I explained in a recent post that just three simple words should be at the heart of your online marketing strategy; acquisition, conversion and retention. Focusing on these three key stages of the customer lifecycle ensures your attention (misplaced obsession for some) moves well beyond that number one ranking on Google to instead building a much more holistic understanding of your prospects, what it takes to turn them into customers (conversion) and vitally how to keep them (retention).
My theme of three’s continues with this follow up post. I’ll explain why, beginning with a bit of background…
Search marketing has certainly changed since I started out in the industry over six years ago. The work of a search marketer in 2003 focused mainly on optimising the website (think the basics of SEO; keywords, Meta tags, etc), a touch of link building (usually reciprocal-everybody liked to swap links in those days!) and perhaps the odd article or press release. But the demands on a search marketer these days are far greater. Why? Well, the consumption of online media has changed significantly in recent times. We spend more time online than ever before and spend that time in new ways. We create; we share; we talk; we watch; we recommend; we research; we meet new people; we look for advice and we network, amongst other things. And we don’t just do it at a computer. Mobile phones are almost unrecognisable from the bricks we used to walk around with and offer access to a whole range of Internet based services.
All of this activity means that your target audience are spread over a much wider area; they no longer simply rely on search engines to find information. So as marketers you have to do many more things to reach the same number of people. This makes a straightforward (‘2003 style’) search engine optimisation campaign virtually obsolete. In my view, it must now include two key components to accompany ‘traditional’ search activity; social media and content. Before we go into the detail, let’s look at a very simple example to highlight why search marketing, social media and content cannot operate in isolation of one another:
1. A piece of video content can be used to engage your audience when placed prominently on your website. Examples might include interviews with employees or product demonstrations. Video has grown in popularity exponentially as broadband has spread across the UK, smart phones allow easy access to it and the costs to create even professional video content have come down in price significantly. Many businesses now create it at virtually no cost at all with very good results.
2. To extend the reach of this video it can placed on social networking sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo. These networks are where users can create, upload and share their content with others. Placing video on sites like YouTube allows you to extend the reach of your content to an audience that may not have otherwise seen it.
3. Because today’s search engine results are a blend of images, videos, maps, news and local listings, there is a very good chance that, if properly optimised, the video will appear on the search engine results page (SERP) for relevant search queries. In Google’s case, the bringing together of content in various formats in one page of search results is called Universal Search.
It is worth bearing in mind that virtually any content created by you or your prospects/customers, in almost any format, has the potential to be picked up and found in search engine listings. If you search for ‘Leapfrogg’ on Google you will notice press releases, social networking profiles, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Flickr, as well as directory listings all featuring in the search results. Some of this content we control, some of it we don’t. For many larger brands this lack of control has proved a major headache as bloggers and reviewers say both good and bad things about their experiences with the particular products or services sold by that brand. A few years ago such comments might be exposed to a few friends down the pub; these days they might be seen by hundreds or thousands of Internet users.
With the somewhat simple example above I find it impossible to consider how search, social media and content can operate in isolation of one another. Entering social networks, for example, is dictated by the content you choose to create and share, whether that is a short comment or a well produced piece of video. And the success of your social media efforts will be dictated by the quality of this content. Therefore, there has never been so much demand on search marketers to create content in a range of formats that is interesting, unique and highly engaging. Content that meets such criteria is how you differentiate yourself in an increasingly competitive online space. Regular articles, white papers, slideshows, podcasts and videos are just a few ways in which greater value can be added to your website enhancing the experience of the prospects and customers paying you a visit. And regular, good quality content added to your website will earn you brownie points with search engines; they like nothing more. This blog post, for example, will be picked up within a couple of hours by Google.
This is all great I hear you say but where do you start in understanding the target audience and the content you should create to engage them? A successful, integrated strategy involves research aimed at establishing where and how your target audience spend their time online. Remember they are not just on search engines so you need to go and find them; what sites do the frequent, what are they saying, what are they demanding, what issues do they have and so on. In addition to that, you need to understand who the influencers are in your space. These will include bloggers, reviewers, journalists and so on; the sort of people who influence the thoughts and opinions of the people you are looking to sell to. It is important you look to engage with these influencers but you are only likely to capture their attention if you have something pretty compelling to offer. A great bit of content might do the trick! At this point it comes full circle; if a blogger, for example writes a positive review about one of your products there is every chance they will also link to you. Search engines like links; they really like them.
In conclusion, search, social media and content are intrinsically linked; no doubt about it. Therefore, they need to form part of a well planned and implemented online strategy. This once again calls into question the validity of services offered by so called SEO professionals (snake oli salesman as they have become to be known) offering guaranteed positioning on search engines and so on. Search engine algorithms look well beyond basic optimisation efforts these days when ranking web pages. This demands a more sophisticated strategy that firstly seeks to understand your target audience and their behaviours, enabling you to be highly focused in the content you create to engage them and the sites you market that content across. And only by creating great content, which is properly optimised, will you satisfy search engines hungry for content in various digital formats.