SEO’s Myths, Pitfalls and Realities
Searchmetrics is publishing a five-part blog series on SEO and the vital role it plays in chief marketing officers’ marketing strategies. Our first post ‘A CMO’s Guide to SEO: Myths, Pitfalls and realities,’ aims to remove the shroud of mystery that surrounds SEO to equip CMOs with the knowledge they need to begin ideating how to implement SEO into their marketing efforts.
As the number of offerings of similar products and brand competitiveness increases, consumer attention spans shorten. Search engines like Google have served as consumers’ guide in the digital landscape, analyzing user queries, directing and guiding consumers toward what they believe is the best option for any given question.
If there’s one constant misconception that surrounds SEO, it’s perceived ambiguity. The everchanging nature of SEO requires coordinating across multiple disciplines like website performance, content strategy and customer intent. These efforts can appear overwhelming, and determining where to focus resources, time and efforts isn’t clear cut. SEO may seem like a time-consuming endeavor but investing in a successful long-term SEO strategy can set your company on a long-term path toward significant profit gains, increased online visibility and higher marketing budgets.
The myths and pitfalls of SEO often deter marketing leadership from prioritizing SEO. But when applied correctly SEO can be the most vital tool in your marketing mix. Here are some common myths, pitfalls and realities of SEO that can help provide clarity and improve your understanding of SEO.
- It’s unpredictable, with no cause and effect – Although SEO is subject to the ebbs and flows of what can often feel like the capricious nature of Google’s search algorithm, it’s still supported by reliable, essential rules that companies can leverage to elevate their online visibility. Some rules are subject to changes driven by improvements in technology and industry trends at large, but most remain untouched, core principles of SEO.
Note that search traffic channels, like Facebook, Amazon and Google, each have their own search ecosystem rules (“Walled Gardens”), but they all traditionally follow core SEO principles. Understanding the essential principles of how SEO works make SEO predictable.
ROI is difficult to measure – A common misconception brands share regarding SEO is that it’s difficult to calculate return on investment (ROI). Companies appreciate sales and conversion metrics for their immediate takeaways and impressions. But SEO provides a big picture view of your marketing strategy and metrics exist to help calculate its impact.
Paid search quickly guarantees ROI but there’s one problem with it – It’s expensive, consuming a disproportionate share of most marketing budgets while the benefits last only as long as the channel remains funded.One of the most important benefits of SEO are the long-term benefits of a sound organic search strategy. Though no less competitive than paid search, SEO ground once gained is more difficult to supplant with competing content. Maintaining great content, a science unto itself is less resource intensive and far more predictable than the world of diminishing returns currently facing CMOs whose digital teams chase increasing expensive space at the top of the SERPs.
Pitfalls of SEO
- Time-to-value – The most successful SEO strategies are rooted in long-term planning, which means expecting immediate gains is unrealistic. Despite the lightning-quick capabilities of modern technology, SEO is a long game where new content needs to be researched, developed, published, measured, iterated and optimized over weeks and months. Comparable to great branding strategies, once coveted online visibility is gained, it’s difficult to be supplanted.
- SEO shortcuts – Savvy SEOs can easily bypass SEO rules, utilizing Black and Grey Hat SEO tactics and techniques to exploit loopholes and gaps in search engines to rank higher than the competition that is following SEO standard rules.Examples of Black Hat SEO: Keyword stuffing, including unrelated keywords in content or sneaking keywords into the content and changing the font color to make them invisible to the human eye.Black Hat SEO practitioners know how to toe the line without alerting Google, but inexperienced marketing teams who engage in Black Hat strategies are easily caught by Google and are swiftly penalized, effectively tanking their ranking and losing valuable traffic. Marketing teams operating with good intentions often use black hat SEO tactics and strategies in their SEO optimization efforts without realizing it and receive detrimental penalties in the process.
- Search is highly competitive – It’s important to understand that organic real estate is just as competitive as paid. The giants of ecommerce like Amazon and Walmart dominate product SERPs while information behemoths like Wikipedia suck all the air out of most informational SERPs. Understandably, this gives many marketing leaders pause, and inevitably sends budget dollars flying back to the paid search side of the marketing mix. Yet within this intimidating online mix, know that your competition is equally as hesitant, and is leaving organic search real estate wide open, often in the more obscure corners of your search world.In the realm of SEO, winning a series of battles is far more important than winning the war. As intimidating as the aforementioned giants can be, it’s never about your ability to be the David to their Goliath. The tools for competing and winning are already at your team’s fingertips including buyer personas, deep knowledge of the ‘buying journey’ and a deep well of de facto keyword research from your paid search efforts.
The Realities of SEO
- Successful digital strategies rely on SEO – Avoiding SEO entirely or using half-hearted SEO strategies isn’t enough to support any marketing strategy with ambitious goals. The most successful digital marketing strategies are supported by a solid foundation of applying SEO best practices. Optimizing your content according to SEO principles can enhance every aspect of your marketing strategy. These enhancements can include creating engaging content, making technical adjustments to help your site load faster and layout content so that information can quickly be found to make critical decisions.
- SEO is a long, but rewarding, game – Currently, no option or method exists to accelerate the process of developing, publishing and iterating engaging content. Apart from performing technical maintenance on your website, ensuring your site speed is fast and adding XML sitemaps to your site and submitting it to search engines. Patience is the name of the game in SEO and it’ll be tested when months-long SEO tactics might show diminishing returns. It’s easy to get distracted with losses and wins, but it’s crucial to remember that SEO is a long-term game, similar to participating in the stock market. You might experience consistent gains, fluctuating quarters of losses and gains or consistent quarters of diminishing visibility.Establishing a core, long-term SEO strategy is key to generating successful ROI. Analyzing results along the life-course of your strategy and modifying it to course correct is critical to ensuring the success of your planning as the search industry changes and your needs fluctuate over time.
- Engaging, targeted content reigns – Content is the best way to measure relevance. Still, truly excellent content is required to successfully rank on any search engine, whether it’s Bing, Yahoo or Google. Content is best optimized for SEO when it serves a clear purpose, succinctly answers user queries and is free of grammatical and technical errors.As Google continues to prioritize the user experience, creating exceptional content should be the core of your SEO strategy.Exemplary content is more than just well-written paragraphs and well-placed keywords. Google also evaluates how well a brand or company technically presents its content, how fast the webpage content loads and tests links embedded in copy to ensure they work correctly. Content that is technically optimized and attempts to connect with the human being behind the screen is the winning recipe for success in SEO.
The CMO’s Down and Dirty Guide to SEO
The next blog in our five-part series “The CMO’s Down and Dirty Guide to SEO,” will examine the essential foundations of SEO, review the short history of Google algorithm updates and much more.