What is SEO?
Quite simply, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is about placing your website at the top of a Google search that incorporates your brand’s key terms. For example, Mercia wants to rank for the terms "EIS Fund". Thanks to good SEO, it's at the top of Google Page 1. Ultimately, people don’t look further than page one (i.e. the first 10 positions) in any search result and are far more likely to amend their search if they do not find what they are looking for. Think about it – who really delves deeper into the SERPS (or Search Engine Results Pages) to find what they want these days?
SEO and how we approach it has changed a lot in the last decade or so. 10 years’ ago, SEO was all about stuffing your content with keywords and gaining link acquisition. However, as Google’s algorithms became more intuitive, “spammy” links and over-optimisation of keywords became factors that would lead to penalties for your site, causing your rankings to suffer as a result.
These days, to assign a top 10 position, Google looks at over 150 different indicators, both on and off site. These could be anything from: the content on a page, the theming, the speed of page load times, imagery, titles, internal and external links and so on.
In a nutshell, modern SEO is all about intelligent content, clean, user-friendly sites and, now more than ever, semantic search.
Let’s start with some key facts:
- Over 2 billion searches are made every month in the UK on Google alone;
- Google searches are up 12% year on year in the UK;
- Organic search spend is growing faster than paid search;
- Only 6% of all searches end with a click on a “Pay Per Click” or “Sponsored” search result, whereas the remaining 94% will click on an organic result;
- Mobile and tablet search is soaring.
Google is also making more frequent updates to its algorithms; therefore companies have to be more aware of the changes as they occur. This is why SEO is now an essential part of any marketing budget or digital department’s activity.
For example, the term “car insurance” is searched for half a million times a month in the UK. This means that being “number one” for this search on Google could potentially accrue 200,000 clicks to a website. With this in mind, think about all of the other thousands of derivatives for that term. The potential traffic to the site is immense and unparalleled.
To be number one – or even in the top 10 – is therefore like gold dust only more valuable, as replicating that type of audience and potential sign-up to your brand in any other media would cost significant amounts of money.
Arguably, companies can increase their visibility through a Pay Per Click (PPC) advert but, as we have already seen, these do not guarantee audience interaction. What is more, replicating the potential click-through via a PPC advert in Google’s sponsored section would cost around £10 per click, with continued spend required to sustain long-term visibility. On the other hand, with SEO companies can (for the most part) gain long-term visibility with little expenditure, just as they could with a good piece of PR.
Entire businesses have gained success off of the back of their excellent search engine positions. Companies such as TravelSupermarket, ASOS and SkyScanner are renowned in the industry for being brilliantly placed in organic search, and thus are visible to a huge amount of new customers.
In the same measure, companies have lost share price due to ranking drops for major search terms in Google algorithm updates. In a report by The Financial Times, MoneySupermarket lost 15% of its share value due to losing dominant positions for insurance terms.
The future of SEO will almost certainly be based around user behaviour evolution and how search engines, companies and brands respond to that. These behavioural changes could be an increased use of mobile platforms, which already boast 30% of all searches for some industries. Google itself has responded to this increase in mobile usage by rewarding sites that have rich mobile content.
Google is also increasing localisation and personalisation signals, meaning there are more first positions to be held, depending on where you are searching from, and by which device.
However, the key to high visibility with search terms will always revolve around high quality content. Content marketing therefore remains a major investment for many leading, innovative companies. The better the content, the more likely the content is to be visible and, potentially, viral. More appealing content will also aid the brand image and engage the brand audience, which these days is more likely to lead to a sale. It will also increase social media followers, encourage more links to the site, and propel the business to the top echelons of Google’s SERPS. As the old saying goes: “Content is King”.
As a result, analysts such as e-marketers are suggesting that content marketing, which aims to offer customers a deeper relationship with brands to boost loyalty and sales, will be the major trend in the UK this year. However, this content creation needs to be properly monitored, with a clear understanding of the impact on performance and voice share within the marketplace. Furthermore, and perhaps more challenging, is the need to asses Return on Investment (ROI) on all of this expenditure.
This is where data and tracking software steps in.
Marketing and monitoring
Econsultancy suggests that 92% of businesses will increase their expenditure on natural search in the UK over the next 12 months, with the industry already realising year on year growth for over 10 years. Furthermore, Econsultancy states that 38% of businesses spend over £25,000 a year on natural search. 15% spend over 100,000, whilst 2% spend over £1 million.
Companies need to know where their websites, and those of their competitors, are positioned in search results, in order to obtain new traffic and make sales, all whilst staying one step ahead of the rest.
SEO programmes are now too large to operate manually, but digital teams need data intelligence to coordinate their activities, save on cost, increase efficiency and meet targets. The most important data intelligence combines PPC, social media and content marketing, giving different teams the tools they need to collaborate on and coordinate their activities towards achievable goals.
With this competitive edge, brands can focus on creating their engaging content, whilst knowing where and with whom this content is being interacted. This is why the future of SEO, and of any successful marketing strategy, will come hand in hand with new technologies, software and big data platforms and analytics.