Every year, somebody proclaims that SEO is dead simply because Google has made some changes to its algorithm. But don’t worry, this post won’t be declaring that SEO is dead, dying, or even coughing up blood.
However, the days of SEO as a distinct, independent discipline are certainly numbered. SEO is fast evolving into a more creative, diverse, and challenging profession.
Over the last few years the changes to search algorithms and user behavior on the Internet have made “old” SEO almost redundant. It's even gotten to the stage where any so-called “SEO” who's still using the same techniques from 5 years ago will actually be doing more harm than good. These days, search engines and consumers want quality, engagement, and social proof.
The SEO landscape has changed, and the current shift can be defined by a single concept: integration.
Search Marketing Integration (SMI)
This is a term that we will start to hear a lot more in the world of search. As the search engines widen their gaze and perfect the techniques they use to measure content quality, brand sentiment and relevance, the optimization of a site for search will increasingly overlap with other marketing disciplines.
Over the next couple of years SMI will become a pre-requisite for a first-page listing on Google. SMI will revolutionize the entire organization's approach to sales, marketing, PR, branding and everything in between.
For an SMI practitioner, success will be tied to the ability to integrate SEO tactics across an organization's marketing department. Politics, leverage, and action will be equally as important as title tags, link building, and keyword themes.
Let's take a granular look at how SMI will impact the various areas of the marketing landscape:
New Ways to Search
Social search is in its infancy. Twitter’s integration into Google's results ended last year, and Google+ has since provided the antidote to that broken relationship. Just a couple of weeks ago Facebook also launched its own enhanced search engine. Things are evolving at an exciting rate.
I have no doubt that social-oriented search will continue to make headway. As a result, social signals will continue to exert influence on SERPs, and SEO techniques will have to be applied to social properties.
I also believe that social properties like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora will eat away at Google's market share ... or get bought up by Google itself. Imagine a search engine that incorporates the data from a platform like LinkedIn with the accuracy and scope of Google! Google… I hope you’re listening.
One key element in Google's Penguin update was the inclusion of an organization's brand reach as a factor in SERPs. This means that the greater your brand popularity, the higher the probability of achieving a first-page position. Therefore, an SEO must keep branding initiatives carefully aligned with an overall strategy.
Additionally, link building, which has historically been focused on individual product keyword phrases, must now include a healthy percentage of branded anchor text phrases to support branded traffic and incoming links. Savvy link builders will have strategies for building out natural link profiles with a sprinkle of brand, product, and SEO keyword links.
SMI, or “new SEO,” will lean very heavily on traditional PR channels. Over the last few years most print publications have been busy trying to find ways to win back their share of the digital market.
Due to the reputation and authority that they brought with them from the print world, many of these publications have quickly gained great authority online. Due to this authority, the relationship that brands and organizations have with these magazines and newspapers will have a significant effect on search visibility.
Press releases, interviews, and relationships with magazines are a big part of SMI. As more companies wake up to the integrated nature of the new SEO and recognize the link-building potential of traditional PR opportunities, their value will only increase.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
The relationship between organic search rankings and paid ads is one that’s been debated for years. Though no concrete evidence shows us exactly how paid ads impact a site’s organic listings, we have seen website’s organic traffic increase when paid ads are running.
One possible explanation for these findings is the reported relationship between display, video ads, and branded search queries. A 2010 report by ComScore suggests that display and video ads can increase brand-related search queries by up to 3 times!
While this may seem like evidence enough that your organic and paid campaigns should be closely integrated, there’s more. A recent Google study suggested there’s a strong relationship between ad click-through rates (CTR) and the presence of an organic listing on the first page of results. Put another way: If you have a high organic listing for a particular search term, your paid ad for that same term is going to get a much higher CTR than if you didn’t.
Lastly, the intelligence gained from running SEM campaigns should be directly applied to organic. This includes which keywords generate sales, which landing page techniques create conversions, and identifying which trends are important by testing new phrases and products.
Video is fast becoming one of the most influential factors in all aspects of digital marketing. Its influence now reaches deep into SEO territory.
One of the most influential search movements of the last few years has been the integration of different types of content directly into the SERPs. If Google sees it as relevant to a particular query, you’ll now see images and videos outranking the organic page listings and visually dominating the page.
This can be particularly useful if you’re targeting a long-tail query. If the query relates closely to a visual concept that could be better explained in a video than a blog post, you will almost certainly gain a better search position by producing a video.
A Forrester study from January 2010 showed that a webpage with a video on it was 53 times more likely to gain a page-one position in the SERPs. Additionally, 1 in 3 tech B2B decision-makers are turning to online video for information (Google). Viewers of videos are also 64 percent more likely to purchase after watching a product video. These figures show that search visibility and performance are directly improved by the integration of video and, as a result, video should be integrated into all digital campaigns.
Every industry, sector and niche has thought leaders to provide guidance, commentary and inspiration. Are you that person? If not, who on your team can fill this role?
If you are providing a service or product that delivers genuine value to those who buy it, you should have people within your organization who have a capacity for producing informative, persuasive content. This content is the backbone of any successful SMI campaign.
Your ability to create compelling content will govern the success or failure of your SEO, social and marketing automation (MA) campaigns. Without it, everything comes to a stop.
You should produce content that lives both on your own site and elsewhere on the web. Everything you produce should be of the highest possible standard and be shareable, search optimized and link worthy.
Don’t just stick to a blog. Create videos, white papers, eBooks and online presentations. Then syndicate all of this content through your social channels and use it as part of your MA campaigns to help prospects through the sales funnel.
The Social Web
I specifically saved “social” until last. The social web has changed the game completely. Your social strategy should impact all your marketing channels and campaigns. With search engines increasingly using social signals in their algorithms and measuring “brand sentiment” more accurately by the day, the SEO world can’t ignore the importance of a well-managed social presence.
Social media should be the lynchpin for all your marketing, sales and after-sales activities. It’s an area which has an impact on everything from top-of-the funnel lead generation to after-sales service and customer retention.
Social media directly impacts search visibility and provides a primary channel for distributing your invaluable content. This impact is also trackable beyond just visibility.
Facebook’s conversion tracking capabilities can be set up in under an hour. Google Analytics can display social conversions as well. If you want to get your head around how SMI should be working for your organization, start with social.
Over the last few years a number of different factors have changed the way the Internet works. Old marketing techniques are irrelevant.
There’s no reasonable argument against the fact that all your marketing efforts should be integrated into one single, agile, engaging strategy. The tough question is how you implement this. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.
No two organizations are the same. You might use external agencies, have numerous internal departments and ever-decreasing budgets that all form challenging obstacles. Each organizational situation is unique.
One thing is for sure: When it comes to adopting the SMI model, there’s no time like the present!