SEO used to be the central pillar in any online marketing campaign. Your website’s search visibility was the sole indicator of online success. Though search visibility is obviously still very important to most businesses, things aren’t as simple or "clear cut" as they used to be.
Online visibility is now about so much more than search. With the dramatic growth of the social Web, and the new ways we can now analyse our traffic and results, should we still be focusing on SEO as a primary marketing avenue? Or is our obsession with search visibility blinding us to other, more useful channels?
This article is about playing devil’s advocate. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you should stop all SEO activity. Rather, I want to highlight the other opportunities that you may be missing that have nothing to do with SEO. Here are my top five:
Most marketers approach content creation from a firm SEO standpoint. Each piece of content must have a clear and direct SEO benefit.
Though I do agree that if you are going to create great content you might as well spend some time making sure it’s created in line with SEO best practices, I don’t think SEO should be your primary motivation for creating great content.
One of the most important shifts over the last few years has been from the SEO-centric approach to content to the "user-centric" approach that Google now richly rewards. The brief is simple: create great content. Decide on your topics based on what your readers and customers want to read or watch, not what will help your SEO the most.
If you can always make sure that the first 90 percent of the content creation process is informed solely by your desire to create high-value content for your audience, then at the last minute, implement a few SEO best practices, you’re going to be much better placed than if the content was driven by SEO from the outset.
The main advantage of this approach is that it ensures that you are creating content that will see a high success rate through all your other marketing channels, whether that’s social, email, or paid advertising. Every day the search engines improve their ability to identify the content that their users love. The recent announcement that tweets are going to be appearing in our SERPs (again) shows that this trend is only going to continue. For marketers, the message is clear: create content that your visitors love, and your search visibility will take care of itself.
2. User Behavior
If you’re reading this it’s likely that you already have at least some traffic to your website. Sure, you want more visitors, but is that the most effective way to increase your sales, engagement, and conversions?
More traffic is the sole aim of most online businesses. After all, if you double your traffic, you’ll double your sales, right? Well, maybe. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time.
In almost all cases, increasing traffic is often more expensive and resource hungry than simply increasing your conversion rate. Let’s say you have 1,000 visitors to your e-commerce site each month through search. Your conversion rate is around 2 percent so you make around 20 sales each month. If you were to heavily invest in SEO and, as a result, increase your search visibility by 100 percent, six to 12 months later you would get 2,000 visitors. Your conversion rate stays the same and you make 40 sales. Though it’s difficult to argue that these results are anything less than a great achievement, there are other ways to increase your sales.
There are so many ways to directly and indirectly increase your conversion rates. Everything from increasing your site speed, improving your Web copy, and improving your site’s mobile user experience to something as simple as the color scheme can have a noticeable and direct impact on your conversion rate. Changing a single word or switching the color of your CTA button can increase the conversion rate on a page by more than 100 percent!
By split testing each of your landing pages you can reliably and consistently increase your conversion rate. If this isn’t something you already do on a regular basis, it’s very likely that there are lots of easy wins that you’ve been ignoring. If you do it right, you can probably increase your conversion rate by as much as 300 percent.
Let’s go back to our example. Rather than using all your resources on SEO and increasing your traffic, let’s say you focus on increasing your on-site conversion rates. By increasing site speed, improving your sales copy, and split testing your CTAs, you manage to increase your conversion rate on your main sales page to 6 percent. Your traffic stays the same (1,000 visitors per month), but you see 60 sales. Now that’s a real result.
3. The Social Web
This is probably the most obvious example of how you can increase your traffic without SEO. The social Web has opened up literally thousands of possible traffic sources. One well-targeted, well-timed post, tweet, or pin can result in traffic spikes that most servers will struggle with.
With developments like the integration of tweets in the SERPs and the traffic opportunities offered by LinkedIn Pulse, social media is clearly going to continue rivalling SEO as the most important traffic source.
4. Paid Advertising
The effectiveness and relevance of paid advertising is largely dependent on what sector you’re in. However, most marketers and SEOs don’t give it the credit it deserves.
Paid advertising allows you to go out and get the specific traffic you want. The data, targeting, and immediacy that paid advertising gives you make it an important weapon in any marketer’s arsenal.
Most marketers dismiss paid advertising due to the CPC costs of their primary keywords. Instead, they pour all their resources into ranking organically for these terms. While this is a good long-term strategy, ignoring PPC will deny you many key benefits.
While you are building your organic rankings, paid advertising offers a unique testing opportunity. By running a paid campaign, in just a few days you have the ability to gather more data than you might see in months of organic traffic. This means that, by the time you begin to rank organically, your landing pages can be fully optimized and the quality of your search traffic will be full validated.
Another advantage of paid advertising working alongside organic SEO is the "reinforcement effect." If you are ranking organically, above the fold, and you also have an ad in the top positions in the SERPs, your click-through rate on both these listings are likely to be much higher than if you just had one. The reason for this is that, by having two listings above the fold, you reinforce the trust that Google’s users will associate with your site. Trust me, it works!
5. Traditional PR
Press releases have long been a reliable link-building channel for many SEOs. Obviously, the direct SEO benefits of links from press releases, especially if they are low-quality, are limited at best. However, that doesn’t mean that press releases and outreach don’t have value.
Traditional PR can have many positive crossovers for SEO and online marketing in general. For example, by using a press release as it is intended – to get your news out to the wider world – marketers can see huge spikes in traffic, engagement, and opportunities. If you can get your story picked up by journalists, whether they work for a print or online publication, and if people are writing about your business, it is going to result in traffic, links, and strong social signals.
If you can rethink the way you approach the press and traditional PR, they can bring great results.
The increasingly integrated nature of the Web means that things are never going to be as simple and clear-cut as they used to be. We’re all going to have to explore new marketing channels and continue to measure different metrics as the Web and user behavior evolves.
I hope this article has given you a few ideas to start exploring ways to increase your results without even thinking about SEO. Have you got other channels that you use? Have you found some "easy wins" that you’re happy to share? Let me know in the comments below.