plans.
Two types of SEO
– Organic search: Organic search looks to optimise a website so it will appear as close as possible to the first search engine results page (“SERPs”). Your HTML meta tags that hold keywords allow search engines to know how to categorise the site and to provide a relevant match when users actually type in those key words in the search query box to find what they are looking for. When your website is optimised both its content and HTML tags are considered.
– Paid (Vertical) Search: Google Adwords and other paid search lets marketers put out paid ad placements, for example, through an auction system where you can bid on the key word. The score is calculated based on factors like the relevance of the ad and landing page to the keyword that is bid on. To discover the best keywords you can either use a web log to see what words visitors type into search engines before arriving at your site or use web tools such as Google’s AdSense keyword auctions or Adwords to find keywords used in your industry for your site. A number of open source tools such as WordStream, Google Keyword Planner, Bing Webmaster Tools, SEO Toolbar and Ahrefs are available which come in handy for keyword planning. You can also use vertical search through link building and directory listings, though CPM impressions can lend to a submission fee for displaying directory content.
Exactly how effective is your SEO strategy?
– SEO tactics constantly change: There are a number of ways and different criteria for ranking content. Google, for one use an ever-changing algorithm with over 200 variables and is famous for adjusting its search algorithms several hundred times a year to stop site owners from spamming the system through illegitimate practices such as putting key words in white text all over a white background so search engines are able to read it but users cannot. Panda and Penguin in 2011 and 2012 refined the search algorithm so that site quality and social media conversation ranked higher and pages with a lot of advertising ranked lower.
– Optimising content: Over-optimising pages for search incurs penalties. But optimising your site is a must do. Search engine robots constantly crawl your site to see which words are the most important, partially by looking at topic headings, page titles, words that appear on the browser tabs, URL names, meta tags and other things in large font. But we must first understand that users’ search behaviour has a strong effect on SEO, since many users click on the first thing they see. Yet there is no clear evidence here that users who click the first record will take further action. Variables that affect user search behaviour are often subject to user knowledge of the topic at hand, degree of user sophistication in search, presentation style of individual search results (title, description, URL etcetera) and general motivation, curiosity or laziness. We generally have limited control over these variables but we can do particular things like customising our vanity URL such as on facebook.com/brandname and twitter.com/brandname consistently to improve name SERPs or correctly naming image files and graphics to increase our searchable images online.
– Integrating social media and search strategy: We hear a lot in digital marketing about growth hacking, a term coined by Andrew Chen for AirBnB’s integration with Craigslist, which is a way of distributing an idea through scalable methods for growth, through data but driven by the product or content. The best way to start is by running a A/B test on your site. Basically, you’re looking to test two products or methods through a side-by-side comparison to see which one works better – headlines, social sharing of images and links to see which one has more interaction or the layout and format of landing pages on your site. Running social campaigns and CRM automation, also gives us a leg up from methods such as paid search which can get extremely expensive very quickly for short campaigns which might not pay off. As a bonus for growth hacking, social media activity is now considered by Google in its organic search rankings. So remember to bust out link building methods through social campaigns. The key here is to measure your campaigns to see what progress you’re making or not – MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Piwik and Google Analytics are great open source tools to get you started.
I’d have to say SEO by itself isn’t enough as a digital marketing strategy, growth hacking though encompasses more of a holistic long run strategy that calls for measurable results. Josh Elman in a video on GrowthHackers gives some great tips.