As we gear up for 2018, your marketing team is probably busy planning for new initiatives in the new year. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer, with so many channels for reaching out to and connecting with prospects and customers. Marketers today can use social media, smart phones and video, to name only a few of these channels. In addition, technology has enabled ever more targeted marketing. Marketers can capture and make use of copious amounts of data to enable relevant and timely messages to consumers through cross-channel efforts that integrate email, web analytics and social media marketing.
With all these new developments, tools, technologies and ways to use data, however, tried-and-true marketing methods still have a place in your 2018 strategy, including search engine optimization(SEO). If it isn’t already, SEO should be an important part of your inbound marketing initiatives because it is an effective way to drive traffic to your website, and it is still relatively easy to implement, so much so that marketers often overlook some of the more basic tenets of SEO.
Why SEO Is Still Key to Successful Inbound Marketing
SEO is still the number one way for marketers to get visitors, leads and sales online. Despite all the ways we can try to get our businesses in front of prospects - including social media platforms and pay-per-click advertising - most consumers still find businesses by searching online, even those brick-and-mortar businesses with a physical presence. According to one study, over one-third of Internet users said they first discovered a small business online, while only a small percentage said they found a business by walking into a store.
SEO is even more critical for businesses that exist online only because there isn’t any physical location a potential customer might come across their business. If that business is not found via a search engine like Google or Bing, it likely won’t get found at all.
The Challenges to Effective SEO
While SEO is an effective marketing tactic, it is not without challenges. Competition is tough, as companies compete against each other to get on to the first page of Google and other search engines. Most people won’t click past the first page when searching, which makes being on the first page imperative. In addition, the higher up a link appears on the search results page, the more clicks that link will get. That drives the competition for those top positions on that first page.
At the same time, Google regularly changes how it ranks websites, which makes it difficult to get onto that first page and then stay there if the rules change. Although major updates such as Panda generate news, concerns, and sometimes hand-wringing, Google is constantly making other changes that don’t make the news, all of which affect how websites rank. According to Moz.com, Google changes its algorithms 500 to 600 times every year.
Changes such as the location of ads, featured snippets taking over as “position 0” at the top of the search results page, longer meta descriptions, and greater attention to local search are just a few of the types of alterations Google makes as it strives to serve the searche - changes that can make your job as a marketer even harder if those changes affect your ranking.
The biggest challenge, however, is making sure your team has a solid knowledge of the basic tenets of SEO first, because without that kind of in-depth knowledge, your website won’t rank well enough to be affected by Google’s tweaks. No matter how many changes Google might make in how they rank websites, the basics of SEO don’t change. Yet they are often overlooked by marketers perhaps because they are so simple. Here then are five steps marketers often overlook when doing SEO, all five of which should be part of your 2018 marketing strategy.
1. Recognize that SEO is not a standalone marketing method.
Your SEO efforts should be integrated with the domains of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), social media, email marketing, optimization, mobile marketing, content marketing, and digital analytics. By integrating these marketing channels, you can drive more traffic to your website which can improve your website’s rankings as people link to and share your content. Analytics will show you what is or is not working so you can make changes and improve your SEO as well as your other marketing efforts.
2. Emphasize the importance of quality content.
From the start, Google has focused on seeking out (and indexing) the content it determined to be most relevant to the searcher. That is still the case - content is a key component of SEO. In an article at Search Engine Land, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google flat out said that high quality content and link building are the two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search. Of the two, content comes first, because it is quality content that drives links to your website, as people link to information they find useful in order to share it with others.
Your team will succeed at SEO if you stay focused on creating content that is useful and relevant. Integrating your SEO efforts with your content marketing efforts will ensure you have a steady stream of high-quality content you can use to both get your website found by search engines that are ranking good content and get more links to your website as people share your content.
3. Ensure a good user experience.
Although businesses compete to get their websites to rank well in the search results, Google cares about the searchers more than the websites. In fact, Google says in their webmaster guidelines that we should make pages primarily for users, not search engines. We are building pages for users when we offer useful content, and when we offer a good user experience.
Ensuring a good user experience means looking at how your website is built and how it performs. Your website should offer pages that load fast, and offer good usability with intuitive navigation that makes it easy for users to find what they’re looking for. It should also work well in all browsers as well as on mobile devices. Which brings us to step 4…
4. Build your website for mobile searchers.
Now that more than half of searches are done on mobile devices, you want mobile-first content on your website so you can win those searches. As part of your SEO efforts, ensure your site loads fast and renders well on smart phones and tablets. You’ll need a different approach to keywords too, because keywords rank differently on mobile devices vs. desktops. Make sure the keywords you’re focusing on are those that will win in the mobile environment, since most searchers will search using their smart phones and tablets.
5. Recognize that continuous learning will be necessary to stay on top of SEO as it changes.
As I mentioned above, Google regularly updates its methods for indexing and ranking websites, which means regular changes should be made to ensure your website does well. Your team needs SEO training expertise now, to ensure you’ve mastered these five SEO steps, but they will also need continuous learning as well, to keep your website ranking well despite change. As the Harvard Business Review has pointed out when discussing the challenges faced by those in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry, “Learning and doing can no longer be separated. Leading CPGs must invest in regular and frequent upskilling initiatives, delivered in formats that are in line with the increasing demands on employees’ time.” This is particularly true for SEO, both because it is a critical part of your inbound marketing strategy and because it is constantly evolving.
No matter how many times Google tweaks algorithms and makes unannounced yet significant changes to how it ranks websites, the basic tenets of SEO will stay consistent. Many businesses overlook these five basics of SEO, giving you a definite competitive edge if you choose to master them by giving your team a solid education in SEO fundamentals. And once your team is well-versed in these basic tenets, your organization will also be in a much better position to adapt and adjust as necessary when SEO evolves to keep up with Google’s changes.