The Importance of Search Marketing
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the single best investments most firms can make to improve the quantity and quality of sales leads. Billions of web browsing sessions begin with a search query, every day. But with so many businesses competing for the top spot in search results, it can be difficult to drive traffic to your site from search engines. The good news is there are many ways to improve your search rankings–methods that are easily adopted and deployed by the laymen digital marketer–thereby giving your business a competitive advantage and a huge leg up in generating leads.
A Brief Definition of Terms
Any discussion of SEO should begin with a few key definitions.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the use of search engines to promote your business, and consists of two distinctly different methods, or channels: Organic Search and Paid Search.
Organic Search is the search rankings you achieve through having quality, relevant content on your website, with specific keywords that are common to both your web page and the search term (or query) the potential user types into the search box. Organic search does not require purchasing anything in order to improve search results ranking.
Paid Search (also known as Pay-Per-Click, or PPC) on the other hand is achieved through the use of paid tools like Google Adwords, wherein you bid on certain keywords in order to have your “search result” (your ad) displayed at the top of the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
Both of these search methods (Organic and Paid) depend on the use of A) well-planned keywords and key phrases, and B) relevant content on the web page, or Landing Page (LP) to which you’re linking (among other factors).
Keywords are a key component (no pun intended) in your Search Engine Marketing efforts. Whether you are attempting to improve your organic search ranking, or planning a Paid Search campaign within a platform like Google Adwords, thoughtful and deliberate selection of keywords and keyphrases can make or break your search engine marketing results. The shear number of permutations that can be achieved through various combinations of words and different match types (such as exact match vs any combination), allows for a practically unlimited number of combinations of words and phrases. Setting up these match types, and testing the efficacy of various keywords, is not for the faint of heart.
A Landing Page is the page to which your ad or search result links. It is very important that your Landing Page reflect content relevant to the keywords or key phrases you are targeting, otherwise Google will give you a poor Quality Score, which can lower your search ranking, or in the case of Paid Search, might not display your ad at all. (We will get into the factors that determine Quality Score in just a moment).
Your Landing Page need not be your website’s home page, in fact, you are far better off if your Landing Page is custom-tailored to reflect the specific products, services, or targeted keywords contained in the user’s search term (the words the user types into the search box). We will further explore Landing Pages and how to create landing pages that convert viewers into customers, on article #5 of this Digital Marketing Series.
Quality Score is a combination of factors, derived from the search engine’s search algorithm, that assigns a score to the website landing page to which the search result is linked. I know that is a mouthful, and chock-full-of digital marketing jargon, so allow me to elaborate. In layman’s terms, the Quality Score represents the quality and relevancy of the page content that is listed in the search results, as compared to the keywords that were typed in the user’s search query.
There are several factors of varying weight or impact that go into determining your Quality Score. In the next section we’ll dive deeper into these terms and see how it all works together to improve your traffic.
How it Works
First, let’s look into what comprises your Quality Score, since it is the primary determinant in calculating your search ranking. Because you are relying exclusively on the quality and relevancy of the content on your Landing Page and the keywords to be found there, it is important to stack the odds in your favor by implementing (or discontinuing) use of these key elements.
There are several key elements that Google emphasizes when it comes to determining the quality of your Landing Page, among the most important are:
- Content, including H1 and H2 tags (Headings) and Anchor Tags (link text)
- Backlinks (who is linking to your site)
- Mobile-First User Experience (mobile friendly or responsive web design)
- Safety/Encryption (using HTTPS on your site, rather than simply HTTP)
- Interstitials, or pop-ups (this element has a negative correlation)
Let’s take a look at each one of these elements in a little more detail.
Before you get the idea of randomly stuffing your pages with keywords, or hiding a multitude of keywords within the code of your page, take note: Google will penalize you, or worse, blacklist you, if they suspect you are trying to trick the search engine into favoring your page through the willy-nilly use of hidden or redundant keywords.
Deliberate and purposeful use of keywords is crucial to your quality score, and thus your search ranking. After all, it is the wording that determines the essence of your message. According to Google, when it comes to your search quality score, “Be relevant, be compelling, and drive traffic to landing pages that deliver on what you promise in your ad, and you can feel confident your score should reflect that quality.”
More specifically, it is important to have your targeted keywords within the H1 And H2 headings of your page. These page and paragraph headings figure prominently in the quality score of your page. For instance, if you are a plumber in Wildwood, FL, incorporate both keywords, Plumber and Wildwood, in your heading. (i.e. “The Best Plumber in Wildwood!” rather than “Welcome to our Site!”)
Anchor text also plays a vital role in your content’s quality rating. When embedding links within the body copy of your site, use expressive terms like “View our Plumbing Services” for your link text, rather than simply labeling links as “click here.” You will find this simple yet costly mistake everywhere on the internet. How many times have you seen a site that implores you: “To view a list of our plumbing services, click here,” with only the word” here” providing the link. A more effective and search-friendly usage (and what we feel is proper “internet etiquette”) would be: “View a list of our plumbing services.”
There are many articles online that can spell out exact strategies and tactics to build backlinks, however, beware of link farms that are created solely for the purpose of artificially generating backlinks. Just as we saw in keyword stuffing, Google has gotten wise to such tactics and will penalize or blacklist you for your attempted trickery.
Your site’s backlinks are rated based on 3 factors: number or quantity of backlinks, link authority, and link diversity. Number of backlinks is self-explanatory, representing the total number of backlinks. However, the quality and relevancy of the backlinking site (link authority) and the distribution of those backlinks across a variety of sites rather than all from one site (link diversity), are immensely important in rating backlinks.
The most reliable method for building a healthy collection of backlinks is to publish high-quality content to which others are compelled to link. You can also reach out to high-quality partners (partners who themselves have a high degree of trust with Google) and request having them link to your content. Avoid asking for a link merely for the purpose of creating backlinks, but rather make them aware of the quality content you provide that will be of great value to their customers/users. Additionally, you can offer to write a guest post on another company’s website, imparting your wisdom to their users, while at the same time capitalizing on the opportunity to include a link (or links) to your website. Just be reasonable with your use of links within the content. Viewers have become savvy to being “sold-to.”
Mobile-First User Experience
Google recently (2016) made a major shift in the way they index websites. Mobile-First (responsive layout) sites have taken priority in the indexing of web pages. Mobile has now become one of the leading factors in computing search rankings. In addition to the benefits mobile-first sites add to your search ranking, mobile optimization is more important than ever to your potential customers. In fact, the majority (about 57%) of web traffic takes place on mobile devices. It is no longer just an added benefit to offer a website that translates well to mobile device. IT IS A REQUIREMENT! And the trend shows little sign of stopping. Think mobile-first, not just mobile-friendly.
Closely related to the mobile-first philosophy is page load speed. Page speed is integral to a quality user experience, especially on mobile. Your page should load within a couple of seconds, regardless of whether the user is on a desktop or a mobile device.
You can add and verify your mobile presence through the use of Google Search Console. You should also test your page load speeds through an online tools such as PageSpeed Insights.
Google confirmed as far back as 2014 that websites using encryption (HTTPS) will rank better than sites using HTTP alone. Furthermore, Google Chrome browser now marks non-encrypted HTTP sites as “unsafe,” as opposed to their HTTPS encrypted counterparts, as witnessed by the 45% of top websites that all use HTTPS encryption and achieve first page rankings.
Unlike the other methodologies listed above, interstitials, or pop-ups, have an inverse, or negative effect on your quality score. You very well may be penalized if your landing page includes an ad or call-to-action that covers the site’s content upon arrival. Exceptions to this might be a login dialogue box, or age verification pop-up. Another form of interstitial that is frowned upon by Google is the use of a page redirect that immediately whisks you away from the originally intended link URL. This seems suspect to Google, and therefore reduces your quality score.
Of course, Search Engine Marketing, Search Engine Optimization and Paid Search Advertising are complex subjects that could fill volumes (and have!). It is beyond the scope of this brief article to make you an expert in Search, but through a basic understanding of the elements that comprise “search” and the way in which it all works together, I hope we have provided a valuable glimpse into what should be considered when attempting to improve your search rankings and ad placements.
Check Out the Other Articles in this Series
#1. Introduction to Online Marketing
#2. The Importance of Search Marketing (Current Article)
#3. Generate Leads Using Social Media Marketing
#4. Successful Email Marketing
#5. Optimizing Your Website to Get Leads