Digital marketing: What’s changing and what’s staying the same in 2014?
A good blog is like a mini skirt. Just long enough to cover the essentials but just short enough to keep you interested. With this in mind, I’ll keep this short. I’ve taken several pointers from one of the best blogs I’ve read all year from the great Rae Hoffman in attempting to explore the state of SEO in 2014, so thanks Rae
If you count yourself as a marketer, you already know that a website should be valuable to users, but this has been forgotten. The SEO industry of old bought links in abundance and assured your website’s dominance as a result. Everyone in the industry knew this was bad and the reputation of the industry as a whole was moulded, portraying us as a bunch of crooks out to game the system and attain high rankings for rubbish sites. Speaking from my experience, I work in an industry full of brilliant people, from expert programmers to talented copywriters, accomplished mathematicians to virtuoso designers, and what’s really great about these people is, alongside their skills, they have intimate knowledge of how search engines work and how to make a valuable website that users want to use and that search engines want to rank highly. This leads me nicely to my next point:
If anyone promises rankings improvements but doesn’t tell you how they’ll achieve this, they’re talking rubbish. What’s more, they’re adding to the already tarnished reputation of this industry. 2014 should be the year that search experts step up and show what they can do. We are digital marketers, first and foremost, and our expertise is enormously valuable.
On page content
Google is, first and foremost, a data company. Their mission is to supply you with the perfect data to satisfy your query. I don’t say ‘perfect’ lightly, so keep this in mind. Marketing is about knowing your customers! Get an understanding of what they want to know, and write it better than anyone. As Rae said, “…there’s no guarantee good content will be magically shared” but if you’re writing great answers to questions you know your market’s asking, you’re going to get traffic and that traffic is already halfway to trusting your website offering because they trust your answers.
Every time you post on Facebook, that’s content. Your friends read it because it’s there and they’re bored but, most of the time, they don’t particularly care about it or you and your company does the exact same thing all the time. Honestly; nobody cares about the company you’ve just acquired or your new starter! Most of the time they barely care about your 40% discount offer. You write blogs and reports, you produce videos and quirky graphics, all in the name of SEO and those, of course, are all considered content too. But most of the time your work is ignored and users certainly don’t share it because it’s generic drivel you took an hour to create and it has no value. Anything you create should have an inherent value to a targeted audience. If it doesn’t, you may as well throw the money you spent creating it down the toilet because it will not improve your traffic or rankings.
This shouldn’t really be included because it’s just common sense but I’ll spell it out. You know how Matt Cutts keeps getting cross and prohibiting search marketers from doing stuff, like guest posts? Well it’s because you do them badly. You attempt to commoditise quality and that is impossible and it’s impossible because you just don’t care. That is all Google wants from you. They just want you to care. So when you scale your ‘care’ across 10 websites instead of directing all that care to the search marketing efforts of one company, the care is spread too thinly and when this happens, you stop caring about the website’s users and what they will find valuable. You lack the time to research effectively and produce the type of stuff that a user will care about. So there’s an intrinsic relationship here about the amount of care you have to offer versus the amount your users will care about you and the stuff you produce. In a nutshell, just care a lot more!
Staying the same
On-page technical optimisation
This still needs to be correct to send as many signals to Google to crawl and rank the site well. Lots of sites are wise to the more important technical on-page stuff, like canonicalization, redirects and meta data but sites now need to be meticulous in ensuring that every element of a website that can send further signals to Google is correctly optimised. I’m talking every meta title, schema markup, every image, every possible technical signal.
This is hard. I find it hard and I’ve done it for a multitude of affected clients. The process is confusing; the amount of data you deal with can be huge, and understanding what makes a link worthy from Google’s perspective is somewhat a science (confusing and fraught with danger). To paraphrase Rae, if you are not living and breathing search optimisation every day, you’re going to struggle.
Signals is a big theme in this post and they’re pivotal to the success of a website’s organic rankings. The easiest way to explain to someone about the way in which Google ranks websites would be “Google ranks websites depending on the amount of trustworthy signals that website creates and that other websites send to it (links, shares, likes, etc.)”. Google tends to play down the idea that social media is largely considered in the algorithm and I think they’re right to do so because social media sites are no different than other websites, other than the fact that all content generated is by real, human users. The intention of that content isn’t marketing related; it’s not to lure people to do something particular on the site and therefore, it is trustworthy. The users producing that content do so based on an urge to communicate their ideas and opinions and this is Google’s equivalent of word of mouth (WoM). If it happens to be about a particular website or product, that can be beneficial for the company mentioned, especially if the user decides to add a link. WoM is commonly thought of as the absolute best marketing money can’t buy and therefore, large amounts of such marketing strongly signal the authority of a website (or product/service) to Google. Sites such as Hipmunk.com place users and social signals at the forefront of their website offering and for this reason, they’ve come from nowhere to be quoted by Forbes as “…the best travel site on the Web”.
Search marketers will play an integral part in any worthwhile marketing strategy in 2014. The stereotyped reputation of the industry is incorrect and has to be collectively stamped out in 2014 to establish ourselves as a valuable part of an integrated marketing campaign. This is done by caring about the users of our website or the website’s we represent and by creating value for those people. The next time you produce anything, keep in mind that Google wants you to be relevant and valuable to your market. If what you create can honestly answer both in the affirmative, you’ll do well.