Thanks to Alex Quail at Zest Digital for this month’s Guest Blog
As digital marketing continues to evolve, so do the techniques used to generate leads via the web.
The primary method used to increase web-leads was traditionally search engine optimisation, but due to years of abuse, unethical practices and unsustainable marketing techniques, businesses are now having to spread their risk. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Manipulating Search Results
Search engine optimisation has come a long way in the two decades it has been in existence. In the early days, search engines were easily manipulated. Pack your content with the keywords you’d like to rank for, and you’d be rewarded with top spots in the search results. More keywords meant higher rankings. An exact-match domain (an unhyphenated domain name that matched your core keywords) cemented your position. Thankfully those days are long gone.
Search engines now look at a number of factors when deciding where you should appear in search results, including but not limited to:
- Quality of content
- Quantity of content
- Website Engagement
- Social Engagement
- Number of inbound links
- Quality of inbound links
- Website/Server Speed
- Website Architecture
Most of these are factors can be maximised with high quality, considered web design. Usability, engagement, architecture (navigation) and content are all determined by the quality of a website, and the quality of the content being uploaded to it. The number of inbound links, and the quality of inbound links, however, is much more difficult to manipulate. This didn’t (and still doesn’t) stop people from trying.
For many years, aggressive linkbuilding was the defacto method of improving search engine rankings, and for many years, it worked. Those who partook knew it wasn’t sustainable, but short term goals were typically prioritised over long term sustainability. These type of SEO techniques included:
- Creating blog comment backlinks
- Creating forum profile backlinks
- Creating low quality website backlinks
- Creating third-party properties and articles with backlinks
The majority of these backlinks were created on low quality domains with low quality content. To make matters worse, they were created en masse. Automated software was used to create thousands of links at a time. This was the definition of unnatural marketing; links weren’t earned by publishing great quality content and getting noticed naturally, as per Google’s recommendations. Instead, business owners and marketers were gaming the system. Google and other search engines weren’t happy with this approach.
Search results weren’t determined by the best results, but instead by those who were undertaking the largest and/or most effective SEO campaigns. This meant that the quality of search results were in decline. Spammy websites were appearing at the top of Google’s search results.
Search engines rely on the quality of search results to deliver the best experience for their users. If users notice diminishing quality over time, they will go elsewhere for their searches. As such, Google updated its algorithm to target websites it deemed to be practicing unethical SEO. Many websites (and businesses) disappeared from search results overnight.
Sustainable Practices: Is SEO Dead?
For long-term success, businesses must ensure that their digital marketing is ethical, sustainable, and most importantly, represents their business in a reputable light. A considered, multi-channel approach will typically deliver this. SEO certainly isn’t dead, but it’s one part of a much larger puzzle.
Multi-Channel Digital Marketing
Typically, a multi-channel digital marketing campaign will include a number of the following:
- Search engine optimisation
- Conversion rate optimisation
- Content strategy and marketing
- Pay per click advertising
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
Working across a number of marketing channels not only spreads risks (minimising overreliance on one or two channels), but also maximises the effectiveness of each.
An example buyer journey:
- Content Strategy and Marketing: Researching, writing and publishing truly valuable content improves brand awareness by allowing potential customers to find the content you’re producing, as well as improving brand perception by proving yourself as an authority on the subject matter.
- Search engine optimisation: By making sure a website is technically proficient and optimised for search engines, the chances of a potential customer finding your content via search engines is maximised.
- Social media marketing: By being active on social networks, you humanise your brand. People ultimately buy from people, and an active social media presence can convince a potential customer that you are the right company to buy from. Social networks also act as another channel for web-users to potentially find your content, helping with both brand awareness and brand consideration.
- Email marketing: It’s much easier to sell to existing customers than acquiring new ones. As such, stay in touch with your customer base via email marketing. You may also want to market to potential customers who, for whatever reason, didn’t purchase your product or service right away.
This is a typical multi-channel marketing approach that works well; although these channels can be used in isolation, they are not nearly as effective as when they’re used in conjunction with each other. Including other channels within this approach, like pay per click advertising, only act to further improve the overall effectiveness of a digital marketing campaign.
Linkbuilding is still relevant
Although focusing on your website and brand does typically deliver great results in the long term, having some great links pointing at your website can considerably speed up the process. The important thing to note is that these shouldn’t be low quality, artificially created links, but instead high quality, authoritative links. These are not easily acquired, but can be attained through activities such as:
Guest Blogging (eg: writing articles for industry websites)
- Sponsorship (eg: sponsoring local events)
- Traditional PR (eg: doing something truly newsworthy)
- Manual Outreach (eg: building relationships with journalists)
These are all activities that will not only improve your search engine performance, but also raise the overall profile of your company and brand. This should be considered another channel in your multi-channel approach.
SEO in 2015
SEO isn’t old-hat, but it has been somewhat redefined. SEO was used to manipulate rankings, which in turn created a culture of overreliance on holding the top spots in search engines. This is an extremely dangerous position for businesses to be in. Many factors, totally outside of a business’s control, can affect search engine rankings, and as such, they can fluctuate dramatically, regardless of SEO efforts. A modern multi-channel approach mitigates this risk, and creates an online presence that companies and brands can be proud of.
Alex Quail is the Head of Digital at Zest Digital. Based in Oxford, serving local, national and international clients in a range of industries, Zest Digital deliver content-driven digital marketing that results in increased online visibility, credibility and conversions for their clients.