Marketers have had to contend with challenges stemming from SEO for greater than 20 years now. According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018 report, 61% of marketers feel improving SEO and growing their organic presence is the top inbound marketing priority.
That may not be shocking since, well, SEO and inbound marketing go hand-in-hand. But the fact remains: SEO is a battlefield, one in which marketers remain at the mercy of Google, for the most part. But it's not just about pleasing Google, creating keywords and working on backlinks. We’ve enlisted some SEO pundits who offered some tips on going beyond the basics for striking the right chords in SEO land.
Endgame: Valuable Content for Customers
The first step in getting better at SEO? Remembering why you’re delivering content in the first place, according to John Marcinuk, head of marketing at Blue Fountain Media. “Five years ago, most people saw SEO as a focus on inserting keywords into web copy with the goal of ranking pages higher in search,” Marcinuk said. “This hasn't been the right approach for winning at search for some time now.”
It’s now about creating something of value for your consumers that is better than your competitors. “Concern yourself with that first and you have the best chance of success,” Marcinuk said.
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Facing the Mobile Facts
In 2018, about 64% of paid Google search clicks originated from mobile, with mobile phones accounting for nearly 56% of total clicks. “Today, search users have a different expectation when they enter a query into the search bar,” Marcinuk said. Speaking of the 60% mobile-search statistic, Marcinuk said a large number of those searches are performed on-the-go. Hence the lesson for marketers: know not only what your audience searches but how and what they expect in terms of answer formats.
“Search users are, in many cases, seeking quick answers to immediate questions and not a long-form article on your website,” Marcinuk said. “When thinking about the SEO of today, marketers should be examining how they can provide the Google ecosystem with the data it needs to provide those quick answers; whether they're in the form of store hours, location data or Google's Answer Box in position 0.”
Gaining top keywords for relevant queries is still vital to get a user to click on your website, but don't ignore the moments when they're not willing to click through, Marcinuk added.
Google Ads Spend Won’t Improve SEO Health
When Marcinuk was asked about the misconceptions marketers/brands have about SEO, he said how much a company spends in Google Ads has nothing to do with the direct health of an SEO program. “This common misconception is parroted back to me from all levels of marketing organizations and it's frustrating to still hear it. That doesn't mean, however, that these two channels of search shouldn't play nicely together. When search teams join forces to align messaging and pick up the slack from each other, we're able to provide a more integrated experience for customers.”
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Personalized SERPs Make Local Keyword Tracking Vital
Today's highly personalized Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) require that even national business models keep an eye on their local search performance, according to Rob Bucci, vice president of research and development at Moz, an SEO software provider. “If you're not tracking your keywords at a local level, you aren't measuring your local performance with any manner of accuracy.”
When does it get more complex? When you're tracking keywords across multiple zip codes within the same market. Because SERPs can vary wildly from place to place, you need to ensure you're working with accurate data to remain competitive no matter where a searcher is located, Bucci said.
Keep Tabs on Competitors in Different Markets
Your business model may be national, but for keyword after keyword, your competitors are local. “This means it's paramount to identify those local competitors market by market and then form a strategy based on where and how you can see wins,” Bucci said. “The ability to compare yourself to your local competitors has become essential with Google's localization of a vast number of SERPs.” The reality of search today is that your searchers' precise locations will influence the results.
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What’s Ahead for SEO?
The future of SEO will include more than what we commonly think of as search engines, according to Marcinuk. “If capturing keywords in Google is our only focus, we're missing the forest for the trees,” he said.
Simply put, Google shouldn’t be the only player on your SEO radar. “YouTube is — and has been for a while — the No. 2 search engine today,” Marcinuk said. “Social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest see a ton of search queries daily. Reddit and Quora are emerging as major content powerhouses that make discovering content easy.”
Google, itself, has been improving content experiences in its ecosystem by offering bite sized answers directly in the search engine, thereby limiting clicks to the websites where this information originates, he said. “At the end of the day, we as marketers want to get our brand's messages in front of the right audiences with as little barrier to discovery as possible,” Marcinuk said. “Reframing the work we do in organic search and content marketing from SEO to ‘discoverability’ is a good reminder of what it's all for.”
Answer Basic Questions Before Jumping in
Before jumping into any SEO engagement, you need to have realistic goals and establish a holistic game plan for organic growth, Marcinuk said. “If your CEO wants to rank No. 1 for a term that is better served by Wikipedia, let's perform some internal education,” he said. “If Google My Business profiles would better serve your users with upcoming events, let's not focus too heavily on an investment into an events section on your website. The right SEO team will be marketers first and should be responsible for a long-term growth plan over quick wins.”