Thanks to their utilisation of machine learning, Google is getting scarily good at providing exactly what searchers want. Context (season, location and so on) and user intent (to buy, learn or explore) are all accounted for by Google’s RankBrain, a component of their 2015 Hummingbird algorithm update. And most would agree that the experience of searching on Google has, generally speaking, improved accordingly.
Relevance has always been one of Google’s watchwords, and in my opinion, they’re nailing it with ever-increasing frequency. RankBrain represents a huge milestone in Google’s long-running quest to remove the guesswork and assess web pages as a human would.
Google realised in its early days that quality of links was much more important than quantity, so they developed something called PageRank, which apportioned a ‘score’ to inbound links. Eventually, due to their over-exploitation, links from link farms and forums were deemed meaningless.
Even before the Hummingbird update, Google had started to look at how users interacted with content – by way of such metrics as bounce rate, time on site, etc. – rather than just the content itself, rewarding sites that people spent time on (i.e. engaged with) and downgrading ones that people bounced out of.
Long gone are the days when 500 words of badly written, keyphrase-filled text accompanied by some strategically labelled media would cut the mustard. Around 10 years ago that sort of content was everywhere. And why wouldn’t it be, with SEOs having figured out that 5% keyword density was, essentially, what Google wanted?
“To hell with quality, get someone from overseas to write the text for 2 pence a word. No one reads text on websites anyway. Just make sure 1 in every 20 words is the keyphrase!” Seriously, I went to SEO seminars around 10 years ago and heard this kind of thing being dished out on numerous occasions by SEOs. And legacies of the approach still linger in dark corners of the internet – there’s still cheap Croydon locksmiths offering their Croydon locksmith services 24/7 throughout the Croydon area if you’re in the Croydon or South London area and need a South London locksmith!
But thankfully things have changed. Content is king. We make websites for humans, not spiders. If you want to create new market presence and generate interest, don’t neglect inbound marketing till after your programme of outbound marketing is established. Get an inbound SEO strategy up and running from the word go.
And while I believe it’s true that if you have amazing content it’s possible to rank amazingly well on google without doing any SEO whatsoever, there’s still many, many things you need to consider if you want to maximise your inbound marketing and organic search impact to create valuable new leads. Some of them, arguably, are common sense, while others are less obvious. Here’s a few to mull over…
1. Make your site (http) secure
The little ‘s’ at the end of the obligatory http that precedes all web addresses tells users that a site is secure; that an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate is in place, ensuring that any information they choose to submit is encrypted. Google favours sites with SSL (for obvious reasons) and what’s more, non-secure sites are flagged up as such by website browsers, which it’s safe to say erodes user confidence and increases bounce rate.
I’ve installed SSL certificates on several websites in recent years and rankings have always improved afterwards. If you don’t have SSL in place, make it a priority. It’s usually quite a simple procedure that your hosting support will be able to assist with (for me personally, tending to work mostly with WordPress, the Really Simple SSL plugin has been invaluable). A big plus with the Squarespace CMS, if that’s your platform, is that SSL’s included as standard and simply needs activating.
If you do have to purchase an SSL certificate, expect to pay up to £50 for standard SSL and quite a bit more for a level of protection suitable for e-commerce.
2. Make sure your site is hard to leave
In the summer of 2018, the closure of just over half of House of Fraser’s 59 department stores was in the news, and something I found interesting about the story was that it was the older stores, with their stairs & escalators at the edge of the building - by the exit - that had been forced to close, whereas the newer stores, with escalators in the middle of the building, were more profitable and therefore able to stay open.
The central escalators kept customers in the store longer, meaning they were more likely to purchase - and not necessarily what they came in for! The same principle applies to websites…
Let’s say one of your users has arrived at a page that isn’t giving them what they were hoping for. But just as they’re about to leave, bang, you hit them with some eye-catching encouragement to explore other pages. Whether you upsell, cross-sell, down sell or offer something for free is up to you. I’d suggest offering as many alternatives to leaving in as many places on the page as possible (without compromising site design to the point that it induces vomiting!) And even if this detour doesn’t lead to a conversion, the extra time they spend on your site will earn engagement/UX points with Google.
A ploy used on e-commerce sites is to prominently display ‘similar’ and ‘previously viewed’ products. Editorial and blogging sites meanwhile display links to related and popular content. But in other sectors there’s quite often a lack of effort in keeping people ‘on-site’, with potential leads surely being lost as a result.
3. Use SEO in conjunction with outbound demand generation
At first this might seem counter intuitive. The purpose of demand generation is, after all, to create new markets and/or generate interest in new products or solutions, which people wouldn’t necessarily be searching for.
But if you wait until your demand generation has taken effect before beginning your SEO, you’ve already missed the boat and might find your competitors (damned vultures!) cashing in on your hard work, which would be criminal (and a little bit heart-breaking), considering that it was you who drove the demand in the first place!
Some time ago I worked for an online surf & leisure retailer that sold surfboards and other hardware. In terms of digital presence, I’m proud to say we went toe-to-toe with companies much bigger than ourselves. And this was partly due to a ‘get in there early’ SEO strategy.
A solid rapport with our suppliers and manufacturers enabled us to find out about and in turn, write blog posts about products that were right at the beginning of their lifecycle (e.g. surfboards that were but a twinkle in their designer’s eye); products that no one had ever heard of, but products that just might become the next big thing.
The subsequent demand generation would kick in (largely done for us by the manufacturers, with their social media, video channels and demo tours) and guess what, we’d be in the top 1-3 SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) nearly every time - and sometimes above even the manufacturer’s corresponding product page for a period of time - due to the fact that we’d let the world know about their product before they had! And if you’re consistently the source that breaks the news, so to speak, Google will view you as an authority, which is what successful SEO is all about.
4. Tune up your content – make your site as fast as possible
In our age of instant gratification, if your website takes more than 3 seconds to load you’ve lost nearly half your potential traffic. And the ones that do stick around are already getting pi**ed off with you!
There’s plenty of websites that will carry out performance tests on your site for free (WebPageTest is as good as any) and provide handy reports that show you where you’re going right or wrong. Here’s the main areas in which you’ll likely find room for improvement:
Hosting: Is it time to upgrade from shared hosting? Or experiment with a different host?
Images: Have you optimised your images? Looked into next-gen file formats such as WebP, Jpeg 2000 and Jpeg-XR? What about using SVG files for flat artwork - instead of other, more byte heavy formats? Are you serving appropriate images in relation to screen size/resolution?
CDNs: If you’re not doing so already, enlisting the services of a Content Delivery Network such as CloudFlare is highly advisable. In a nutshell they cache your site on servers based in different locations around the world, assisting your host with the delivery of your website files. For me they’ve been a revelation, increasing page load times on average by around 25%. For smaller sites CDNs are generally a free service, with cost-per-bandwidth charges applicable for larger sites.
So relevant content – giving your prospects and customers what they’re interested in to make their lives easier and better – is absolutely key for successful, especially sustainable, market entry. However good the content though, SEO can make the difference between your proposition being found on Pages 1 or 2 and….being found on Pages 9 or 10 of a search. So don’t let all that great, heart-felt, content investment go to waste and make sure you integrate SEO with your demand generation strategy!
How Fire NBM can assist you with prospect and account based marketing:
BRAND INSIGHT, POSITIONING AND PROPOSITION DEVELOPMENT
Our experienced researchers conduct brand perception surveys, insight programmes and phone interviews for businesses to discover what challenges their prospects and existing clients face, what they are looking for in service and product providers and how they make their buying decisions. Our strategic marketers and creatives then bring this to life!
DEMAND GENERATION RESOURCING Fire NBM works with companies to develop B2B prospect personas, content marketing strategies, brand propositions, campaigns and creative execution. We assist clients to optimise the best mix of outbound and inbound techniques to drive new business growth with specialist marketing resourcing. Our social media specialists ensure messaging and content works well across all digital media, with our our content team including qualified journalists.
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