SEO: Getting More vs. Losing Ground

Search engine optimization can create more traffic and sales. It can also provide insight for other, non-SEO activities. Google's Keyword Planner can help with both.

Search engine optimization can create more traffic and sales. It can also provide insight for other, non-SEO activities. Google’s Keyword Planner can help with both.

Every company needs more of something. Maybe your company’s goals focus on more customers. Or maybe it’s more conversions. Whether it’s more sales, more leads, more registrations, more items sold per transaction, it’s always more. That’s what search engine optimization does for you when it’s done well: gets you more.

Search engine optimization means configuring a site to improve its natural search performance long-term. While every marketing mix should be balanced, paid media channels work only as long as you pay for them. When the spend turns down or turns off, the flow of customers dries up. That’s why a strong strategy for long-term SEO performance is so critical.

Some people dismiss SEO’s importance because they still think of SEO as it was five or 10 years ago. Modern, strategic search engine optimization goes beyond policing error codes, resolving duplicate title tags, and working keywords into copy. Yes, those tactics are part of an overall SEO strategy. But true optimization runs far deeper — into the core of your marketing strategy, content marketing, platform decisions, taxonomy, creative design and copywriting, and development.

I could go on, but for more on the strategic value of SEO to the entire digital marketing mix, read “For SEO Success, Build into Core of Company,” my recent article.

Getting More

Consumers want more, also. More possessions, more choices, more information, more confidence in purchase decisions. Search engines are a primary conduit that consumers use to find more of what they want, especially with the ubiquity of smartphones. Your company’s products must rank in well in search results to be considered by all those hungry consumers.

You might have superior product. Your prices might be the lowest. Your company values may be purer than any other’s. You might have the most amazing customer service. But you won’t sell a dime to consumers seeking more in Google, Yahoo, and Bing unless your digital presence is optimized using modern, strategic SEO practices.

How much more could SEO bring in the door? That’s a question more easily answered than you’d think thanks to keyword research. Yes, SEO is more than keywords on a page, but keyword research is a tool that answers the question, “What do searchers want?”

Identifying the number of searches for the products you offer and the problems your products solve within that universe of searches tells you how large your natural search opportunity is. I addressed how to conduct keyword research, at “SEO 101, Part 5: Google Keyword Planner.”

Once you know the size of the opportunity, comparing it to your existing performance is pretty simple. You may be driving most of your natural search traffic and sales based on searches for your brand. But way more consumers search for non-branded, descriptive words that describe the products you sell and the problems they solve.

If you sell razors, you’ll be pleased to know that not only do consumers want to buy razors in large numbers, they also want to know “how to shave properly” and “how to prevent razor burn.” Adding up the search demand — how many searches are conducted per month for the products you offer and the problems you solve — tells you the size of your opportunity.

The size of the opportunity tells you how many more consumers you can target in natural search to turn into customers. What segment of those searches you focus on and what you do with those consumers once you have them on your website determines how many more conversions you get, and how you meet other goals that you or your management cares deeply about.

The size of the opportunity tells you how many more consumers you can target in natural search to turn into customers.

Once keyword research is done, content optimization is the most obvious next step. Focus on which content to optimize first and how to optimize it.

Getting More Outside of SEO

Content optimization is important. But the most impactful SEO work you can do is during periods of strategic planning or implementation in areas that aren’t strictly SEO-related. It’s harder to measure the value of SEO influence in strategic decisions. But I have many examples of successful campaigns and site launches made better based on SEO data;

  • A television campaign showing the use of the product in a specific way that keyword data identified as highly desirable to consumers;
  • The decision to change the strategy for a large section of the site that had been considered for removal;
  • Site navigation radically changed based on keyword data showing that consumers thought about the products in a fundamentally different way than the company’s internal industry-focused point of view.

None of these examples fall within the vision of old-school SEO. Instead, they show the value of using SEO data and practices to influence related disciplines in a way that improves SEO and the project as a whole.

Not Getting Less

Sometimes SEO is about keeping the performance you’ve already worked hard to acquire. I have as many stories about the dramatic impact of neglecting SEO as I do about using SEO strategically for larger digital successes. After its natural search performance takes a dive, a company will call to find out why and how to fix it. Common mistakes I’ve corrected include:

  • Accidentally disallowing or no-indexing the entire site;
  • Neglecting to or not knowing to implement a comprehensive redirect strategy during a redesign or migration launch;
  • Repeatedly tweaking the navigation “just a little” without understanding the impact on SEO;
  • Deciding to address SEO after the site strategy, taxonomy, design, and development are complete and the site is live.

That last one is really just a catchall for a myriad of small and large decisions that hamstring SEO and typically cost a lot to fix.

These negative examples tend to help teams and management understand the need for SEO more quickly — if they don’t respond to the prospect of getting more. Motivation based on the fear of losing ground instead of focusing on improving performance is frustrating, but sometimes it is what’s needed to get the ball rolling. Hopefully, once they’re listening, the data-based opportunity to get more from SEO to meet their goals will begin to resonate more clearly.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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