In digital marketing, we often find that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an afterthought for large brands looking to make a splash in the online space. A combination of lack of understanding, minimal immediate results and a perceived difficulty in measuring the ROI are often the reason for this. As a result, a great deal of marketing budget is spent on display advertising, paid search, social media, email marketing and everything in between, while the foundation of all digital marketing — the website — gets left behind.
What SEO is comprised of has changed drastically over time. Since search engines have gained prominence, geeks, webmasters, marketers and all people in between have been trying to master the art of page one ranking. Old tactics ranged from link farming (because who doesn’t want thousands of links from www.[various-profanities].com), to keyword stuffing (“We sell hats for cats, the best hats for cats. You should try our hats for cats, the finest hats for cats!”), to cloaking (you see images of cats wearing hats, Google sees blocks of keyword-stuffed text describing the cats wearing hats).
These days, things are different. Google has gotten wiser; the aforementioned “black hat” tactics are no longer effective and will earn you a very harsh slap on the wrist, the most extreme measures involve sites being removed from Google search results altogether.
SEO is a new beast entirely. Your website is the home base for your digital presence, and in many cases, a user’s first impression of your brand. SEO is what makes it work; that’s what makes it the foundation of digital marketing, and that’s why it’s important to get it right.
For Google: your site needs to work, it needs to work across all devices, and the user needs to like what you’re talking about. Here’s how.
1 . The technical framework
The technical framework is the base upon which you build upwards. It’s about ensuring the site will work the way it’s intended.
Optimizing your site for search engines means focusing on key technical areas, such as page load speed, URL structure, sitemaps and response codes. These elements can directly impact other digital channel performance, as user experience becomes involved.
Who wants to click on an ad or social media post, only to find that the landing page takes a dog age to load? What’s appealing about a URL that looks like it was created by someone slamming their head against a keyboard? These things annoy users, and consequently they annoy Google too. The SEO benefits, as significant as they may be, are just a drop in the ocean.
You’re probably thinking “yeah, but Google has always cared about this, technical elements have always mattered”. You’re correct about that, but what has evolved is the purpose. Now it’s about the human element, in addition to a search engine simply being able to read and understand the site.
2 . Mobile site usability
We’ve all been there. It’s worse than your internet cutting out before you finish watching Piano Cat… It’s almost as bad as your phone battery dying mid-way through Instagramming your dinner (#instafail). You guessed it, it’s having to scroll horizontally when browsing a non-responsive site on mobile.
Typically, site usability goes hand-in-hand with the technical elements, however it’s extremely important to address the two separately, considering search engines’ shift to user focus and taking into account the importance of mobile usability as a ranking factor.
Google predicted that in 2015, mobile would overtake desktop as a user’s preferred vehicle for search, and in May 2015 this prediction came true. Google released a statement claiming “more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.”
The value of mobile optimization in relation to other digital marketing channels is endless. Mobile usability affects quality score in paid search and reduces bounce rates in email campaigns, social media marketing, and display advertising. All of this is in conjunction with the organic search benefits; the “mobile friendly” tag in search engine result pages, higher organic rankings thanks to Google’s mobile friendliness algorithm, and overall user experience improvements.
To put it quite simply, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly this is the time to catch up, or risk falling very far behind.
3 . Content
Now more than ever, SEO is about developing a hub to house content and nurture an audience. Content isn’t just about slapping blocks of text on a page and hoping it yields results. It’s about adding value. It doesn’t matter if you sell funeral insurance, Halloween costumes for monkeys or you run a boot camp for overweight cats. You have friends (an audience), who need to be engaged or else they will leave (or even worse, go to your competitors).
Strong on-page content not only improves shareability and ranking potential, but can also improve your AdWords Quality Score when running paid search campaigns; who doesn’t want a lower CPC? A sponsored post on Facebook to a good piece of content can result in new customers, followers and fans. An excerpt and a link to a piece of content in an EDM can make people go from “why are you clogging up my inbox” to “I want all of what you’re selling”.
Content is definitely king, and websites must bow to the leader or risk being banished from Google’s kingdom.
No matter what vertical of SEO you’re focused on, it’s hard to deny that there is a trend: When you’re working to please Google, you’re working to please users. Your website is your home base, SEO makes it work, and users are the decision makers. It’s about a robust technical framework, cross-device usability and content that people care about. Sounds simple enough… right?
Aroash Solomon, SEO Specialist