The point of SEO and digital marketing was once to get page views. But what good is attracting traffic to your site, if you do not get conversions and sales?
It’s not enough today to have bodies come through your front door. With tight marketing budgets, aggressive revenue targets and cutthroat competition, businesses like yours need to justify their digital marketing spend.
What’s the point of spending tens of thousands of dollars when you are not being found online, making sales and are being surpassed in results by competitors with smaller market shares and lesser reputations?
In today’s market, your digital strategy not only must get the right people to visit your site, but must help you to provide a richer online experience that builds customer relationships and leads to sales.
When it comes to numbers, quality trumps quantity. Let’s say your site has 5,000 visitors a month, which convert through email and phone at 1%, giving you 50 leads. Does it make more sense to build your business by trying to double traffic to 10,000 visitors, or to communicate with your existing visitors more effectively, perhaps doubling your leads with the same traffic? The latter can be achieved for pennies on the dollar compared to driving up traffic.
If you want to start getting your business back on track, and hitting your financial targets, we suggest that you follow these 10 SEO commandments for 2016:
1. You must provide compelling, original content
In my article “SEO Myths Versus Reality – Google Rankings Factors 2014,” I pointed out that keywords can be overvalued as a method to achieve page rankings. Companies could spend too much time in coming up with specific keywords, ignoring the fact that Google had made semantic keywords and sentence structure just as important.
This continues to be true. So where once it was absolutely important to get keywords in the headline – the best shovel, for example – now that is less important. The search engine wants to see that your tool provides a superior shoveling experience, because it is easy to handle, lightweight and turns the earth well.
Rather than worrying about which keywords to use, you should concentrate on providing original content (text, images and video) that engages people and is something they want to spend time consuming.
In some sense, digital strategies have come full circle. We have gone from trying to play games with technology and returned to providing some of real value to our audience. In 2016, you must have a genuine understanding of your target’s needs and pain points, and then address them with compelling content that solves real problems.
It’s not enough just to throw your front door open. You must fully engage anyone who walks through.
Also, for a long time written content was considered the standard for web communications, supplemented by images, video and infographics. But now this poised to shift, and video may surpass the written word as far as reach, engagement and effectiveness.
Technologies such as Vine, Periscope and Snapchat – as well as the omnipresent video granddaddy YouTube – are catering to and growing the demand for video content. Google itself is experimenting with video ads in search results.
As a result, businesses that use thousands of words where a few video feeds will do will quickly seem behind the times.
That is not to say that you should stop using words but look at how people are actually using the Internet. Are your teenagers (or are you, for that matter) reading lengthy articles online or are they watching YouTube videos? As a visual society raised on video and film – with high-speed Internet access having become the norm – we expect our content to move and to move us in turn.
2. You must work to a schedule
With your newer richer content, you must do a couple of things that newspapers, magazines and other traditional publications have known for a long time. First, you must speak to your customers with a friendly, approachable tone, the kind developed in journalism, rather than having a hard-sell marketing voice. It’s about building trust.
And any kind of content marketing plan depends on a regular stream of engaging content. You cannot do this if you are only going to create content when your job allows you. You must create a content plan, with specific posts schedules for set days, taking into account seasonal events and making sure a full range of interests are addressed. Like any publisher you must stick to the schedule to be successful.
The stream of content does two things. First, it is one way to help your page rankings. And once you get visitors to your site, it gives them content that matches their interests and needs, so you can convert them to paying customers.
3. You must have conversion strategy
Of course, digital marketing firms can promise you anything. What matters to businesses is results – not only to see if your resources are being allocated correctly but to fine-tune your marketing effort as it proceeds.
Google Analytics can be used to measure effectiveness of your digital marketing campaign (see “8. You must have a short-term strategy”). But also a good SEO firm will provide conversion rate audits, studying traffic flow and behavior as visitors engage with the content and offers on your site.
This intelligence can be used to improve your content and user experience, so you can up conversions and increase sales. You can clearly see what works and what doesn’t and make changes accordingly. Also insanely cost effective if it doubles your conversion rate versus the money you would need to invest to double your traffic!
4. You must have a complete digital marketing plan
If you are going on a long trip, it’s not enough to have a mechanic to tune and fix your car. You need someone to help you plan your itinerary and to make recommendations to ensure you get the most from your experience.
Similarly, you need a complete digital marketing plan – the kind developed by an experienced SEO agency. They don’t just tinker under your hood to make to make sure everything is running well (optimized) – though they do that too. They consider your needs and marketing objectives from the ground up, providing a full set of connected strategies to achieve them.
First they will make sure your house is in good order, cleaning up URLs, removing duplicate content, speeding up page load time, adding new pages that target locations and much more. They can also step back to help you understand your customer needs to better service them.
They can help you develop a client persona, highlighting their chief needs and pain points, so you can create content and initiatives that hit home with your target. In this vein, the SEO expert would help you turn a content stream, such as blog, from a blind publishing vehicle into a sales tool, with measurable results.
SEO is about providing complete marketing solutions, not just a series of isolated services.
5. You must be mobile
More and more people are accessing information online through their smartphones and tablets. So your online content must use responsive design to ensure that it is easy to read on mobile devices.
Statistics show that mobile searches surpassed desktop ones for the the first time earlier this year, with mobile and desktop traffic on relatively equal footing. And the shift to mobile will grow stronger, so your online strategy must take this into account.
Google itself is even stating that having a desktop-specific site is no longer a necessity. Their shift from showing seven businesses to three in local searches (or in SEO lingo, going from a seven-pack to three-pack) is their concession to smaller screens and part of their commitment to supporting mobile.
Also, with the rising power of mobile, you must make sure that your content is easily searchable within apps. While Google has been searching mobile apps for a while, this will become increasingly important as apps overtake traditional websites in popularity and the range of functions offered.
6. You must remove stale and damaging links
Most businesses have gone through years, and sometimes many years, of SEO work. Sometimes these relationships date back to the days you could build rankings with what could be considered today dubious link-building practices. Gone is the era of quick fixes.
Your digital strategy may be evolving but these link remnants from a bygone era not only aren’t doing you any good but may be harming you. I have seen companies go from high in their page rankings to being buried deep down, as they suffer under a Google penalty for these old links.
If you are in this situation, you need an SEO firm that understands your business and your situation, one that has the experience to find and clean up bad links, so you can move forward without baggage to slow you down and trip you up. Experience in this area is necessary, because the bad links can be buried deep and hard to find. You need someone who can find them with surgical precision, so good links aren’t jettisoned with the bad.
7. You must build a better brand
Sure, SEO got its start in link building, using these to increase page rankings. While our job has grown to include other core competencies, targeted link building is still an important part of the trade, especially helping well-ranked companies to move up further in the listings.
While there is a ton of articles vendors offering fast ways to get links, the truth is, good, clean, effective link-building requires great expertise and experience. It also requires a professional who connects your link-building strategy to your branding strategy. The two things cannot work in isolation.
While once it was enough to optimize content with generic keyword combinations, now search engines are more likely to award companies who put in place high-level marketing efforts that seek to build trust among their target. And the basis of trust and relevance is a well-defined and appealing brand identity.
Search algorithms now care more about natural language and how people really talk about things or ask about things – something that a good brand campaign can do very well.
If you are able to define your brand well, and what separates it from your competitors, then an SEO strategy can be built that flows from this. It is far more effective to have a few quality links targeted according to your branding strategy than have dozens of ones built on generic keywords.
Along with your clean, targeted digital footprint, the SEO house will also provide the analytics to show you how your branding link strategy is working. With this valuable input, the strategy can be fine-tuned on the fly to achieve maximum impact.
8. You must have a short-term strategy
SEO has its eye on the long game, ensuring you get traffic and convert it to sales, so you can grow your business and achieve marketing targets. But it is also about getting leads and results in the short term – sales right now.
One of the best ways to get fast results is to run a pay-per-click campaign. But a PPC can be expensive, especially if you are targeting high-demand keywords. Your SEO partner can help you to refine your PPC so it is more cost-effective, giving you more useful results.
While Google removed keywords from its Analytics – making it hard to find the most effective ones – with a PPC an SEO house can link Adwords to Google Analytics to get this data and make better optimization decisions. We can find strong keywords (the ones most likely to drive sales) that don’t yet rate organically, so you can get a jump on your competition. You might even use your keyword learnings from a PPC to dictate your organic keyword strategy.
With a PPC you can get real-time feedback on how well an ad is working, so you can tweak its copy or focus on the fly to improve results. And of course, the learning doesn’t stop there. You may have keywords that drive traffic but don’t result in sales. A good SEO agency will find the search terms that actually give you money results – pure gold for any business.
As your up your page rankings, you may not want to give up your PPC strategy. Statistic show that having a paid-for campaign can help raise trust among your target. A high organic result working with a paid presence on a search engine results page makes it much more likely for you to get clicks and conversion.
9. You must use PR tactics
While at first glance they may seem unrelated practices, SEO and public relations do have a common goal: to build general awareness of a service, product or brand. With this shared interest, SEO and PR firms are increasingly working together on digital image building for clients. Where SEO might have been involved in a narrow technical capacity before, Google’s emphasis on quality content means that SEO has to play a wider, more comprehensive role in content marketing.
When it comes to media relations, PR has always been concerned about getting clients covered in quality publications, with a New York Times article worth much more than a Small Town Examiner piece. In the digital realm, the links to quality content sources now serve much the same function in commanding attention. The links would not only include the online presences of traditional publishers but prominent bloggers in the sector.
Media releases also serve the dual purpose of getting media attention while becoming part of the client content stream that attracts search engine attention.
Different PR approaches can all be considered in a digital marketing strategy, including e-newsletters, rounded up from your existing content stream and used to expand your database of existing and potential clients; and special events, such as sales or calculated publicity stunts – anything that attracts attention to your brand and gets it wider circulation.
10. You must be more social
No doubt you are aware of the importance of social media in connecting with your customers or audience. When it comes to searches tweets, Facebook posts and so are already showing up in Google results pages.
This year social media platforms will be even more thoroughly indexed by Google and other search engines, giving them as much weight as results from web pages. So use of social media in a digital marketing strategy has become of central importance.
And of course, with so many people on social media, these platforms have become ideal ways to engage customers, get them to share your content and marketing initiatives, and drive high-quality traffic to your website. Such obvious engagement is ranked well by search engines.