What the CEO needs to know about SEO - Business Works
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What the CEO needs to know about SEO

by Mike Jacobson, Managing Director, Ayima Companies must elevate search engine optimisation to a strategic level if they are to meet the needs of their business, web users and, by proxy, Google, says Mike Jacobson, co-founder and Managing Director and Janaya Wilkins business development manager of Ayima.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is essential for any business looking to generate sales online. Yet there remains a lack of understanding and confusion as to how SEO works and why it's important. This is exacerbated by the fact that SEO, unlike paid search models such as pay-per-click (PPC), does not fit easily with traditional corporate procurement. Although in theory it is possible to charge for time spent on SEO projects and individual pieces of work, the process is not as predictable as with PPC, where 'deliverables' and spend can be broken down relatively easily.

Strategic tool

Organic search results are listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to the search terms you use. Non-organic search results may include pay per click advertising and typically appear at the top of search results pages.

Ranking for keywords is essential in organic search because most users tend not to look beyond the first two search results pages.

A recent study by ad network Chikita found that websites listed on the first page of Google's search results generated 92% of all traffic, with traffic dropping by 95% when moving from page one to page two. Sites listed on the third page generated just 1.1% of all traffic generated.

However, with natural search, companies cannot simply 'buy their share of voice', as there can only be one or two brands at the top of the search engine results pages taking the lion's share of traffic. On the other hand, companies are able to buy as much 'voice' as they can afford with PPC or any other kind of mainstream marketing. Moreover, SEO is a process that takes years rather than months. Ensuring companies understand these distinctions is the first hurdle to overcome.

Janaya Wilkins, business development manager, Ayima

Back to basics

Once its strategic value is understood, SEO ideally starts with the technical aspects of a company's website (such as initial design and build) and the technology behind the site including the content management system (CMS) and the service. It also takes in optimising the way the website is structured to deliver the most important information for users in a simple and effective way, but also such that search engines can identify information they believe is important for users. These factors are classed as 'on-page' activities.

SEO also embraces 'off-page' activities, which are designed to increase the 'popularity' of a company's site and thus its rank within results pages for example, the number of people that link back to a company's website and the 'strength' and quality of those links are taken as a primary signal of quality and authority by search engines. In essence, 'link building / development' is like seeking votes from other web users for being the most relevant or best resource for a particular type of query or search topic.

Link-building and keyword targeting must be approached with caution. In the eyes of search engines such as Google, there are techniques considered as good SEO ('white hat'), and those that are deemed bad ('black hat'). These are penalised either by being ranked lower, or at worst can result in a website's de-listing from the search engine's index.

Nevertheless, a website featuring unique content that is refreshed regularly, with the right keywords distributed carefully throughout and with links pointing back to this content from other relevant sites, stands a good chance of being ranked highly by search engines. The role of the SEO specialist is therefore to ensure that companies can be aggressive in their SEO strategy and maintain performance over time, but in a way that is sensitive to the aims and needs of both Google and web users and which avoids any potential penalties for black hat activities.

Aligning objectives

It's also important to recognise that SEO cannot operate in isolation, but as a core pillar to the wider marketing strategy. However, defining SEO and search marketing objectives, aligning these with existing corporate strategy and obtaining buy-in from multiple stakeholders, can prove difficult.

For example, those responsible for marketing might argue that brand, messaging and user experience take precedence over any functional changes designed to drive traffic and conversions.

One approach is to bring all stakeholders together to share ideas on best practices with regards to PPC, SEO and social media, as well as to agree a framework for delivering a more joined-up approach. Such stakeholders might include: digital acquisition managers and marketing executives; direct retail managers; PPC, SEO and social media managers; and heads of legal, procurement and web development. Training sessions are another beneficial activity, placing an experienced SEO professional in front of different teams to ensure a better understanding of the SEO process can deliver significant benefits.

Thus the challenge for marketing executives is to ensure that SEO is embedded firmly within corporate strategy and that it is approached as another key channel that is tightly managed in line with all of the other online channels and different stakeholders responsible for a website. This way, SEO activities can be undertaken safely, consistently and robustly to drive sustainable results and business outcomes over time.

For more information, please visit: www.ayima.com

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