Everyone says they know they need to invest in SEO, but why? What is SEO and why is it considered an essential part of any marketing strategy?
Whether your company is new or it’s been around awhile, SEO can be challenging. Many marketers think they understand it and invest in different tools to tackle it but find their efforts yield negligible results. And while search engine algorithms periodically change, you can learn universal SEO best practices that will apply no matter the trend.
The good news is that once you “get” SEO, you can start implementing techniques immediately. There is one point you must realize, however. SEO efforts have a longer cycle time, so you won’t see immediate results. But, with almost 30% of global web traffic being driven from online search usage, you can’t afford not to do SEO.
Like a grapevine, establishing SEO is, at first, labor-intensive. But, if you nurture it, pruning what isn’t producing and focusing on what’s working, you’ll see the compounding fruit of your labor. Once it’s mature, it will continue to grow and produce fruit for years to come with relatively simple oversight.
What is SEO in Marketing?
SEO is the acronym for “search engine optimization.” Hubspot says SEO refers to “the techniques that help your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).” The goal of SEO is to get your website and related content in front of them and ahead of your competition. You want them to see your brand, ideally on the first page of the search results.
Your page ranking matters. Being on page two or three versus page one matters even more. You already know this because you are a searcher, too. What do you do when you want a new flat screen TV? You go online, search for “flat screen TV” and read the first few results before buying. Do you continue beyond page one? Unlikely. Either does your audience.
Here are a few stats to back this up:
- The first organic result in Google Search has an average click-through rate (CTR) of 28.5% (meaning nearly 30% of people click on the first result Google they see on the page)
- Average CTR for the second and third positions on the page have a 15% and 11% CTR, respectively
- The tenth position in Google has only a 2.5% CTR
- Results on the second page of Google have a CTR of less than 1%
Before you can understand the value of SEO, you have to understand the value of Google and other search engines. Their purpose is to understand the searcher’s intent and deliver the most relevant content possible. The better the search engine can do this, the more people will continue to use their platform.
So, your goal is to provide the best content possible that tells the search engine you have what searchers came to the search engine for – you answer the questions they type in the search box, provide the information they seek, and guide them to whatever it is they wanted to know – and you do it better than anyone else. Google and other search engines are critical in driving traffic to your site and content.
Why Is SEO Important?
When you do SEO right, you get eyes on your brand, product or service. You also can establish your brand as the thought leader in the industry or on a particular topic. They look to you as the source for reliable and accurate information, elevating your brand reputation as the trusted authority.
Digital Marketing Institute says, “SEO can help you build better relationships with your audience, improve the customer experience, increase your authority, drive more people to your site, give you an edge over the competition, and increase conversions, which means more sales, more loyal customers, and more growth for your business.”
When done properly, SEO is the most valuable marketing tactic for any company, no matter what you’re offering.
How Does SEO Work?
The technology and methods behind search engines’ ability to determine which pieces of content are best to display are complicated and beyond the purpose of this article. What’s important to know now is that the search engine uses sophisticated technology to scan massive amounts of content to determine context and index each piece. It then delivers to searchers what its algorithms determine are the most accurate and relevant pieces of content based on the user’s search terms (keywords) and most likely intent.
This is why the best content will always win. The most effective way to get SEO is to write the best piece of content, consistently and continually. Content Marketing Institute found that blogs, short articles and webinars produce the best overall marketing results.
Related: What Makes Great Marketing Content?
How do you know what is great content? You have to understand search intent and write to it, using specific SEO techniques, like relevant keywords, internal and external links, tags, URLs and other technical strategies.
Keep in mind that SEO content isn’t the same as a press release, product announcement or blog that doesn’t contain any SEO techniques. While you may write a killer piece of content that engages a reader already on your site, it’s not going to attract new readers organically to increase traffic and conversions.
Great SEO works by attracting potential customers you can monetize in some way, and that’s the goal of SEO.
Organic vs. Paid Search
There are several ways to get eyes on your brand, but when it comes to marketing on search engines, organic and paid search are top priorities.
Paid search is where you pay the search engine to place a company advertisement on SERPs, much like you would in a newspaper or magazine. And just like with print media, you want your ad where viewers will see it – viewers who are already looking for something like what you sell.
For example, if you sell marketing automation software, you’d want to align your paid ad to the search intent of your target searchers and the keywords they are most likely to use when searching for marketing automation solutions.
While paid ads can be relatively inexpensive and deliver immediate results, you have to continue to pay indefinitely – not only for the ad space but also for your ad development costs. Ad space cost varies, too. It’s based on a bidding format, so you never know how much you’ll have to pay over time.
Organic search, on the other hand, is free and has a compounding effect. According to Hubspot, “Organic search results are the unpaid results that appear on a search engine’s page after a query.” So, when a searcher types in “marketing automation software”, your product offering/brand is among the results.
Beyond being free, organic search can deliver long-term results – as long as your brand scores and maintains a top ranking, you’re going to get traffic to your site.
This doesn’t mean you have to keep the same content. You must continue to deliver relevant, up-to-date content that answers the user’s questions across a wide range of keywords. The more keywords around your brand/product/service you “own,” the more traffic you’ll get over time. And that content may attract people in unintended ways, too, something you can’t achieve with paid vehicles.
Local vs. National SEO
Your target audience makes a difference when it comes to getting the value of SEO. If you are a local company, say a pool maintenance company, you don’t need to focus on an audience outside of your geographic area.
You can hyper-focus on your locations, even incorporating your city location in the keyword phrase, to reach your specific audience and help them find your company. This strategy is more effective than trying to compete with national companies that likely own the most relevant, general keywords.
Similarly, if you only operate nationally, why try to pinpoint a local audience or attract a global audience? If you are a nationwide company, you can use general keywords that a broader audience might search for.
For example, if you operate a local coworking space, it would be smarter to use keywords like “coworking Austin” and “office sharing venues in Austin” versus the more general “coworking space”. By keeping it local, you are more likely to attract actual customers and don’t have to worry as much about trying to own keywords that national or regional companies likely dominate.
Components of SEO
SEO is not just one thing. It’s a series of actions, techniques and processes that, together, increase the likelihood that Google or other search engines will select your content for a top-ranking position. There is a science behind it all, and several technology tools required to truly optimize your content for search engines.
As we’ve been saying, content is king. Your content has to be what the search engine deems as being valuable to its searcher. Answer these questions:
- Who are we trying to attract and why?
- What can we provide of value?
- Does our content answer their questions?
- Can we refresh existing content or should we remove it?
- What keywords do we want to go after?
Your content shouldn’t talk about your brand or its products and services by name. Why? Because that’s not something Google or other search engines believe is of value to a searcher. If the searcher is looking for unbiased advice, recommendations or information, they don’t want to see a sales pitch.
What you can do is guide them to important considerations and let them know you are an authority. Your content should relay, “If you’re trying to do X or understand Y, then here’s where to start.” You are defining terms, starting the conversation, and answering the “what.”
This top of funnel approach builds brand awareness for people just starting their journey. They likely aren’t ready to buy but want to understand something better before they move to the next step in the buyer’s journey.
Once they are sales-ready, they have moved to mid-funnel and are looking for a different type of content. They now understand the basic, high-level issues and options and may be ready for a demo, more details, and to understand what they can expect. You can deliver content that answers those more detailed “how” questions.
From there, they are in the comparison phase, looking at which product or solution they’re ready to buy. This is the bottom of the sales funnel, where user and analyst reviews reign, but you can still write great content of your own. Case studies and third-party testimonials can be powerful tools to convince your reader and show them how others are using your product or service successfully.
Keywords are literally “key” words – they are the words your target audience uses when searching for your product or service type, or the challenges or pain points your solution solves. They are the key to getting noticed.
If your article doesn’t contain the keywords your target customers are searching for in the search engines, the search engine won’t index your content and deliver it as a search result. Keywords must be strategically placed to be effective, such as in the title, the meta description and in the body of the article several times. You should also use slight variations of keywords (secondary keywords) to capture variations of the primary keyword.
Your keywords must be aligned with your buyer’s journey. For instance, a top-of-the-funnel searcher is looking for keywords that often begin with “what is search engine optimization”. Your mid-funnel searcher may search “how to integrate search engine optimization into marketing strategy”. Bottom-of-the-funnel searchers may search “best solutions to help startups with search engine optimization”.
There are several tools out there to help you identify popular keyword search terms, as well as which ones are the most competitive. If you are a smaller company, particularly local, you don’t want to go for keyword terms that the bigger companies already own. You likely won’t get any traction. It may take longer but be more effective to go after lesser-used keywords that you can own and build your credibility with your audience and search engines.
Link building is a critical piece of SEO. Do the research and link to other great material that either backs up your claims or adds interesting perspectives. Remember: you’re trying to establish your brand as an authority and by linking to reputable and recognizable external sources, you build your credibility.
You also want to link back to your own website to direct the reader to your company – that’s the whole point. Your content may not mention your brand by name for the organic searcher who isn’t on your site, so you need a way to guide them to your site. You can do this by using carefully chosen anchor text back to one of your relevant web pages and a separate line of text that links them directly to other assets you may have on your site, such as other blogs, webinars or infographics.
There are also backlinks, getting an external website to link to your website to give it more credibility. There are technical ways of getting backlinks (that often require paying), but great content will drive natural backlinks. The more backlinks, the more Google sees your content as reputable and indexable, so it has a better chance of getting a good ranking.
As we’ve mentioned, there are many technical aspects to SEO. The point is to make your site more discoverable and indexable on a monthly basis, where Google adds your content to their index. No indexing means you’re not going to get any organic traffic – no one can find you unless they search specifically for your URL or company name.
Indexing isn’t easy for most marketers, as it gets technical pretty quickly. It’s one of the reasons companies choose to outsource this portion of their marketing strategy.
Is SEO a Requirement?
In a nutshell, yes. It’s the most cost-effective way to increase traffic – and traffic that is most likely to convert to customers. Those high-value leads are worth every effort.
Keep in mind that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. You must be patient but active, but good SEO can drive leads with minimal effort for the long haul.
You can do it yourself, investing in the right tools to help you identify opportunities and measure your success. Or, you hire a digital marketing agency to do it for you or support your ongoing efforts so your marketing team can focus on other channels. In fact, Search Engine Journal says 80% of companies hire professionals for their content marketing.
Zilker Partners can help you at whatever stage you are or want to be. We have expert digital marketers who live and breathe SEO, resulting in traffic growth and conversions for our clients. Contact us for a free consultation.