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What is SEO in marketing? And why it's more relevant in 2020

Maybe SEO was once a mysterious field, where no one but industry professionals knew exactly what went on, but no longer. In this day and age, every business needs to be informed and prioritizing SEO to truly thrive.

Oversimplified, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the fine-tuning of sites and pages with content and links to allow for visibility and clickability on search engine pages. But good SEO practitioners know that it’s so much more than that.

SEO marketing should be user-focused: a means of getting relevant content in front of interested people.

While most other marketing channels’ usefulness varies based on industry, it's rare indeed to find a business that wouldn’t benefit from including SEO as a key piece of their marketing strategy.

We’ve created this guide to help you understand how SEO functions in a business and how it can help drive traffic from Google to your pages and raise the bottom line of your own business.

So, how does SEO function in a business setting?

Well, first off, organic search accounts for more than half of all web traffic out there. Think of the last time you had a question about something-- chances are, you Googled it. And you’re not alone.

There are a lot of people using search engines to find the information they need online every single day, billions, in fact, but there are also a lot of sites trying to get in front of those users.

SEO in marketing is the strategy a business builds to make sure their content reaches the searchers to whom it will be most helpful and relevant.

Unlike some channels, Search Engine Optimization has the benefit of being able to meet these searches wherever they are in the marketing funnel. One big misconception about SEO is that it only focuses on top-of-funnel content, when a good SEO marketing strategy should meet the customer wherever they are in their journey.

Users often don’t follow the nice proportional funnel we’re used to talking about. Have you heard the old marketing adage that it takes encountering your brand about seven times in order to convert? The idea might be outdated, but the process of repetition certainly isn’t.

Think of your own behavior. When you made your last big purchase did you visit several different sites in your search for the most fairly priced, best quality option? Did you phrase your searches differently when you were in different stages of the funnel? Most likely your answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Most users, like you, consume what they want when they want. Their conversion journeys aren’t a straight line.

So, when they are ready to jump into research mode, for consideration or even decision stage content, you’d better hope you have pages that rank for those terms.

 

How can business leaders make SEO in marketing a priority?

It’s unfortunately common to put SEO strategy in a low-priority position. Businesses might have gotten away with this ten years ago, even five years ago, but today it just won’t fly. The remarkable visibility and conversion rates possible through organic search can no longer be ignored.

Here are a few things your business can do to make SEO in marketing a higher priority today:

Make the choice

The first thing you can do to make SEO a priority is to decide to make it a priority. Seems simple enough, right? But it’s easier said than done. With that decision must come a commitment to see that the correct prioritization actually happens.

Vivint Solar built an enterprise by knocking doors across the US. And while they were knocking, their smaller competitors were beefing up their digital arm. Vivint Solar was losing potential customers to much smaller competitors who had a larger presence online. After recognizing the incredible potential for reaching new customers by taking advantage of high search engine traffic (specifically Google) with non-branded searches, they made the choice to prioritize SEO in marketing and began seeing immediate gains, including 6.6X increase in non-branded organic traffic.

 

Drive conversions

It’s always important to have metrics, but if you aren’t choosing the right metrics to focus on, you might be overlooking significant results.

There is a mindset among marketing leaders that the proper metrics to use in measuring SEO are things like search engine traffic, links, and ranking. While there’s no question that these metrics are useful and important, you also need to track SEO in marketing with metrics like conversions and revenue that directly contribute to the bottom line and drive the business forward.

The belief that SEO can’t be measured by conversions is a misconception that needs to change.

Business and marketing leaders should push to keep SEOs accountable, and if that isn’t happening then SEOs should push for accountability. If the correct metrics aren’t tracked, SEOs won’t get the credit they deserve, or receive the resources they need to earn success.

 

Invest resources

In order to invest your resources efficiently, you need to know where you can make the greatest impact. That knowledge will allow you to allocate resources in a smart and successful way.

Work with the SEO specialists in your company to determine your baselines on links, content, ranking keywords, etc. and where you’re falling short of meeting your goals. Then form a strategy to tackle the places where you find your company is lacking. With this strategy in place, you will be able to make budget and hiring/vendor decisions with confidence.

 

When to look for an agency

There’s many reasons to hire an agency, but perhaps none is more critical than this: you want accelerated and measurable growth that doesn’t tap out your internal team.

A common misconception that companies believe is that they don’t need an agency because they already have an in-house SEO. In reality, the best clients are already doing a great job at SEO marketing, but are finding that one person (or just a few people) can’t build a castle on their own.

 

Hiring an agency allows businesses to work with an entire team of SEO professionals without accruing the cost of hiring their own.

When vetting agencies be sure to ask them the following:

  • What is their team/department structure?
    • Be sure that their teams are structured collaboratively, and that different departments aren’t siloed from each other. This fosters a creative team that is in partnership with you and your goals, focused on the bigger picture rather than a single department.
  • Do they use/own any proprietary software or methods?
    • SEO agencies’ methods are their products. Find out what those methods are and whether or not their methods are right for you. Some agencies even have patented software that you can only find with them, which you’ll want to weigh in the balance as well.
  • How will they improve your backlink profile?
    • This is where you will learn a lot from them, if there’s a lot of stammering and work around language, this could be an indicator that their link-building is on the black-hat side. How an agency earns you links is a telling sign of how white hat the rest of their methods are. In SEO, cheap and easy do not translate to long-term results. There are no shortcuts to creating truly great results, and you’ll want to know that the agency you work with understands that too.
  • How are contracts put together?
    • You’ll want to be aware of how they structure their contracts before you sign. Also note the agency’s willingness to negotiate and their focus within the contract. Do they see themselves as part of your team? Are they promising something too good to be true? Pay attention to what goes into the contract as well as the negotiation experience.
  • Will success be determined on deliverables or results?
    • One thing to look at is whether the agency focuses on deliverables or results. Results should be valued higher than deliverables. Look instead at the specificity of both project and process deliverables. This means deciding cost and time commitments, as well as processes of accountability, reporting, and strategy.

 

What does a business-driven SEO strategy look like?

 

Know your customers

Many believe that SEO starts with keyword research. And true, keyword research is a foundational step, but before keyword research is effective, you’ll need audience insights. Marketing leaders and SEO need to know who they are trying to reach. This is where personas come in.

Collecting demographic and psychographic information is a great place to begin, but creating a concrete story for your personas is essential in getting to know who your ideal customers are and why they act the way they do.

Once you know who your customers are, you need to know where they are. Look at the assisted conversion funnel to see where your customers are landing, and analyze what you can do to elevate these pages better within the SERPs.

Now that you know who your customers are, and where they are, look at their unique needs and how your product/service solves those needs. Figure out how you can meet their needs online in a way that outshines anything your competitors currently offer.

Further optimize by examining your highest converting pages and determine how you can help those types of pages make it in front of more customers.

 

Search engines rank pages, not websites

It’s a common misconception that SEO work can rank an entire site. Of course, well-ranking pages will organically increase user access to the rest of your site, but it is pages that rank in SERPs, not sites.

Don’t forget this when formulating your keyword-driven content strategy. Be tactical when creating or optimizing pages by pairing them to the keywords that you want to rank for. Strive to know your target keywords (and their matching personas) like the back of your hand.

Optimize your site by keeping consistency between pages, easy internal navigation, and user-friendly design. When the internal flow of a site works well, customers will have a greater ease of conversion.

 

Build authority with links

Every seasoned SEO knows that link acquisition is a necessary part of any holistic SEO strategy. Many believe that link-building is only necessary for weak and non authoritative websites, but this is simply not true. I’ve worked with many large brands who erroneously believe that link-building don’t need to be included in the SEO strategy because they think that their reputation alone will carry their success. Remember what we learned above? Search engines rank pages, not entire sites. Great content, on powerful sites, may require a few extra links to get it off to a good start.

And not all links come from outside your site. Internal links are a valuable part of using your own authority to strengthen new or striking distance content. Make no mistake, link-building should be part of any SEO campaign.

 

Good data means good business

Frequent SEO reporting on metrics that affect the bottom line is critical. Metrics such as ranking and search engine traffic are important too, but also be sure you can track your SEO efforts directly to conversions and revenue.

Maximize your efforts by not isolating SEO in it’s own department. Without seamless interaction between content, web development, and other marketing channels, SEO won’t be as effective. The best SEO teams and agencies integrate their departments because it can influence so many disciplines.

SEO in marketing is a vital part of any business strategy. Because SEO is so important, especially in current times, businesses would do well to respect what SEO can do. It’s time to see marketing leaders fight for SEO resources, and align their SEO metrics to hold teams accountable for driving business success, not just traffic.

Joe Robledo

Joe is the VP of SEO at 97th Floor. He loves digging into the weeds of all realms of SEO. He has a strong passion for continual-improvement and efficiency in SEO and all other aspects of life. He loves being with his family and adventuring outdoors.

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