seo slaves and the shackles of search marketingIt’s important that webmasters and business owners realise that SEO is only part of their strategy for dealing with the bigger marketing picture.  No-one would deny the importance of SEO in today’s online marketing world.  What we should all bear in mind, however, is that SEO is only a stepping stone in the ultimate quest for business profitability.
For many companies which invest huge amounts of time and money in SEO, the returns must surely be questionable.  Unless they feature at the top end of results on Page One of Google, the clicks received are too few to translate into what adds up to a respectable return on investment.  And yet, such is the obsession with beating Google at its own game, the pursuit of higher page positions for those all-important keywords runs the risk of obscuring why a business is involved with SEO in the first place.

A part of the problem is that SEO is a technique-driven activity and business people are by their very nature competitive animals.  Allowing a bunch of robots with their crazy algorithms to gain the upper hand goes against the natural order – right?

Yet this is the brave new marketing world of 2012.  The old order no longer exists.  ‘Old’ now probably means ‘yesterday’.  In the world of SEO, that translates roughly into when did Google make its last tweak to the Panda Update sequence?

It’s easy to be sucked into a world of SERPs, algorithms, page ranks and keywords.  The drive to create ‘quality content’ and effective link building runs the risk of developing into a corporate ‘obsessive compulsive disorder’.

This is all to do with the ‘tactical’ side of SEO and should be left to SEO professionals.  Keeping abreast of its ‘strategic’ potential means standing back and looking at the bigger picture. Even in the context of an online marketing strategy where SEO is probably the lead discipline, the fact remains that it is only part of a wider bricks and mortar business strategy.  All online policies and initiatives must feed off real-world expectations which ultimately feed through into a company’s bottom line.

It’s worth reiterating that standalone online marketing won’t necessarily guarantee business success.  Likewise, ignoring the importance of integrating it with offline marketing methods compounds the business risk.  Making the assumption that companies don’t put all their eggs in the online basket, it’s time to look more closely at the role of SEO in all this.

Remember: SEO is Just a Stepping Stone!

Step One is to create an online environment for a business where SEO techniques can thrive.  This obviously means setting up a professional website, as well as making sure that support mechanisms are in place to complement and leverage online activities.  We’re talking here about things like social media sites and blogs, content marketing and so on.

With everything in place – including the all-important support of SEO professionals – it’s time to formulate a strategy for success.  It’s important that this includes a timeline.  On the one hand, it’s important to realise that SEO is not a ‘quick fix’, that it can take many months of hard work to achieve the desired result.  On the other hand, SEO should never be allowed to ‘drift’.  Whilst a daily focus on progress is too intense, and a quarterly approach too lax, a monthly assessment and mini-report may highlight where any changes are needed.

The methodologies for achieving and improving high page positions on Google are well-documented and fall outside the scope of this article.  It’s safe to say, however, that achieving Page One search engine rankings for a range of chosen keywords is what investing in SEO is all about.

On the face of it, higher SERPs rankings (Search Engine Results Pages) are only a means to an end.  A higher position on Google equals a higher share of the clicks from searchers wanting to match keywords with a rewarding search experience in the shape of web pages with relevant, informative content.

If one looks a little closer at what can only be described as ‘the new marketing process’, higher page rankings create additional benefits – more stepping stones towards achieving improved sales success.

The 3 ‘Vs’ of Effective SEO

A Page One presence on Google delivers what could be summed up as the ‘3 Vs’:

  • VISIBILITY – Being visible i.e. ranked highly on Page One, can lead to ‘Competitor Demolition’.  Good SEO can blow your competitors out of the water for many months.  Given that things don’t change very quickly on Google’s results pages, this can mean a sustained period of profitable, competitive advantage.
  • VIRTUAL AWARENESS – A high-ranking presence across major keywords for a brand or company creates the buzz of ‘subliminal branding’!  All online activities associated with, and linked to, high page rankings – e.g. social media and online content of all types – generates ‘leverage of association’.  (This can also include offline activity.)
  • VAGUE THIRD PARTY ENDORSEMENT – The ‘perception of excellence’ created by high page ranking on Google generates a feeling (however misplaced) that here is a successful company or brand.  This is comparable to the third party endorsement created by the human element in PR.  ‘Endorsement by SEO’ (albeit by robots) has a similar ‘halo’ effect.

Advertising, Visibility and SEO Stepping Stones

Organic SEO can be compared to advertising in the way it reaches out to its target audience.  For advertising to be effective involves targeting specific audiences and matching various sales messages across various media including national press, TV and radio, B2B trade or professional press and so on.

Obviously, SEO uses keywords to deliver the search results that appeal to interested sectors.  The comparisons end when it comes to the socio-economic aspects of the advertising audience, but web pages are more about informing than persuading.  The onus therefore rests with the searcher when it comes to deciding whether to engage with a specific website.  It’s worth remembering also that this is just the ‘Attention’ phase in the sales cycle.

The visibility associated with having a ‘respectable’ organic ranking is only another stepping stone along the way to achieving sales success in ‘the new marketing process’. Given that closing a sale involves overcoming a host of objections and replacing them with desirable outcomes, it’s interesting to note the limitations of SEO in this respect (which further underlines its ‘stepping stone’ status):

  • Landing Page Factors – First impressions created by things like design, copywriting and ease of navigation.
  • Delivering a ‘Call To Action’ – Is the page content relevant to the search result, and is it persuasive enough to result in the desired ‘call to action’?
  • Making a Sale – Once contact is made with the company behind the web page, what is the ‘likeability factor’?  Does the interpersonal chemistry work?  How convincing or appropriate are marketing factors such as pricing, value, service, product quality and so on?

It’s clear from all this that even though the SEO has performed its initial and essential function of achieving a high page position for a client, many other marketing obstacles remain in the way of making a sale.  There are of course many other ways of attracting prospects – direct mail, advertising, telemarketing and PR to name just a few.

There’s no doubting, however, that the shift towards online marketing (and the budgets that go with it) has been remarkable.  The role of SEO in all this is crucial to a company’s online visibility and success.  That said, business is ultimately about transactions between people – and not machines or stepping stones.

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