The number of blogs which bear the title ‘SEO is dead’ before the content goes on to reimagine the idea, or add their own personal spin to it – rendering the title ‘humorously’ ironic – must now be reaching into the low thousands. Despite this death by a thousand blogs, however, organic search is alive and well and constantly evolving
SEO Uncovered: An Advanced Guide to Organic Search (SEO)
Just as eCommerce has evolved since Jeff Bezos changed the way the world shopped with Amazon, and Google has developed since its 1998 launch, so too is organic search changing and growing to reflect the digital landscape in which it lives.
Though at organic search marketing’s inception SEO agencies sought to game early search algorithms by taking advantage of their weak spots – with keyword stuffing and link farming representing much of the industry’s early work – successive algorithm changes by Google and others have continually pushed for (and mostly achieved) more organic and representative search engine results pages (SERPs). With core changes to the Google algorithm such as Panda, Penguin, Pigeon etc. building on earlier iterations designed to democratise SERPs, such ‘black-hat’ techniques have fallen into disuse.
In place of such tactics has grown an industry which is far more creative, more consumer and user experience (UX) focused and committed to its client’s organic and sustainable growth. SEO is evolving.
Organisations, like organisms, must adapt or die. The pace of change in the global digital marketplace is of such rapidity, however, that the best search marketing agencies must not only be prepared to change, but prepared for it. The best way to do this is, unfortunately, through painstaking research and constant learning – following a decade and a half of experience, there are few things that can take a person by surprise. That’s a very long time to wait to get good at something, however, so SEO guides like this one can be a marketer’s best friend.
Google is in a unique position to drive the way search marketing is practiced globally – holding, as it does, as a worldwide market leader (excluding China and a few other territories, Google is responsible for in excess of 80% of all searches carried out on the internet). For this reason, at least for the time being, aligning agency strategy with the Google ethic is a fairly safe bet. Google’s express intention is to deliver the best consumer experience, ensuring that the best content, services and answers are those that rise to the top of SERPs, and an agency or search marketer will only succeed in the mid to long term with this in mind.
Yet Google and its ever changing algorithm and SERPs presentation are not the only things with which search marketing must concern itself. It is not, after all, just the search engines which are changing, but also those people using them. While a survey by Click Consult revealed that personalisation and relevance are rated as ‘extremely important’ to brand loyalty in over 75% of respondents across age demographics, a study by The McCarthy Group found that 84% of Millennials (an increasingly important demographic) do not trust traditional advertising, meaning that the best way to succeed in our increasingly digital world is to create optimised, relevant and quality content.
For this reason, the role of search marketing agencies and individuals is to ensure that their marketing strategy is customer led, producing personalised content for their target audience – and with changes to SERPs, the addition of rich snippets, knowledge graphs and PPC ads to the top of page one, the bar for that quality content gets higher all the time. With all of this in mind – what exactly does modern search marketing look like?
Where we are
With the total number of unique and active websites exceeding one billion, the internet is an increasingly crowded marketplace. As ever, search marketing must concern itself with helping brands to cut through the noise and rise through the ranks on SERPs. Though this was historically a technical process, with some SEO practitioners purchasing or farming links, and the site ‘optimised’ to game search algorithms, the evolving Google algorithm has sought to encourage an ethical and creative approach (with links earned through great and useful content). Though technical expertise is still a vital skill in search marketing, it has become a facet of an integrated and ethical modern approach to search marketing.
We’re all out, standing in our field
There is, above all others, one main reason that brands look to search marketing agencies to help build and manage their online presence – and that is expertise. Though there are an ample number of authors and bloggers invested in the narrative that SEO is simple or, worse, irrelevant, the truth is something difficult for some people to hear. It was discussed in one of Rand Fishkin’s industry renowned ‘Whiteboard Friday’ segments in August of 2015, but it’s something which bears closer inspection – not in defence of the industry, but in the interests of those seeking (as we all sometimes do) easy answers to difficult questions.
As with most technical and scientific practices, there is a process of timed filtration with the best practices and techniques of search marketing – by the time these practices become common knowledge, the field has (more often than not) moved on and at pace. Though search marketing, for example, is seldom still considered the domain of black hatted algorithm confidence tricksters it has been in the past, there is still a tendency for the uninitiated to view organic search (SEO) as attractive, but ultimately meaningless jargon – purposefully mystified by practitioners like some kind of dark art. Unfortunately, both for holders of this opinion, and for the hardworking staff at agencies throughout the world, this is not the case.
This can often lead to a question: if it is difficult, what is it that search marketing agencies do and what, really, is its purpose?
SEO Uncovered: An Advanced Guide to Organic Search (SEO)
The eBooks that make up this advanced guide are a culmination not only of Click Consult’s near decade and a half in the search marketing industry, but also more than a year of research, writing, rewriting and structuring to ensure that what Click Consult considers to be the five key pillars of the industry are tackled comprehensively and clearly.
Click Consult hopes readers will enjoy this advanced guide to SEO and that it brings its audience the success in search they deserve. There are three of five chapters available here, with the next two arriving in April and May of this year (2017).
Why practise search marketing?
The answer here is twofold from the perspective of an interested brand or individual. The first, and probably most important, is a responsibility to your consumers; search marketing best practice has the happy by-product of needing to place consumer experience at the apex of a pyramid of many other factors. Navigability, presentation, quality useful content, all of the elements on which good search marketing should focus all feed into a positive consumer experience.
Take, for example the rise of mobile search – those of you old enough will remember the early days of WAP (wireless access protocol) and how difficult and restricted browsing was at the time, yet as mobiles increased in their capabilities and use increased, Google and search marketing became a driving force in making the mobile browsing experience the best it could be – with Google’s April 2015 ‘mobile friendly’ update (also known as ‘Mobilegeddon’) pushing this even further by using ‘mobile friendliness’ as a ranking factor in SERPs, with further updates (the second mobile friendly update, introducing penalties for some mobile interstitial ads etc) indicating that Google believes that mobile search is not just the future but the present of search.
Then there is the example of eCommerce. In a now infamous Newsweek article way back in 1995 (pre-Google), early internet security pioneer Clifford Stoll pronounced the idea of eCommerce ‘baloney’ due to concerns about the intrinsic lack of personal contact and secure online funds transfers. However, eCommerce has grown exponentially and search engines and search marketers have played a large part in this – making the process far more convenient and secure with each passing year.
There is, however, also a compelling secondary reason to practice search marketing, which is:
Because Google says so
Google, after all, earns its money through advertising and the reason it makes so much money is because of its market share. The reason for its market share: approximately 90% of European and 65% of American internet users prefer its functionality and trust it to deliver the best answers to their search queries more than its competition.
For the Google business model to work, it needs to ensure that it retains this loyalty and consequent market share. Since its founding in 1998, it has succeeded by refining and redeveloping its search algorithms to encourage and reward high quality content and ethical practices, while penalising spam and other black hat techniques that have, in the past, skewed SERPs. The following timeline should give some indication of how seriously they take this:
Whether or not Google has been true to its early efforts to be different to what it considered to be exploitative competitors is up for debate, but the majority of new algorithms, refinements of or additions to its algorithms have also had a direct and positive impact on the brand’s share price. Its commitment to UX, whatever the motivation behind it, is part of what makes it a successful business.
Google has consistently, and for almost two decades, demonstrated a desire to reduce the impact that black hat techniques can have on SERPs, while rewarding quality content with improved visibility. From the Florida update through Austin, Penguin, and Panda, there has been direct and effective action taken to stop unethical third party actions influencing SERPs.
The necessity to achieve success in SEO is defined by a brand or individual’s ability to achieve the standards and follow guidelines laid out by Google and other search providers. In order to do this, data has been gathered from all points in the process as search marketers seek to refine the process and deliver the best results – this means that there is, for the newcomer, a decade of data and research which can be mined for insights, research which is constantly refreshed as the industry grows and evolves.
There are a number of varied processes and practices that feed into the optimal practice of SEO – they can, however, be grouped into five main categories:
The biggest challenges facing brands online
The above bullet points are those areas or approaches that this advanced guide to SEO will be looking to explore. Part of Click Consult’s process regarding the communication of industry knowledge is to first find out what our audience needs to know in order to further their brand’s online ambitions. In the most recent of these surveys we sought to establish what our audience believed would be their biggest challenges in the coming year. The results have revealed some interesting information.
While 34% of respondents revealed some level of dissatisfaction with their brand’s online presence and only 4.5% expressing complete satisfaction, there is a clear trend in the data which suggests that respondents (52% self-reporting at Senior Management level or above) are finding their present endeavours somewhat disappointing. This is one of the major reasons this text has been written – the industry is often poorly explained to the uninitiated, so Click Consult has come to the conclusion that this guide is not only relevant, but necessary at this point for the development of search marketing.