Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the way of improving visibility by trying to ensure one has as high a web ranking as possible when relevant searches are undertaken. This is visibility in unpaid or organic search results as opposed to those opportunities which companies pay for in order to be found.
As many people’s first port of call, when looking for a new product or service, is a search engine, the importance of coming up in the first few entries, on a relevant search, is widely understood.
Many people, however, still think of SEO as separate from any social media activity they undertake. However, this is simply no longer the case. Social media is fast becoming the major way that people are sharing and, therefore, discovering new information online. This means that search engines have long had to take into account social media activity and incorporate it into their search results. This is because so much web activity is undertaken on social platforms and so failure to do this would start to render search results irrelevant.
The trend, however, has been fast tracked by the creation of the Google + platform. Google is now incorporating brand pages from the platform into search results. They are also providing users with the option to see relevant search information, gathered from their connections, in the Google + network.
This means that if businesses want to ensure they show up in the searches that people undertake, they have to address their social media activity as part of their SEO strategy, not as a separate entity. In other words, the lines are blurring between what is traditional SEO and what is social media activity. Over time, they are very likely to become almost one and the same thing.
Social Media Optimisation (SMO) is not as familiar a phrase as SEO. However, it is now becoming increasingly important in the effectiveness of SEO.
Businesses must increasingly ask themselves what they are trying to convey in a piece of social media activity. By understanding the message they are trying to put across, they will be able to ensure they use the relevant keywords in order that the content is found.
Furthermore, companies must ask where the value in their activity is for a customer. It is only by ensuring that they are adding value, from a customer perspective, that businesses can protect themselves from falling into the trap of simply using social media platforms to broadcast their message. Simply broadcasting is not engaging and is likely to damage a company’s reputation over time.
Finally, businesses must ask themselves why and how they would expect someone to share any content they create. Without making it easy for people to share content and without giving them a reason to do this, companies miss out on the biggest opportunity social media provides. That is, not all marketing and communications have to be undertaken by your business.
Today, those people engaged with your organisation have the means to market and communicate your business for you. These communications are more likely to be well received because they are not sent by a company but by one’s friends and colleagues. Moreover, these are people you could probably never hope to reach any other way.
One of the trends for 2012 is the increasing socialisation of information. The web is becoming social. The lines between activity on social platforms and other web activity are becoming blurred. Failure to incorporate social media as part of your overall SEO strategy will render it less likely that your organisation appears in the search results of your potential customers.
Twenty years ago I discovered Drayton Bird and his book Common Sense Direct Marketing.
What I loved most about direct marketing was how developing direct relationships with prospects could be scientific, measurable and very accountable. What you could then do it use a combination acquired knowledge, best practice and creative marketing to maximise on-going response and revenues.
So what has this got to do with you? Paid search experts use these skills every day. They may not know they are using 30-year-old skills, but at least they are using them. The same is true of email marketers.
In my opinion, SEO experts and especially link builders are not aware enough of these skills and how direct marketing can help them beat the competition, and they should be.
What I am suggesting now is that every business should reconnect with Direct Marketing and Drayton Bird now, and here is why.
The main method of outreach for a link builder is email. Direct mail professionals will tell you that the ingredients that define what kind of response you’re going to get to your attempt to engage with another individual in order of importance are:
Let me take each of these in turn and apply them to SEO with a view to increasing your SEO performance.
Generating a list of backlinks from the common and openly available link list providers gives you nothing more than a poorly targeted cold call list capable of generating you a poor response rate to any offer or creative you approach them with.
Why? Because you’ve not been able to clean, profile and segment the data according to criteria that are important to your specific campaign. A process used and perfected by direct mail specialists when most of us reading this were at school.
So if you work through poorly qualified lists of links, STOP. Think about how accurate, segmentable, and responsive those lists really are. Would be better-spent using much better data sources?
Matching what you want to say to sell to the target audience has a huge impact on conversion. If blogger outreach is your strategy, aren’t you better just talking to bloggers that have a history of linking to sites like yours? If you want to get links from curated resource pages, aren’t you better off talking to webmasters of sites that create and curate resources? You get the idea.
When I planned press media, Monday was the best day for response and it reduced in a straight lined as the week went on. I’ve seen some email marketing data to suggest a similar thing happens. I also know some brilliant PPC specialists who adjust campaigns by month, week, day and hour to maximise response.
I also know that PR specialists are very time-aware. They think a great deal about when is best to place a story, taking into account the new agenda of the day or week, the seasonality of a specific market, or the editorial agenda of the publication being targeted.
Time is likely to apply to your efforts the question is how and can you use it to maximise each campaign’s effectiveness.
Finally we get to the creative— whether you’re sending out emails, press releases, or even commenting. What you say and how you say it will matter hugely. It’s of no surprise that Drayton has also written a book on writing sales letters that sell.
What are you saying and is it really going to get the best response rate possible? Are you testing and measuring different techniques for achieving your goals?
Which brings me back to where I started. I think we can all learn from Drayton, and I think we should invest in the best data available to pitch relevant offers at the right time with smart responsive creative. We should then measure the response rate and carry on engaging with our new link partners. All Common Sense Direct Marketing!
Want to read more about Drayton Bird?
Drayton is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. Here are a few of his inspirational articles and blogs:
In the “old world”, a competitor might be someone who you could readily identify — someone in the local phone book who was on the same page as you or someone who bought ads on the same radio station as you, for the same products and services.
But in a world where customers have swapped the phone book and the local paper for search engines such as Google or Bing, a competitor is someone who ranks more highly than you for the keywords or phrases that define your business.
These competitors might not even be in the same town or country. Of course, you might be lucky. You might have a hyper-local business where you have a monopoly within a certain geographical reach, but even then, you might be missing out on customers who don’t know your business name and are searching for generic phrases.
Understanding how to be at the top of search engines can give you a huge advantage over your competition. The internet is still a relatively immature media and while an increasing number of businesses understand the importance of having a website, not all have understood the importance of natural or organic search, which is probably what brought you here.
In fact, sometimes the largest companies are the slowest to react to new technology, so you may be able to “punch above your weight” and rank more highly in Google and Bing than competition who used to be able to outspend you using traditional advertising methods.
This isn’t new. Sun Tzu, the strategist and warrior said:
“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”
He also said:
“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
The phone book of the day is a search engine and understanding your customers and how they find you is a business imperative. If your customers are finding your competitors first, then understanding why your competitors are beating you is the first step to turning around that situation.
More insight into competitors:
Linkdex recently ran a survey in the UK and USA to find out which tools were most important to small and medium-sized businesses when it came to marketing the products and services they sell.
Perhaps to validate the recent increase in online networking platforms, which work on the basis of peer-to-peer recommendation, the most important marketing tool for SME businesses is word of mouth. In fact a massive 81 per cent of the companies polled said that referrals and recommendations were the most important marketing method.
The second most important promotional method for SME organisations was “Google or another search engine”, followed by direct sales teams and PR.
The least important promotional method for the companies surveyed was passing trade.
In terms of trends, 60 per cent said that they would increase spending on email in the next 12 months, 57 per cent will increase spending on social networks and 54 per cent would invest more in SEO or being on the top of search engines.
These new marketing tools will gain at the expense of more “traditional” promotional methods. Thirty per cent of companies surveyed said they would spend less on print advertising and 26 per cent will spend less on directory listings, including the phone book.
The perceptions by companies match the changing ways in which consumers find information about the products and services they want to buy. Evidence suggests that search engines like Google and Bing are the first place people look. As smartphones like the iPhone become more popular and get faster and more powerful, searching on the internet becomes more integrated and immediate.
When these results are backed up by peer recommendation, consumers will trust them more and be more inclined to make a purchase.
It shows that search engine optimisation (SEO) should not be seen as a technical function, but an essential business capability that sits at the heart of the marketing mix. If 54 per cent of businesses plan to spend more on SEO in the next 12 months, then chances are some of those companies will be your competitors.
Making SEO part of your organisation’s workflow and measuring it alongside other key marketing goals can help deliver long term growth. It’s not about search results, but business results.
Back in February I wrote about the growing fashion to buy up multiple keyword-rich domains — like “big-grey-widgets.com”, “small-grey-widgets.com” etc — in the hope of gaining higher rankings on Google. There was some evidence that this type of domain could indeed rank well, without requiring many inbound links. At the time, though, I cautioned against this approach. Google has a history of acting against such practices by de-emphasising the spammy element and wiping out any benefit gained. Since then, we have seen it do just that with links on article sites.
Now it seems that the big G may indeed be preparing to act against spam in domain names. In March of this year, Google spokesman Matt Cutts slipped the news into one of his popular YouTube videos. You can watch the whole video here.
So if you are one of those who bought up a raft of keyword-enhanced domains, now is the time to prepare for their disappearance. If you’ve being considering doing it, don’t bother.
This recurring pattern of action and reaction by website owners and Google does raise an interesting question. What will happen when every ranking factor that could be spammed, has been spammed, and Google has de-emphasised all of them? Theoretically we should end up pretty much back where we started, except that the whole web will be stuffed with spam.
It’s always tempting to look for the magic bullet that will fire you onto the top page of Google, and the potential rewards are obvious. Forty percent of external traffic to websites comes from search (source: Outbrain), and in the UK over ninety percent of that comes from Google. But to build a sustainable online business with rankings that will stand the test of time, you need to provide good quality site content that is useful to your customers; and invest in building a network of links from good quality and relevant sites.
Anything else is vapour.
Read more about SEO here:
Google is in the process of rolling out its Panda Update, an algorithm change that is set to reduce the value of content farm links. Across the web, you’ll see blogs about why this might be, the changes that will occur in the algorithm and numerous stats and figures documenting the affect the change has already had in the US.
But what do the changes mean to you and me — and, more importantly, to our businesses?
I’d like to start, as all good explanations should, at the beginning. You’ll no doubt be hearing a lot about “content farms” — essentially, these are websites which seek to gain traffic by seeding content which ranks highly for long tail keywords and search phrases. They typically use advertising as their revenue stream and therefore tend to feature a lot of adverts and not much real substance.
There has long been criticism of Google for the apparent lack of policing over these sites, which essentially “pollute” SERPs (search engine results pages) with poor quality content. The Panda Update intends to reduce the value of these pages, thus pushing them down the rankings and providing better search results for Google’s users.
Great news, wouldn’t you agree? Removing bad content and allowing for good quality content to rank higher — happy days!
And you know your website has good quality content, so you can only benefit – right?
Well, not exactly. Even though you’re probably pretty sure that your content is of a high quality, it’s not just the content farms that will suffer from the changes – nor will they suffer entirely.
Here’s what the algorithm change will mean for you and your business:
1. All pages need to be high quality content
The higher the proportion of high quality pages on your site, the better you will rank. So it’s really important that every page of your site is of the highest standard. That means redirecting, or removing entirely, those poor quality pages and replacing them with well-written, useful content that appeals to your end user.
2. Social validation will be more important than ever
Social validation is the trust we have in content or a brand based on what our friends and networks tell us. Google will be looking at how your content is shared and “liked” to ascertain whether or not people thought it worthy of recommending to their friends. You can help this by making social sharing easier (add social share buttons to your site) and by providing useful content that people will want to pass on to their networks.
3. Article marketing will get creative
The Panda Update means the common practice of seeding content through “content farms” will be devalued and sending out the same press release or article across the web will be pointless. Instead, you and your marketing team will need to seek relationships with influential bloggers, guest blog on relevant sites and generally ensure that every activity you do around link-building provides real benefit to your end user.
For Google, this will most likely be defined by the following attributes:
So do keep an eye on your Analytics — and don’t be afraid to cut the pages that just aren’t performing well.
Find out more in our section on SEO — packed with useful information and advice.