Over the past decade, Coalition Technologies has earned its unassailable reputation as one of the most effective SEO agencies in the industry. Individuals and businesses have come to rely on Coalition as more than just a digital marketing agency—we have become trusted subject matter experts in our craft.
Recently, Coalition President and COO Jordan Brannon delivered a well-received presentation on “SEO Fundamentals: Top Strategies and Pitfalls” at a seminar of business professionals. In appreciation for the trust you have placed in us, we want to share a summary of his presentation in the article below. We’re confident that his insights will be valuable as you keep driving toward excellence.
While many of us in Jacksonville have been immersed in the SEO world for years, it’s easy to fall into bad habits or patterns that prevent us from maximizing the return on our efforts. Here, we’ll explore three common pitfalls of SEO marketing and strategies for addressing them to increase your effectiveness.
Pitfall #1: Insisting on “managed SEO” when it isn’t the best fit.
Alternative #1: Replacing “managed SEO” with “maintained SEO.”
Managed SEO describes a host of ongoing marketing activities with the goal of promoting specific sites or content within the context of a search engine. It includes all resources dedicated to technical work, content production, social media outreach, analysis, reporting and public relations activities related to competitively marketing a business.
While all of these activities can be powerful tools for generating web traffic and business growth, not all of them are appropriate for every business 100 percent of the time. In fact, managed SEO can even negatively impact a business in some circumstances, such as the following:
- The product or service does not engender a dedicated search audience.
- One of our prospective clients in St. Johns County was considering marketing a product as an alternative to toothpaste. After considering some seemingly related keywords, we realized that none of the terms created sufficient volume or related intent-to-purchase behavior—in reality, most of the searches associated with the keywords were conducted to gather information, not to buy a product. Additionally, the searches tended to focus on alternative ingredients in toothpaste rather than an alternative product distinct from toothpaste such as the one our client hoped to sell. In this case, managed SEO would have been a futile approach to marketing the toothpaste alternative.
- The company does not have bandwidth or budget to support the mix of ongoing technical, content, social, analysis, reporting, and PR activity needed to succeed in your competitive marketing strategy.
- The business is unwilling to incorporate SEO priorities into other digital marketing practices, such as web design, social media, paid marketing, content development, customer service and more.
- Certain focus areas or opportunities for a digital business may not be relevant to search audiences and therefore do not justify an ongoing investment.
- A current client came to us from a large, reputable SEO/SEM agency that had invested significant resources into developing robust help and Q & A features within their software as a service product. These components resulted in high rankings on diverse long tail keywords related to their service but did not correlate with a purchasing step. Despite impressive metrics on the perceived “SEO value” of the site, the effort yielded virtually no ROI.
Again, many of the activities in managed SEO can be effective, but only when the circumstances are right. However, maintained SEO is a promising alternative for businesses who don’t fit the managed SEO model.
Maintained SEO describes periodic marketing activities designed to promote sites or content within search engines and that require stable behaviors and processes common to digital businesses. The goal of maintained SEO is to ensure that your marketing efforts meet the requirements of search engine algorithms to achieve your desired outcome. In other words, the digital experience you provide should be crafted to address your audience’s needs, not to simply increase your site traffic.
Make sure your site prioritizes the following factors to provide the best possible user experience:
- Site speed
- Clarity and ease of navigation
- Quality content (photos, video, text, design)
- Optimization for multiple platforms (desktop, tablet, mobile phone)
- Understanding the role search engines play in customers’ journey
- Creating discrete pages and content to address specific search queries
- Eliminating technical errors that negatively impact site visitors’ experience (server errors, 404 errors, redirects, security warnings)
Pitfall #2: Creating false equivalence between the means and the end.
Alternative #2: Developing the means to support the end.
So much of SEO is focused entirely on achieving a higher ranking, with bottom-line revenue growth or KPI performance relegated to secondary concerns at best, when in reality the approach should be the exact opposite.
This line of thinking leads to algorithm updates that actually devalue much of the effort businesses put into SEO work, leading to an overemphasis on the perceived strategic expectations of the algorithm. The end goal should be to create a satisfying experience for search users, and the SEO rankings will follow.
Put a different way, many Jacksonville SEO marketers are so laser-focused on achieving higher rankings that they’ll try to game the algorithm in order to do it. Unfortunately, this approach leaves searchers unsatisfied by denying them the meaningful engagement they seek. In turn, search engines penalize the marketers for these ratings-driven tactics. The SEOs respond by doubling down on their efforts to satisfy the algorithm, the vicious cycle continues, and no one wins.
Putting an end to the cycle requires a shift in approach. As an SEO marketer, make user experience your only priority. Be sure your website is easy for your target audience to find and easy to use. Then make it enjoyable to use by filling it with meaningful, engaging content.
Consider these examples that draw out the tension between the two schools of thought:
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) versus Site Speed
Many SEO efforts insist on Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for websites, not realizing that AMP can (and often does) negatively impact user experience and expectations in some circumstances. In contrast, competitive page load speeds are always critical for making websites engaging. Rather than pushing AMP, marketers would be best served to maximize site speed in the following ways:
- Pare down the number of images and other media where appropriate and optimize image sizes where they are used. Most of the sites we analyze could shave valuable seconds from their load time by reducing the clutter on their pages with fewer or smaller images.
- Audit third-party services that impact load time. As we rely more heavily on cloud-based CMS, digital platforms and e-commerce software, sites tend to incorporate more third-party services. These services often increase load time through queries and responses from independent server environments. Where possible, cut back on the amount of third-party traffic needed for your website to function.
Chasing “False Flag” User Experience Metrics
After implementing a series of UX improvements suggested by our team, one of our Jacksonville-based clients complained about reductions in pages-per-visit and time-on-site metrics. While it’s true that these numbers did decline, we saw significant improvements in repeat visits, conversion rates and conversion value, indicating excellent ROI. The two declining metrics actually indicated very positive results: customers were spending less time looking through the site because they were able to find what they were looking for more efficiently.
With this in mind, consider the following action items to streamline your site:
- Ensure that your reporting identifies a hierarchy of goals to govern and inform decision making.
- Look for opportunities to shorten your customers’ journey to their desired destination by addressing the question, “Given where traffic to a given page comes from, what might be the customer’s logical next step?”
- Include steps to lengthen your customers’ journey only if it’s likely to help achieve your end goal. What additional content or interactions should a customer experience to guide them toward a desired outcome?
Pitfall #3: Isolating SEO from other business activities.
Alternative #3: Engage your SEO team as a key component of your digital efforts.
In Northeast Florida and throughout the country, we still encounter too many companies where the SEO and marketing worlds never overlap. This approach stymies the valuable synergies created when SEO is fully integrated as a critical component of a broad digital marketing strategy. Truly effective SEO is focused on improving customer experience and extending the reach of your brand with target audiences—which happen to be the very same objectives shared by almost all of your other marketing efforts. With these common goals in mind, it’s obvious that your SEO and other digital marketing activities should be working together to achieve maximum ROI.
If you’re not sure whether your SEO and digital marketing efforts are sufficiently streamlined, see if any of these symptoms apply to your organization:
- SEOs being excluded from PPC reporting or campaigns, especially when separate agencies are managing them.
- Risk of negatively impacting organic outcomes by bidding on the wrong terms
- Risk of increasing cost of digital marketing by bidding on terms unnecessarily
- Insufficient insight into valuable keywords and negative keywords.
- Insufficient insight into what drives CTR for your particular products or services
- Inventory availability reports not being shared with SEO teams
- Most e-commerce platforms have a designated response when a product is out of stock. If SEOs aren’t up to speed on how that response is generated, they may unintentionally “delete” large portions of your catalog by creating a permanent redirect in response to the 404 error resulting from the out-of-stock message. Instead, work together to plan future keyword focus around current and anticipated inventory changes or needs.
- Lack of communication between SEO teams and top salespeople or lead intake teams
- Top sales performers typically understand the best way to communicate key value propositions to potential customers. Their messages should be incorporated into the language on vital landing pages on your suite.
- Lack of communication between SEOs and customer service teams
- Customer service teams often function as “human search engines” for clients who can’t find what they’re looking for through site navigation or other searches. Their insights can be invaluable in customizing your content to address the queries and needs of your potential customers. Not only does this enhance your site’s user experience, but it also reduces the time customer service agents have to spend leading customers to the information they want.
- Lack of communication between SEOs and marketing directors about broad marketing initiatives
- What big holidays or major company events are on the horizon? What about upcoming project launches or anticipated press coverage? Most of these factors will impact the keyword queries that your existing and potential clients will use to find your site. Involving your SEO team in the marketing calendar and plan will allow you to find more opportunities to maximize the value of existing advertising efforts.
- Lack of communication between SEOs and public relations teams
- SEO can provide valuable support for reputation management and public relations activities by aggregating internally held properties and favorable content online, incorporating them into link-building strategies and ensuring each is keyword-optimized for reputation-related search queries.
- PR teams may also lack experience in keyword selection and usage and instead use language that isn’t relevant to online audiences. SEO can assist by providing your PR team with lists of keywords related to certain products or categories to be incorporated into PR materials and content.
- Lack of communication between SEOs and social media teams
- Social media content does not always directly influence a ranking, but most of its content will make its way into the index, which will result in Google better understanding the contextual focus of your site. SEO teams should work with social media content creators to incorporate relevant keywords into posts related to specific products, services and categories.
- Brand-distributed social content often inspires user-generated social content. Using keywords selected for SEO value in social media content may result in more positive search contributions from your user base, such as keyword-related hashtags.
If this article has opened your eyes to how much more you could be doing with a more targeted SEO approach, we’d love to discuss how our team can help you build an effective strategy. Our digital expertise is built on years of experience in the Jacksonville market, and we relish the opportunity to share that hard-earned knowledge, whether it’s through presentations and articles like this one or one-on-one meetings with our clients.
If you need more proof, the case studies here are a good reflection of our success. If you’re ready to take your digital marketing program to the next level, contact us today.