I have been working in SEO since 2008 and in agencies since 2009 before moving freelance and working for a content marketing software. I am still surprised by the lack of understanding of SEO in 2017, what people think it does and how some people do not place its importance to websites. When I first starting working in SEO, we optimised keywords within the page, in the meta data, used exact match anchor text in links to rank higher and it worked. Now with many of the updates by our friend Google, especially Hummingbird, Penguin and Panda, it is important to focus on quality content and the overall topics, not exact match keywords. However, I still see many people asking “where am I ranking ?”, and tracking thousands of thousands of keywords which will not have an the same impact on their traffic as it once did. I therefore wanted to explain what SEO means in 2017, why it is important, and how it ties in Content and Social Media.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation which means making your site as optimised as possible for search engines. I do not like this definition as it seems to imply that we are building the website for search engines only and not the user. Therefore I prefer to think of SEO as the Simple Easy Option. SEO has to be at the beginning of a website build (or even at the brief stage), not just an after thought once the website is live. Technical SEO includes liaising with the developer on many aspects including:
- Fast load time (eg ensuring images and other files are compressed)
- Ensuring the site is secure (https)
- Mobile Friendly
According to the Searchmetrics Rebooting Ranking Factors, the study states that it is hard to achieve a top position in Google if the page is not optimised from a technical point of view. This means developers need to pay close attention to loading time, file sizes and ensure there is HTTPs for e-commerce sites at least. Therefore it is still important to have a easily accessible website (both from a user) and search engine perspective.
This is crucial for any website you are working on, not just for e-commerce. How can you show the improvement in traffic overall or conversions if there is now way to show the results from your work? Never assume that big brands have tracking in place from Day 1. It is important as the Online Marketing Manager or ECommerce/SEO Manager to ensure there is tracking that everyone can easily use. For example I have worked on large brands and they had very clunky tracking systems in place that they did not even know how to use properly. This meant it was very difficult to set up goals and see which marketing activity was responsible for an increase in traffic or conversions. As a result, it was even more difficult to show the value of SEO and some of the people client side were still confused on what SEO did for the website. It is extremely important you have tracking on your website in 2017 and that all your marketing team including your client understand how the tracking works and how it shows results from your campaigns.
I would argue it is still important to have links coming to your site, but look at it from a user perspective only. If people don’t know about your site, for example there are no mentions about your product or service on other websites, how can they find you? BUT the sites linking to you have to be relevant. This was not always the case, before it was more about the number of links you had to your site that was important. This led to many penalties and hours of time spent removing these “bad” links. I have spent many hours doing link removals for clients who were mis-informed and bought links. So what is install for these links in 2017? According to Searchmetrics’ latest ranking factors, the rankings of a website are not based on backlinks only. Some websites can rank if there is no backlink. Backlinks are part of the algorithm but are just one part of it, not as important as it was before in order to achieve high rankings. Obviously after the Penguin update, many people have backed off buying links and writing content just for a link on an exact match anchor text.
SEO was around for a lot long time before social media came onto the scene. However, it seems the understanding of Social media has surpassed SEO, people are now happy with how it works that they incorporate Social Media as part of their online campaign. But how can they work together in 2017? Social helps promote a website and build your brand. For example I interviewed the smart Aleyda Solis on my website earlier this year and when Aleyda shared it, (as she has such a big following), I had many retweets and I saw a spike in traffic to my blog. Social can help build followers before you have a website. If you want to be a travel writer for example, but don’t have a site yet, then start your following on social media, such as Facebook and build up interest. Then when your site is ready, you already have an audience. I set up a Twitter account for Search London at the end of August 2014 yet I didn’t have a website. I started engaging with other people via the account at BrightonSEO and it was even mentioned in Hannah Thorpe’s post on theMediaFlow that same month. Hannah said Search London had the most original tweets and it was the most active throughout the day. Search London doubled its followers on that one day. Don’t think that because you have a small following, you need money to grow it, it takes place organically. Should you pay for Social Media? If you are running Facebook campaigns or Twitter campaigns, make sure you have a well organised plan that ties in with your Content Marketing strategy.
SEO is not just about keywords and where they are ranking anymore. There was a time when people put keywords into meta titles and meta descriptions to help the page rank higher in Google. This did work for a while and we saw rankings move, but times have changed (thanks Google) and this no longer generates the same results. We cannot control rankings of keywords, these change all the time especially with the rise of personalised search, mobile search and now voice search. According to the Searchmetrics Ranking Factors that came out in December 2016, the study of 10,000 keywords showed that only half of the landing pages in the top 20 results had keywords in the meta title and in the meta description. Searchmetrics also carried out a test where they changed a meta title for (a well known website) to be more engaging but with less keywords. The result was a higher CTR. Therefore more people were actually clicking on the link in the SERPs than they were before when there were keywords in the meta title. Google is looking at relevance of the content, this is why they released Panda and of course the new algorithm Hummingbird. Hummingbird saw Google take into account the whole sentence or query instead of looking at specific exact terms. They wanted to deliver search results to users where the pages matching the meaning of the query were returned instead of where the page matched only a few keywords. It is also getting more difficult to see which keywords users used to come to your site in analytics. Google released their “not provided” in October 2011 and since then up to 95% of keywords fall under this. There are workarounds, as explained by Kissmetrics, but there is no longer that clear split between the rankings of keywords and traffic. In 2017 and beyond, move away from focusing on specific keywords. Intend, work with your content team on topics for blog posts or news pieces for your site.
Content is where PR (Public Relations) and SEO should overlap more in 2017. There are many PR firms still counting press clippings which is all offline. It is great to generate coverage in magazines and newspapers but sometimes the online version of these websites do not have a link to the product they are promoting. I have also found resistance between the PR and SEO teams. PR seem to want to take over all the “fun” SEO activities such as blogger outreach and content marketing without being aware of how to generate the most online buzz. For example, I have seen some bloggers who worked with PR teams (with no interaction with SEO) and these bloggers promote a product but never put a link back to the client’s site. A link is not just for SEO, if you are talking about a product, surely you would link back to that page so that users can find out about it and then can visit the site. Therefore it is important that both SEO and PR work together more in 2017 to ensure there is as much online buzz and traffic created for campaigns. PR can have a positive impact on traffic. When I was freelance, I worked with the PR team who were organising a pop-up store for our online retail client. The event was aimed to promote a new product after treating some of the guests to a day out in the city. There was exposure by numerous bloggers such as Lingerie Journal and including being featured on Vanity Fair. This was the first time that SEO and PR worked together on a campaign. This was a collaboration from the NY office and the London office putting on this offline campaign that had an effect on online visibility.
Offline activities have an impact on a website and will continue to do so in 2017. Below are two examples of working to a very tight deadline and SEO budget. I worked with a client to sponsor a 10km run in downtown Sydney. We had just 2.5 months (instead of 8) to organise the sponsorship activities. This was meant to be a branding exercise only, but we saw an increase of conversions week on week after the run compared to before the week before. This was due to the fact that there was branding all over the city. The branding exercised helped with changing customers’ view of the brand. 68% participants agreed about leaving with a more positive view of the brand and 50% participants were more likely to buy from the company. Plus 90% participants could not wait for the next event. Due to the success of the sponsorship, the client decided to sponsor the race for the next few years. The second is the event I mentioned in the PR section above. From the back of the pop-up store that the PR team initiated, we saw an increase in total organic traffic and an increase in revenue from direct traffic the month of the event compared to the previous month. However, if there had been even more collaboration between the SEO and PR teams, we would have seen even more dramatic results.
SEO is still important in 2017, however, it cannot be seen as a siloed channel. It should be seen as part of a Content Marketing Strategy which also includes Social Media and PR. Most SEO consultants do work across a wide range of verticals including content and it is important you implement the recommendations they provide. If you are working with a Search Agency or Marketing Agency, it is just as important you implement their recommendations, otherwise you will not see the desired changes. The agencies or freelancers are not just giving you valuable tips and information for the sake of it. They want you to implement them and see results. They could turn into being one of your best external assets as they will promote your brand and results in future presentations/events they attend.