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Understanding SEO and its importance
‘Search’ is the most powerful marketing tool today, for any business with an online presence (that’s pretty much most businesses, in fact). And, having an SEO strategy to underpin all of your digital marketing activity is considered essential to your brand being found on the biggest search platforms – such as Google.
In recent years, SEO has boomed in popularity as a marketing tool, with more brands realising just how vital a part it plays in driving traffic to their website. Potential customers invest significant time in researching on the internet before making an informed purchasing decision, and Google is by far the most widely used search tool in the world currently for which to do this. There are over 5.6 billion searches performed using Google each day. So, it makes sense for any business to be found on this highly used platform.
Of course, with so many searches taking place every day and countless results waiting for users, the challenge is getting your brand to stand out and be seen above the rest. Effective SEO will enable this to happen organically, by targeting the right search terms typically searched on by your prospective customers and building your domain authority to get you higher in the rankings and more visible to your interested customers.
In this blog, we explain the basics of SEO and why implementing it is so important for your business.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. In short, it is the practices you put in place to make sure users find you when completing searches on the likes of Google and Bing, using appropriate terms related to your business. For example, if you are a cosmetics company selling hair dye, you may want to appear in searches for standard terms such as “hair dye” as well as for any searches relating to dying your hair, like the Loreal example here:
Standard terms like ‘hair dye’ tend to the most competitive and are likely used by many companies promoting their products, which can make it harder to get your content to rank highly in the result. It’s more appropriate to identify less competitive, longer-tail terms that cater more for the question that the user is asking – such as the ‘how can I dye my hair pink’ example above, which is more likely to achieve a better rank. An effective SEO strategy should incorporate both types of terms and you can then monitor the performance and adjust your keywords over time in accordance with what is working best.
A ‘result’ on Google could link to any of your webpages, blog or social content or even some content about you posted on a site that isn’t your own. Due to this, SEO should encompass all of your digital channels, including website, blog, PR and social media. By optimising for search across all of these channels, you will be able to target more keywords (thereby driving more traffic), as well as increase your presence across the results pages.
It is also notable that, when you complete a search, there are often pages and pages of results. So, SEO isn’t so much about just getting onto the search engine – it’s about ranking as highly as you can for those searches. Around 75% of people never go past the first page of results on Google, so it is essential to make sure your business appears on page one and as high up the page as possible. Implementation of effective SEO coupled with a good content plan will help to build your domain authority and allow this to improve.
There are many strands to SEO. Google’s algorithm is complex and subject to many updates, and only Google knows everything that contributes to search engine ranking (there are over 200 contributing factors, after all!). However, experts have identified the most important techniques that will boost your efforts and increase your presence on Google. These include:
- Undertake keyword research and search listening to help you identify and target those key terms relevant to your customers’ searches and making sure they are featured in appropriate places across your digital content.
- Make sure that your website is crawlable by Google and provides a user-friendly, mobile-optimised experience.
- Including appropriate Index links for your website content to show the structure hierarchy and make it easier to navigate.
- Reaching out to relevant third-party websites and finding ways to get them to link back to your site (through guest-posting, digital PR, etc.), to build your domain authority.
- Make sure images on your website have the appropriate meta-tags (such as alt-text and well-chosen file names).
- Making sure content on your website is structured well, using meta-tags such as H1 and H2 headings, short URLs and meta-descriptions.
These are just some of the actions you should take to improve SEO – we’ll cover off some more simple steps later to assist your strategy. While they may sound complicated, most of these are easily incorporated into your existing efforts and will become second nature.
Why is SEO so important?
The reason that SEO is emphasised so much by marketeers is that it is a relatively low-effort, low-cost tool that can yield the most significant results for your business. It’s why 61% of marketers say their top priority is boosting their SEO. We’ve listed some of the top reasons why SEO is such a big deal.
It drives traffic to your business
Online traffic is the equivalent to footfall in a shopping centre. As we’ve already mentioned, SEO yields big rewards. Organic search accounts for 95% of all web traffic, with the first position result on Google having a huge click-through rate of 35% on mobile. So, if you’re able to capture that top ranking, you will enjoy increased traffic to your business and your content, where a prospect can progress with their buyer journey and make a decision or purchase.
SEO also boasts better results than other marketing tools, delivering ten times the traffic of social media and 20 times the opportunity than PPC, marking it as a highly useful tool. This also means that, when used in tandem with your existing tools like PPC and social media, you will benefit from better metrics and increased ROI.
Due to the omnipresence of search, it has the ability to impact all of your sales and marketing KPIs. It’s a number’s game. Higher website traffic means better metrics for page views and unique users. The power of SEO in directing interested customers to your website – by offering them content that answers their queries – means you’re well placed to enjoy better conversion rates, lower bounce rates, longer session times and enhanced customer satisfaction.
It’s an essential part of the buyer journey
Research shows that 68% of customer/buyer journeys begin with a question typed into a search engine – and this includes your existing customers too. By making sure you are present in the right places when a customer is ‘searching’, you can help them to make that step from search engine or other online platform, to your business website, where you have a captive audience to convert.
Search now fills a vital role in every stage of the buyer journey, from awareness to decision. You just need to identify the right keywords and content to target at each stage. Check out the example below:
- Stage 1: Awareness. The user is looking for general knowledge on a topic or finding an answer to a specific question, e.g. “how to paint a wooden fence”
- Stage 2: Consideration. The user is looking for more information before committing to a purchase, e.g. “what is the best waterproof paint”
- Stage 3: Decision. The user wants to make their purchase, e.g. “Ronseal fence paint” and it’s at this stage they will look for ‘incentives’ such as offers, to aid their purchase decision.
You need to make sure that your website is ‘visible’ at every stage of the buyer journey. You can achieve this by targeting the right search terms with ‘accurate’ and ‘relevant’ content, that will help guide the user through the buyer journey, with the ultimate aim of converting them from ‘window shopper’ to paying customer.
It delivers qualified customers
The nature of SEO is that it delivers relevant results to customers when they are looking for them. Google will account for relevancy in its algorithm to make sure it is providing the best results, looking at what the user has searched for, as well as factors like geographical location and previous search history.
The outcome of this is that the customers coming across your business on search will already have an interest in what you are offering. You aren’t disrupting them with marketing – you’re answering the question they are asking. As a result, SEO has a conversion rate of 14.6%. That’s really high in marketing terms and not to be ignored!
If you are able to make it onto that all-important first-page position on Google, you’ll be attracting qualified leads – as long as you have optimised the right keywords and are providing valuable content that encourages visitors to convert.
It increases brand awareness and trust
As we’ve already mentioned, there are a vast number of searches every day. This means Google benefits from a lot of users. If you are able to get your brand out in front of just a small proportion of those users, you will be unlocking access to a potentially massive new audience.
Getting a good spot on results pages means providing users with valuable content. Doing this consistently means searchers will begin to become familiar with your name and trust you as a knowledgeable authority on the topics you are targeting. This is crucial as part of your reputation building strategy.
Effective SEO will ensure your content gets seen, as well as your site as a whole. While a customer may click-through from Google to a specific page or blog post, there’s nothing to stop them clicking through the rest of your site if it interests them – providing you have the right navigation and horizontal linking in place.
It gives you the edge over competitors
Although SEO has grown in popularity over the last decade, a massive 90.63% of web pages get no traffic from organic search. This means that if you implement an effective strategy that gets your content to that first results page, you’re already winning – particularly if your competitors aren’t paying enough attention to SEO.
The aim of SEO is to try to get your website featured as highly as possible for any relevant searches. It may be the case that your competitors are going after the same search terms as you, but if you can outrank them, you will receive the lion’s share of traffic and leads. As a result, you enjoy better results and more sales.
Due to this, competitor benchmarking should be part of your strategy to identify the keywords your competitors are targeting and make sure you are ranking above them.
Simple steps to boost your SEO today
There is no denying the rewards SEO offers businesses who do it right. However, this doesn’t mean an SEO strategy needs to be complicated or excessive. There are simple measures that you can undertake today to give your search efforts a boost.
Understand the language your customers are speaking
As SEO is focused on optimising results based on what users are searching for, it is vital to understand what phrases and terminology potential customers could be searching on, that relate to your business. This includes the exact words they are using as well as the tone in which they are searching – for example, are they asking questions? Are they speaking in the first person?
This is where search listening comes in. Search listening is research you carry out to find out the keywords people are searching around specific topics, analysing user patterns and search behaviour. There are many tools available for this, including paid options like SEMrush and free alternatives like Google Trends and Answer The Public.
Make a list of keywords you think might be relevant to your business and input them into your chosen tool to find out how many people are searching for these – and potential other phrases that could work. An alternative way to do this is to carry out a search on Google and scroll to the bottom to see related searches – these could indicate what other phrases people are using on the same topic.
It is important to remember that popular search terms may change in line with seasonality, trending topics and other contextual factors. Our blog about COVID-19 and search behaviour is a great example of this. So, consider this in your research and be sure to track search behaviour over time to make sure you are consistently optimised.
Once you have identified the key terms you want to target, make sure to include these terms organically across your digital content so Google can determine what you’re about and drive the right results to searchers.
Focus on providing valuable content
With SEO, it is not enough to just include your target keyword in your content a ‘few’ times. Google’s algorithm is focused on providing users with relevant, quality results that fit their needs. So, you need to make sure you are offering value with your content. That means creating context and perspective.
To do this, you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and consider what it is they want to know about the topic/product you are covering, and in understanding the challenges they face – otherwise known as their ‘pain points’. You will be fulfilling their requirements, by answering their possible questions and providing additional insight which will leave them feeling ‘informed’ and ultimately satisfied that they clicked on you in the search ranking. It’s also worth looking at competitor results for your target terms and seeking ways you can ‘beat’ their content with really good, accurate and inspirational content and insight.
Other elements to include here are making sure the user experience is intuitive, seamless and memorable (for the right reasons). A user experience is defined as the ‘physical’ and ‘emotional’ experience that the user undergoes as they click and move through different brand touch points such as website, blog, social media, online shop, during their buyer journey. Make sure your site is mobile-optimised and easy to use while adding in additional features like imagery, video and interactive elements to make their time on your site more exciting. Try and ensure seamless and continuous connections between your touch points using horizontal links and CTAs (calls to action). This ‘pathway’ should not allow for breakage points where there is a risk that the user will move away from your brand or get bored. This can sometimes happen if there is a dead end in the content – i.e no suitable onward call to action to take them to the next stage, or horizontal link to provide more detailed information or clarification. It can also happen when the content is deemed to be ‘not relevant’ to the user’s search. In such cases, this is typically when a breakage in the journey will occur – otherwise known in SEO terms as a ‘drop-off’.
The better ‘value’ that your content provides the user, the more likely Google is to rank you highly, (as well as keeping your user ‘engaged’) which will increase your domain authority and make it easier to rank in the future. It’s a win-win!
Perform an SEO audit
If you are new to SEO, the likelihood is your existing content will not be optimised. Once you have understood and begun to incorporate your new SEO strategy, it will therefore be essential to go back through your older content and see what has the potential to be repurposed. You will need to look at ways to optimise it for a stronger search ranking, and in meeting the informational and emotive needs of your prospective customer.
First, identify keywords relevant to your existing content and edit the piece to optimise these. Make sure that you are providing relevant information that is factual, interesting and provides the necessary context that your prospect will benefit from.
Secondly, make sure you have the appropriate meta-data in place, such as images with alt-text, headings and meta-descriptions, as well as a simple and short URL.
Finally, check any existing search rankings relating to your business, to identify the content that is performing well or not so well. You can then determine what actions you need to take. There are tools available to help with this, or you can spend time searching on Google to see where you appear. It’s worth noting that once you make changes, it may take months for Google to crawl and re-index the page, so don’t expect to rank on page one instantly. Be patient and allow for several weeks.
An audit should be performed at regular intervals in line with your SEO efforts, so you can monitor performance closely, and proactively implement changes as necessary to maintain or improve your position.
Typically, search rankings do change over time, especially as search behaviour and patterns change, and other similar competitive websites update and refresh their content. These factors further support the need for regular audits and monitoring and will keep you alert and responsive in this competitive environment.
Set up a Google My Business (GMB) account
Google has a host of features that will help you to be seen quickly and cheaply. The most prominent of these is Google My Business. With GMB, you input information about your business – such as opening hours, contact details, website, location – which helps customers find you. This will give you a GMB listing at no cost.
This is particularly important if you are a local enterprise, as it will help people to find you based on ‘their’ location. So, if a customer is searching something like “bakery near me” and you’re a bakery in their area, you will appear. Bingo!
As well as assisting with SEO, this will help you to engage your customers by making it easy for them to contact you or find out more when they need to.
Consider paid SEO
Although not as low-cost as organic SEO, paid SEO can be a great way to get quick results via search. This is a particularly useful tool if you are at the early stages of your organic SEO journey and waiting for your site to be listed and ranked. A process that can take several weeks. Paid search comes in the form of Google Ads, which appear at the top of the search results pages for the relevant keywords you choose to target.
You can set up a paid search campaign via Google Adwords, where you are able to determine the best keywords to use and drive traffic to a link of your choice. You can even create ads for specific products you may be selling.
The benefits of paid search are that the results are instant. However, targeting the right keywords is vital to getting qualified leads, and there is a lot of competition out there – so you need to make sure your ad is optimised and relevant to give yourself the best shot of being seen. You will also need to be prepared to spend some money.
SEO is an unwieldy beast, yet it has become the most important element of digital marketing. While it covers an extensive range of activities, some of which can be highly technical, SEO at its most basic level is easy to understand and incorporate. The key is to make sure it underpins all your marketing efforts, from blogging to PR, so that you enjoy a fully optimised and customer-targeted strategy at every point.
The results for doing so are astronomical. By ensuring your business is seen in all the right places, you’ll get more qualified leads, higher website traffic, increased brand awareness and better control of the buyer journey. In time this will translate into higher conversion rates, sales and profit growth, and a measurable ROI.
So, what are you waiting for? Start implementing SEO today and watch as your metrics rise.