SEO, once a highly specialized task relegated to the back rooms of a website development team, is now a mainstream marketing activity. This dramatic rise can be attributed to three emerging
• Search engines drive dramatic quantities of focused traffic, comprising people intent on accomplishing their research and purchasing goals. Businesses can earn significant revenues by leveraging the quality and relevance of this traffic for direct sales, customer acquisition, and branding/awareness campaigns.
• Visibility in search engines creates an implied endorsement effect, where searchers associate quality, relevance, and trustworthiness with sites that rank highly for their queries.
• Dramatic growth in the interaction between offline and online marketing necessitates investment by organizations of all kinds in a successful search strategy. Consumers are increasingly turning to the Web before making purchases in verticals such as real estate, autos, furniture, and technology. Organizations cannot afford to ignore their customers’ needs as expressed through searches conducted on the major search engines.
Search engine optimization, while a very technical practice, is a marketing function—and it needs to be treated like one. SEO practitioners need to understand the company’s services, products, overall business strategy, competitive landscape, branding, future site development 81 goals, and related business components just as much as members of other marketing divisions, whether online or offline.
As with any other marketing function, it is important to set specific goals and objectives—if a goal is not measurable, it is not useful. Setting up such objectives is the only way you can determine whether you are getting your money’s worth from your SEO effort. And although SEO can be viewed as a project, the best investment, in our opinion, is to treat it as more of a process—one that is iterative, ongoing, and requires steady commitment from the stakeholders of an organization.
Viewing SEO like PPC (i.e., something you can opt to turn on and off) is like viewing eating a healthy diet as something you do only when you are overweight, as opposed to eating a healthy diet as a lifestyle choice. Too heavy? Crash diet. PPC too expensive? Pause the campaigns and work on SEO instead. This tactic may work in the right application, but with SEO, those with the most success are those who view site optimization as a lifestyle choice. The results may not appear instantly, but a business that makes a patient and prudent commitment to SEO will be handsomely rewarded.
Strategic Goals SEO Practitioners Can Fulfill
Although SEO is not a cure-all for businesses, it can fit into a company’s overall businessstrategy in several critical ways.
Most consumers assume that top placement in the search engines is like a stamp of approvalon a business. Surely a company could not rank highly in the search results if it were not oneof the best in its field, right?
If you are an experienced search engine user, you probably recognize that the preceding statement is not true. However, the fact is that many consumers, and even business searchers, interpret high search rankings as an implicit endorsement.
Therefore, for critical brand terms, the SEO practitioner should work toward improving the search engine rankings for the website he is working on. There is a subtlety here, though. Few businesses will need help for ranking on their company name; that is, if your company name is Acme Widget Co., you will most likely rank #1 for that search term even with little SEO effort. There are a few reasons for this, one of the most important being that many of the inbound links to your site will use your company name as the anchor text, and very few links will be given to other websites using your company name as the anchor text.
However, if you sell solar panels, you will want to rank well for the search term solar panels. When users see you ranking highly on that search term, they will assume you are one of the best places to buy solar panels.
SEO for branding is about ranking highly for the generic search terms that relate to the purpose of your website.
Long gone are the days of a “build it and they will come” paradigm on the Web. Today’s environment is highly competitive, and you need great SEO to ensure targeted, high-quality traffic to your site.
Of course, a business that engages with many of its customers through offline channels can drive traffic by telling those customers to visit its website. The SEO practitioner fills the different, more critical role of bringing new prospects to your website from an audience of people who would not otherwise have been interested in, or perhaps aware of, the business at all.
Experienced SEO practitioners know that users search for products, services, and information using an extraordinarily wide variety of search queries and query types. An SEO professional performs keyword research (which we will discuss in Chapter 5) to determine which search queries people actually use. For example, when searching for a set of golf clubs, some users may type in lefthanded golf clubs as a search query.
Such users may not even know that a company specializing in this product exists until they perform that search. Or, if they have at one time learned about such a company, they might not remember enough about it to seek out the company’s website directly.
Capturing that traffic would provide the company with incremental sales of its golf clubs that it probably would not have gotten otherwise. Knowing that, the SEO process works on a site architecture strategy and a link-building strategy to help the site’s pages achieve competitive search engine rankings for these types of terms.
Improving visibility and driving traffic are nice, but the most important goal is to achieve the goals of your organization. For most organizations, that means generating sales, leads, or advertising revenue. For others, it may mean the promotion of a particular message. An important component of SEO is to deliver not just traffic, but relevant traffic that has the possibility of converting. The great thing about SEO is that it can result in dramatically improved website ROI. Whether you are selling products and services, advertising and looking for branding value, or trying to promote a specific viewpoint to the world, a well-designed SEO
strategy can result in a very high return on investment when contrasted with other methods of marketing.
For many organizations, SEO brings a higher ROI when compared to TV, print, and radio campaigns. Traditional media is not in danger of being replaced by SEO, but SEO can provide some high-margin returns that complement and enhance the use of offline media. Data
Every SEO Plan Is Custom
There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter SEO plan, and for this, all parties on the SEO bandwagon should rejoice. The ever-changing, dynamic nature of the search marketing industry requires constant diligence. SEO professionals must maintain a research process for analyzing how the search landscape is changing, because search engines strive to continuously evolve to improve their services and monetization. This environment provides search engine marketers with a niche within which the demand for their services is all but guaranteed for an indefinite period of time, and it provides advertisers with the continuous opportunity, either independently or through outside consulting, to achieve top rankings for competitive target
searches for their businesses.
Organizations should take many factors into account when pursuing an SEO strategy, including:
• What the organization is trying to promote
• Target market
• Website structure
• Current site content
• Ease with which the content and site structure can be modified
• Any immediately available content
• Available resources for developing new content
• Competitive landscape
• And so on…
Learning about the space the business is in is not sufficient. It may not make sense for two businesses offering the same products on the market to use the same SEO strategy.
For example, if one of the two competitors put its website up four years ago and the other company is just rolling one out now, the second company may need to focus on specific vertical areas where the first company’s website offering is weak.
The first company may have an enormous library of written content that the second company would struggle to replicate and extend, but perhaps the second company is in a position to launch a new killer tool that the market will like.
Do not underestimate the importance of your SEO plan. Skipping over this process or not treating it seriously will only result in a failure to maximize the business results for your company.
Understanding Search Engine Traffic and Visitor Intent
As we discussed in “The Mission of Search Engines” on page 2, searchers enter many different types of queries. These are typically classified into three major categories:
This is a query with the intent to arrive at a specific website or page (e.g., the person types in your company name, Acme Device Co.).
Informational query This is a search performed to receive an answer to a broad or direct question with no specific source in mind (e.g., Celtics game score).
Transactional query A person who types in digital camera may be looking to buy one now, but it is more likely that she is researching digital cameras. This is an example of an initial transactional query, which can evolve in stages. For example, here are some other types of transactional queries that occur at a later stage in the buying cycle:
• The user types in buy digital camera. Although there is no information in the query
about which one she wants to buy, the intent still seems quite clear.
• The searcher types in canon powershot G10. The chances are very high that this user is looking to buy that particular camera.
The geographic location of the searcher can also be very valuable information. For example, you may want to show something different to a searcher in Seattle, WA, than to a searcher in Boston, MA.
Part of an SEO plan is to understand how the various relevant types of searches relate to the content and architecture of your website.
Developing an SEO Plan Prior to Site Development
It is widely understood in the industry that search engine optimization should be built in, as early as possible, to the entire site development strategy, from choosing a content management system (CMS) and planning site architecture to developing on-page content. As you will see, SEO practitioners have significant input in both of these areas. Of course, many businesses learn about the need for SEO only after they have built their sites, in which case the time to start is now.
SEO plans have many moving parts, and SEO decisions can have a significant impact on other departments, such as development, other marketing groups, and sales.
Getting that input as soon as possible will bring the best results for a business at the least possible cost (imagine that you develop your whole site and then learn you need to replace the CMS—that would be very,very painful!).
Business Factors That Affect the SEO Plan
Here are some examples of business issues that can impact SEO:
Revenue/business model It makes a difference to the SEO practitioner if the purpose of the site is to sell products, sell advertising, or obtain leads. We will discuss this more in the later sections of this chapter.
Who are you trying to reach? This could be an age group, a gender group, or as specific as people looking to buy a house within a 25-mile radius of Orlando, FL.
The competitive landscape is another big factor in your SEO plan. Competition may be strongly entrenched in one portion of the market online, and it may make sense to focus on a different segment. Or you may be the big dog in your market but you have specific competitors you want to fend off.
There may be terms that it is critical for you to own, for branding reasons.
Budget for content development
An important part of link building (which we will discuss in detail in Chapter 7) is ensuring the quality of your content, as well as your capacity to commit to the ongoing development of high-quality on-page site content.
How your potential customers search for products like yours
Understanding what customers do when they are searching for products or services like yours is one of the most basic functions of SEO.
This involves mapping the actual search queries your target customers use when they go to a search engine to solve their current problem.
Understanding Your Audience and Finding Your Niche A nontrivial part of an SEO plan is figuring out who you are targeting with your website. This is not always that easy to determine. As you will see in this section, many factors enter into this, including the competition, the particular strengths or weaknesses of your own company, and more.
Mapping Your Products and Services
Successful SEO requires a thorough understanding of the business itself. What products, services, and types of information and resources does your organization have to offer?
As we outlined in the preceding section, a critical SEO activity is understanding who is searching for what you are trying to promote, which requires thoroughly understanding all aspects of your offering. You will also need to understand the broad market categories that your products fall into, as each of these categories might relate to sections of your website that you may want to create. By having sections of the site for those categories, you create an opportunity to obtain search traffic related to those categories.
You also should consider business development and the company’s expansion strategy at the outset of the SEO planning process. Consider Amazon, which began as a bookseller but has evolved into a general purpose e-tailer. Sites that go through these types of changes may need to be substantially restructured, and such restructurings can be a source of major SEO headaches. Anticipating those changes in advance provides the opportunity to recommend architectural approaches to dealing with those changes.
Content Is King
One aspect of determining the desired audience for your website is determining who you want to reach, which requires an understanding of what you have to offer visitors to your site, both now and in the future.
You may have a deep library of “how to” content, great videos, a unique photo gallery, or an awesome tool that people are interested in using. Each of these can be valuable in building a world-class website that does well in the search engines.
The content you have available to you will affect your keyword research and site architecture, as your site content is the major source of information that search engines use to determine what your site is about. As we discussed in “Algorithm-