Where art meets science; the perfect marriage
(The following is a guest post by Ben McKay)
The Industry Mindset
I sometimes think that search engine optimisation is much too often approached with the wrong kind of mindset almost a tick-box exercise, and one that limits opportunities for the success of great websites. This brain cramp has important ramifications for the perceived professionalism of the SEO industry, but unfortunately it's not one that cannot be tackled with ease.
In this meandering rant, I am going to address why this might be the case and (over) optimistically provide you with a way out!
The reason I ask whether traditional marketing has been forgotten in SEO, is that so much of what we do as SEOs can and should be backed-up by the reasoning 'this will draw the right kind of visitors at the right time with the right intent'. I believe that with market research, planning, implementation, creative flare, and an ongoing feedback loop of course, you can do just that the same way you attempt to carry-out more traditional marketing campaigns.
Traditional Marketers have a NIGHTMARE measuring ROI
Previous generations of marketers were limited regarding the availability of information at their disposal, trying to justify advertising budgets when measuring the return on that nightmare investment was not my favoured task!
The adage: 'Youve got to spend money to make money' - Could have been more honest in saying: 'Youve got to risk losing money to possibly make money'. -- Now that we have a chance to operate as marketers online, with all the tools and information at our disposal, should we not take advantage of this?
The Make-up of the SEO Industry's inhabitants
I don't know of many industries where there is such a convergence of so many types of skill-sets that come under one role.
Just think about it, typical career backgrounds include:
- Site-owners / Webmasters who include SEO as just one of their roles
- Marketers who see the potential of SEO
- IT professionals / Web developers who convert to SEOs
- And others such as public relations folks etc
With that in mind we are naturally going to be reading about, and writing about, search engine optimisation from many perspectives. This is not a bad thing, but does create a bit of a contest over the definition and direction of the field...
If the definition of an SEO was:
The creative flare and scientific research, testing, planning and implementation of on and off-site management to organically market websites to search engines and targeted users
...then we would have something to work to. But as things stand, we have far too many lists defining what to do as an SEO (often conflicting) this is neither good science nor marketing.
Where the confusion lies...
Because the SEO industry doesn't have a clear-cut foundation, defining in essence 'what it is', we seem to confuse ourselves on where we focus our attention.
It makes blindingly good sense to simply converge the skill-sets of those 3 specialities of SEOs by making marketing decisions (with flare of course) inclusive of great scientific justification; where site management is the foundation for such activity.
My Ambitious Sentiment and Suggestion to the SEO industry
Take this with a pinch of salt, I'm relatively new what I recently coined as a '2nd generation SEO' - but regardless, here's my opinion...
SEO Science Class with a Marketing Focus
There has been some SEO superstars promoting the scientific merits, applications, testing and measurements that are required from a SEO specialist, beyond just being able to list X ranking factors...and that is massively important. Without them we are a 'stab-in-the-dark' industry, and one that is destined to lose trust.
This has been acknowledged to a great degree in various SEO Science resources and of course my host (that Gypsy bloke) whos been pushing for this cause for many moons now. I don't think he will mind if we add a degree of marketing focus with these scientific aspirations of SEOs. Search optimization is, after-all, marketing, or as I recently stated in another guest post, SEO is branding.
Understanding Web Users for Marketing
I kind of think of the SEO joys (and even the perils) as a marketers dream. I previously worked in more traditional marketing roles, and was impressively dissatisfied with efforts to envelop simple scientific principles to research, measure, predict and respond accurately to the data. There were simply too many variables.
For instance, in my first marketing role, we carried out a little research project trying to discover which marketing channels worked most successfully. I asked the sales team to find out where prospective customers had heard of the company that prompted their call (a simple question I thought)...it quite obviously led to the answer 'the brochure'...but how did they come-to ordering a brochure?
Taking this example, you could see from your Analytics where your visitors have been referred from, or using slightly more advanced URL referral techniques you can get an understanding of referrals in more detail.
Solution: Lessons from Traditional Marketing
You can pick-up just about any marketing models and principles and work with them to help build direction and focus into your SEO work.
I picked out Ansoff's Product / Market Growth Matrix as an example on a strategic level, but there are day-to-day analytical examples too, as seen below. Let's take a look:
Traditionally, marketers would have 4 main strategic options that they would use to focus their marketing budgets and attention, and of course grow their business. Here are how these four strategies translate to modern-day SEO and search marketing in general:
1. Market Penetration: This effectively means that you market your products/services to the same market you currently operate in.
Effectively to SEOs, this means that you might be repositioning your brand and reworking content depending on seasonal / market trends, but targeting the same market with the same proposition.
On a day-to-day basis this still means you will need a close understanding of who maintains the shape of the market, who are the influencers / early adopters, how different segments of the market uses the internet and your website, the language that they use beyond just keywords,
2. Market Development: Here we market our existing products to a new market.
This might mean that your websites' proposition essentially stays the same but expands into new markets, presenting this information to new customers.
SEOs will see the importance of this straight away I hope.
Entering new markets literally means entering a new online neighbourhood...TouchGraph gives a vague overview of the community you are currently part of, in more depth, so too does your link profile, but entering a new market obviously means Entering a new market is easier than starting a new website as you have a pre-established website to be working with; one that is aged, that holds authority and has some presence that can be used as leverage.
On the other hand, SEOs need to be careful to not dilute websites communications to both search engines and users in trying to enter a new online neighbourhood.
3. Product Development: In this instance we are marketing a new product to our existing users.
In many instances this is my favourite project in strategic search marketing. Here SEOs can enjoy the benefits of expanding an already established website to incrementally provide new services / products to the same market. It also means that SEOs and social media guys have people that might help them promote the products on their behalf. For instance how many people went on to Twitter to chat about SEOBooks SEO Toolbar or bookmarked it on Delicious? How else can your website users be encouraged to pick-up your content and take it with them of the site? Social media seems to be one example.
4. Diversification: This essentially involves entering a new market with a new product/service offering.
For an SEO, this might mean building a strategic plan around the launch of new website. This could include designing and developing a new website, keyword research, market analysis, link-building plan, pre-launch PR, etc.
It's the clarity in knowing exactly what you want to achieve at a strategic level, that can provide clarity on a day-to-day level...in my opinion, it's why looking at traditional marketing models and principles can still add value they force us to think about how our efforts are being directed. On a more day-to-day level we can still see traditional marketing concepts being valuable too.
Traditional Marketing meets Day-to-Day SEO
Here are some ideas on how traditional marketing ideas might translate into day-to-day search engine optimization activities:
- Identify Prospects via deep keyword research beyond keyword tools and immersing yourself in that niche's online community, language and character.
- Sell your products to those visitors by ensuring they arrive at the correct landing page for their search query and their intent.
- Measure the response of other (online) marketing efforts such as PPC or banner ads what can you learn from this for SEO?
- Visitor loyalty although analytics programs may not be totally accurate, they can give you a good guide of who is returning and what they're returning in order to expand key services / products.
- In the same way marketers have famously floundered with 'scientific' panel testing, how about taking advantage of multivariate / split-testing with Google's Website Optimiser? This could ultimately improve conversion rates by scientifically knowing which option works most effectively.
- Define your market: find your ideal neighbourhood and work to build a respectable presence in that area via social media, conversations and link-building profiles to be proud of.
- Build and analyse your database to get to know your users knowing your customers helps you to target them appropriately in the right places.
- Who are your ideal customers? By setting visitor tracking and goals, you can see which keywords are most converting, and where are those visitors are arriving from...
- Talk to your ideal visitors / customers (those that keep on buying without hassle). They are the most likely to be happy to provide positive feedback to something that they find value in they might suggest a great tool / service / item of linkbait).
- How do people use your product (or website) click-path analysis tells you a great deal about what sort of information people are interested in along with the prompts that they respond to.
- Increase customer value - dazzle / surprise visitors and customers in a way that they will want to share across their networks via growing social media channels. Send them away with a reason to share something about your company / website.
- There are a stack of other examples too...please feel free to share...
You could also play the same 'match-the-traditional-marketing-model-up-to-thearea-of-SEO-game' too with AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action used for landing page multivariate conversion-rate design and testing) or the 7 P's (just think how helpful this could be for planning the perfect link-building campaign?).
The general essence is that marketing scientifically online provides a great deal of understanding and direction. SEO needn't be a fluffy or vague topic in any way it can and should be pinned down as a marketers paradise!
Really, I'm not kidding...online marketing works.
We shouldnt delude ourselves that all the answers lay within academic marketing principles, which we all know can be pretty lousy in the manic world of 21st century business. But what academia can do is help create a framework that ensures you consider the opportunities that lie ahead; not preconceived notions.
A more fulfilling and professional online presence could be found from thinking along structured lines both in the way you operate with clients and also the way you achieve your SEO goals.
And of course, if you think I'm way of the mark, feel free to share your thoughts I wouldn't expect anything less! ;)
About our guest rider - Ben McKay
Ben McKay, has been in marketing since 2001, in various online and offline campaign management roles. Throughout recent years he has made a more permanent move into search marketing, working in-house and on a consulting basis for clients of Web Design from Scratch, bourn design and greensplash. -- Mad love and props to Ben for riding along today - I hope you all enjoyed his post as much as I did (tho I am more on the science side dontcha know)