This is part 2 of the Tortoise (SEO) and the Hare (PPC) analogy. SEO is definitely the Tortoise as steady forward progress and persistence will take this channel to the front of a successful and mature search marketing strategy. The key is to remember that, unlike the story, these 2 facets of a successful search marketing strategy must be used together and, for the best success, they need to inform each other.
Rule #1 is that SEO is a long haul channel. If you expect instant results and gratification, you should just concentrate on paid search and let SEO happen organically, as you will end up with better results in the long-run than if you are making excessive changes. Now, if you are in for the lucrative, long-term win that is proper SEO, just remember these 3 things: Be Patient. Be Foundational. Don’t Panic.
Start with a consistent strategy and objective. Remember that SEO isn’t about being #1 on a specific keyword, but having a good position on many strategic keywords and maintaining a hold on those positions once you have them. The real keywords and phrases that matter depend on what you’re selling, how diverse a market you serve and, at the end of the day, the keywords that convert the best for your company. If you sell thousands of diverse products, paying lone attention to 10 keywords is probably not the best thing to do. Even if you only sell a hundred products, all within the same use sphere, you still need to develop a coverage array of keywords that truly matter to your brand, thus creating the goal terms based on the best converting keywords from your highly organized paid search program. This ensures you are pursuing keywords that result in sales, not just traffic.
As your website grows and evolves, this will inevitably result in projects, many of which will be specifically focused on the following areas: SEO improvements, usability, conversion increases and data gathering. When looking specifically at any project, stop and ask the question, what is the real goal? Often I find that when asking others this question, the answer almost always has to do with performance, and usually focuses on improving conversion rates. Honestly, all four of the areas I mentioned above should be a considered part of every website change. Thinking this way will keep you focused on the foundation of the website vs. improvements for the sake of change. Always be foundational in your projects and remember that almost any time you make technology changes to your website, you will be affecting SEO one way or the other. Find that one person in your organization with a strong foothold in technology and SEO and get that person engaged early in projects.
So, now you are thinking about the diversity of keywords that mean something to your brand AND keeping your website’s foundation strong and focused. Great. Now remember this: If your SEO measurements show fast growth, be skeptical and dig in. SEO, as mentioned before, should be a long haul channel; fast gains typically mean something could become a problem down the road (just ask anyone who bought lots of links a year or so ago). Sure, sometimes the progress will be faster or result in better than expected progress, but always be skeptical. Focus on ‘white hat’ SEO practices like clean and simple URLs, quality informative copy, thoughtful internal cross-linking and, in general, usability. In the long run, this will put you at the top of results for searches that matter and drive that beautiful thing called conversion rates. After all, is it better to have a 1000 visits who convert at 1% in a week or a 1000 visits converting at 5% over 2 weeks because you rank on the right keywords, not just the “big” keywords? Keep the foundation in focus and keep it strong for the right kind of results.
So, what else besides the right state of mind do you need in order to build a top class SEO program? What remains to be done is to find the right people, build the right processes, foster the right relationships and use your data. The right people can be found for a price and sometimes that is an in-house person, other times a consultant or even an agency. The key is that once you find them, support them with streamlined processes and make sure that ALL the right people are working together. If your SEO team is lacking an IT counterpart, then projects will not go smoothly. Foster these relationships and promote cross-departmental interactions. Not only will this make sure the correct people are planning, vetting and designing projects, but it will also mean that you have the best people to design the processes that will be necessary for the long haul…remember, SEO is The Tortoise.
The final piece is data. SEO is about keywords and which keywords are most valuable from the perspective of multiple KPIs, including traffic available and conversion rates. Now, if you have a mature paid search program, you don’t have to look far for this data, which you already have in spades. Strategically use your paid search data to inform your SEO decisions, and you will end up with a win/win situation. Paid search will become more efficient due to better user interaction, and SEO rank will grow on keywords that really matter. This will lead to a proper overall SEM strategy.
In short, always remember that slow and steady SEO combined with a nimble, flexible and robust paid search program will truly create a serious SEM strategy. Build the right culture around the total search picture and it will be unstoppable and will not put you at risk of penalty from the likes of Google. Let the Hare carry the Tortoise, but finish with the Hare and the Tortoise hand-in-hand and leaving your competition gawking.