Understand your authority to inform your natural search strategy


The scope of a natural search strategy should always be influenced by your authority. Broadly speaking, this includes both the authority of your brand (within your industry) as well as authority of your website domain (in the eyes of the search engines).

In simple terms larger retailers, such as John Lewis and M&S, have a greater amount of ‘authority’, in general, than say a smaller boutique or fashion house. As such, their natural search strategies will, and should, differ.

When we are approached by a smaller, boutique brand, the general theme is that they remain reliant (and tend to spend most of their budget) on more traditional offline marketing methods, particularly PR. As such, most of their search engine traffic will tend to be driven from brand terms. This is to be expected as the offline coverage received in a magazine, for example, will inevitably drive prospects and customers to the website, often via a search engine. As such, smaller brands will tend to face a recurring problem – low search engine exposure, and therefore traffic driven to their websites, for non-brand terms.

On the flip side of the coin, retailers with a higher level of authority tend to dominate the search results for competitive, non-brand search queries even when they do not appear to have adopted many of the optimisation basics.

This is partly driven by updates to Google’s algorithm that appears to ‘favour’ larger brands. Clearly this has implications for your natural search strategy depending on your level of authority and therefore how you are perceived by Google.

Below, I look at the general differences we find between higher authority brands and websites, such as John Lewis, compared with boutique style businesses and in turn, the approach that might be taken to natural search execution on the basis of that authority:

HIGH authority – e.g. larger high street brands such as John Lewis and M&S.
These sites will tend to rank very well for non-brand terms aided by their strong, authoritative domain.  As such…

  • Whilst optimising the site itself remains important, they tend to get away with a lesser amount of highly optimised copy
  • They will have a strong natural link profile with varied, quality links from multiple domains
  • They will have a good following of fans and brand evangelists on social platforms
  • They will likely have a well-integrated on- and off-line PR and social strategy, one objective of which is to continue building high quality SEO links
  • They will lead the way in multichannel and e-commerce therefore delivering an intuitive and consistent experience for customers as they move between channels

MID authority – e.g. smaller high street brands such as Dorothy Perkins.
Whilst possessing a certain level of authority, they are not quite in the same league as a John Lewis. Therefore greater emphasis needs to be placed on optimising for non-brand search terms.

  • They will perhaps need to include a greater volume of on-page copy, well optimised for non-brand terms
  • Whilst they will accumulate a good number of links quite naturally, the emphasis will be on building links utilising anchor text relevant to non-brand keyword targets, especially terms that are highly competitive
  • They will more likely have both on- and off-line PR strategies with SEO link building operating separately.  These will be working well, but could benefit from more cross discipline integration to ensure the ‘belts and braces’ SEO link building is supported by securing of editorial links from PR
  • They will adopt social strategies that may be more focused around offers and deals

LOWER authority – e.g. smaller boutique brands / fashion houses
We often find that these websites utilise flash over search engine friendly content. As such, these sites can be difficult to optimise for search engines, particularly the homepage. As these businesses / websites are seen to have the least authority, the irony is that they actually require the most work when it comes to on and off page optimisation to stand any real chance of climbing up the search engine rankings, particularly for competitive, non-brand search terms.  As such…

  •  There needs to be greater emphasis on optimising the website with copy featured across category, sub-category and product pages
  • The optimisation strategy should generally focus first on long tail search terms (exposure can be gained more quickly as these search terms are naturally less competitive). It is generally the case that traffic driven to a website from a longer tail search term (‘black cocktail dress’, for example, will lead to a higher conversion rate as the visitor is further along their buying journey
  • As such, lower authority sites should try and adopt advanced product filtering functionality to introduce more targeted, long tail landing pages for the search engines to rank
  • These sites should be very user and conversion focused in order to achieve higher average order values and conversion rates for the lower volumes of traffic they will be generating – every visitor counts!
  • They will get very few quality links naturally
  • To make the best of available resource,  completely complimentary on- and off-line brand and product PR and SEO link building campaigns will work hardest – with an initial focus on the longer tail ‘belts and braces’
  • They will adopt social strategies to connect and reward customers on a more personal level

Thinking about where your site fits in to this ‘authority scale’ both in terms of your brand and domain should sit at the heart of planning your natural search strategy. Time and time again we are approached by boutique businesses looking to rank first page on Google for a highly generic and competitive search terms. In the vast majority of cases, it is totally unrealistic based on the level of competition and the budget set aside for natural search, which in itself is an increasingly complex discipline.

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