For web-first and, increasingly, brick-and-mortar businesses, being findable on any device on the major search engines is a critical and efficient path to acquiring customers and driving sales. In some respects, search engines have become the most intense fields of competition as performance measured in milliseconds or visibility measurable by a difference of pixels on a smartphone screen can mean the difference in achieving your acquisition or revenue goals for a day, week or quarter.
SEO, or search experience optimization, is a multi-faceted discipline that incorporates skills from backgrounds as varied as business intelligence, product management, information architecture, human-computer interaction, editorial, marketing and promotion to best position your business to capture the greatest possible share of the search market within generally accepted constraints defined by the search engines themselves.
It’s important to understand that SEO involves several components with varying degrees of control and predictability. There is that which you control - the content you publish, the structure, usability and technical performance of your website; that which you influence - whether another website links to you, whether someone mentions you on social media or whether someone clicks on your search result; and that over which you have no control - what a search engine tests, what it decides to index and rank, how it orders the rankings and how it displays those results.
Here are examples of SEO services that fall into each category:
- Areas of control
- Technical site audit
- Search opportunity research
- Content mapping to search opportunity
- Areas of influence
- Click-through rate opportunity
- Searcher behavior and content usage
- External link assessment
- Areas outside of your control
- Assessments of any or all of the above on competing websites
- Analysis and explanation of search engine developments
Strategy and Execution
A successful SEO strategy shares characteristics of a successful brand or overall business strategy. Critical to the strategy is a unique value proposition ideally reinforced by a user experience and customer-relationship approach that differentiates you from your competition, especially your search competition. But there are also critical tactical elements that are specific to SEO and which often go overlooked as part of an overall business or brand strategy.
Successfully executing an SEO strategy requires an understanding of the landscape, a plan, patience and commitment to the plan. It's a long game periodically disrupted by changes in the landscape that require reassessment of the plan and occasional pivots. Businesses that have resources and processes enabling rapid execution and continuous experimentation are likely to see the most success. Data is necessary; details are important and a little creativity can go a long way. Sometimes the best results come from reducing complexity, implementing the simplest solution. Other times it's not so simple.
It’s important to understand how your potential customers are searching in order to find the type of information or service you are providing, along with how successfully you are being found. Keyword and concept research are the typical starting points
Since search is just one part of a decision-making process that is happening on non-search sites, or offline and over time, it's also helpful to learn how your potential customers are making decisions so that you can develop your areas of control and influence to be more effective at the point of interaction in search. Learning their decision-making process can inform where you advertise, where you promote content, and how to improve your own content. User research, persona development, usability studies, user testing and surveys may be required to deeply understand your customer's decision-making process. Solutions in this area can require a blend of editorial, marketing, design and UX, product and engineering effort.
Finally, it's healthy to remember that there are always things outside your control and influence when it comes to SEO. It's inevitable that while you're executing your strategy, search engines will alter the way they index, rank or display search results. Or competitors will update their content or improve a technical feature that had been causing them to underperform. It's natural to look first to see if you lost visibility because of something within your control, but sometimes it's just not you. That doesn't mean you don't look for ways to regain your visibility, just that you need to have perspective.