Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important strategies for effective online marketing. SEO helps your website rank high in organic results in search engines such as Google, guiding more visitors to your website. Apart from increasing visibility, this makes your brand, product and/or service appear more reliable and credible. SEO is a long-term marketing activity that includes technical and creative elements. Many things contribute to effective search engine optimization, inluding the keywords used on your page and the way other websites link to yours.
E-commerce is constantly growing,with more and more people opting for the convenience of online shopping each year. Owing additionally to the increasing adoption of mobile devices, the online market will continue to grow at an exponential rate as consumers are increasingly shopping from a phone, tablet or similar mobile device. In fact, the following statistics on the European e-commerce sector from Statista highlight this growing trend.
With a market capitalization of $470 billion, Alphabet Inc. dominates the search engine market with its Google search engine. Google is the market leader, with a market share of over 93% in Germany, a position it has held for many years. In the United States, Google has a market share of just under 64%, followed by BING with over 21%.
According to HubSpot, Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to techniques that help your website rank higher in organic (or “natural”) search results, thus making your website more visible to people who are looking for your product or service via search engines. SEO is part of the broader topic of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), a term used to describe all marketing strategies for search.
SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (unpaid) search engines results. It encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects contributing to search engine optimization, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web.
So you may be asking: why use SEO and why should i care about it? Well, each year more than 2 trillion search queries are made on Google alone. Google answers more than 88,700 searches worldwide per second. This means that every second that your website is not indexed on Google, you miss out on hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities for someone to access your website, view your content, and buy your product or services.
Let’s delve a bit deeper. Every search engine has a program known as a “bot” or “crawler.” These programs follow links and visit websites. As they do so, they index website content and follow the links on those websites to other sites. If your website has not yet been indexed, it will not appear in search results. At its essence, search engines give the searcher the exact information they are searching for. For this to be possible, there has to be an archive of available information for them to select from. This archive is called an index. Every search engine uses its own methodologies in gathering and prioritizing content from websites, and this process is appropriately referred to as indexing.
To make sure that search engines list the best results first, they normally look for the following indicating factors:
Let us have a detailed look at why retailers should adopt search engine optimization (SEO) into their overall marketing strategies.
SEO is still just as powerful and important as it ever was, despite all of Google’s updates pushing retailers in a more content- and user-experience-focused direction. In fact, data from MarketDive shows that 82% of marketers report that SEO is becoming more effective.
Besides, SEO provides one of the most significant and consistent ROIs of any marketing method available. This is highlighted by data from BRAFTON.COM which shows that over 70% of small businesses who invested in SEO improved their bottom lines.
A study by Google showed that 50% of consumers who performed a local search on a mobile device visited a store on that same day. These searches also led to higher sales, with 18% of local mobile searches leading to a sale within one day. Enterprises should optimize their sites for local search as more and more consumers use local search queries to identify local businesses and find location, hours and directions.
SEO can also improve the credibility of your brand, especially when you rank highly in the search results.
SEO is really affordable. There is no denying that the first upfront investment of time and money is steep during the first year of SEO. But once you’ve built and optimized everything, it will serve as the foundation for all of your online marketing for years to come. While outbound marketing strategies might appear simpler and more direct, they are also more costly. Research indicates that inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound strategies.
Additionally, SEO is a less complex strategy compared to other inbound strategies. Social media and email marketing, for instance, are both highly effective channels for generating leads, but both have some degree of complexities as you are required to push out new content to your list and social media followers. However, once a page is SEO-optimized and you’ve followed other SEO best practices like quality content, keyword relevance, etc. then you can often sit back and enjoy the benefits.
Competition for local business can be fierce, and this means you need to leverage SEO. As a matter of fact, stats from GE Capital Retail Bank show that 81% of shoppers research and compare products online before making a local purchase. Other research puts this number as high as 94% for B2B buyers. Achieving first page rankings for your business and products is critical if you want consumers who are actively seeking out your products to be able to find you.
Ever since the Hummingbird update, Google has placed a premium on UX. In fact, it’s now a ranking factor. User experience is now reflected by, and can also be achieved through, strong SEO. Search engines want to see a mobile-friendly design, good user signals (high time on site, low bounce rates, etc.) and integration of relevant photos and videos. These elements are all important for providing a great experience to site visitors. Great UX also translates to higher conversion rates, increased trust and brand loyalty, whether from a SEO perspective or simply from ease and enjoyment of use.
Over 75% of users will never scroll past the first page of search results, and the first organic result for a specific search will generate nearly 33% of the clicks. Additionally, SEO leads have nearly a 15% close rate, while outbound leads only have an average close rate of 1.7%! Consumers who are looking for specific products or services are understandably more likely to make a purchase from businesses they seek out through search, rather than those who attempt to attract them using outbound marketing strategies.
Here’s a look at SEO-related terms and their definitions.
By the mid-1990s, webmasters had begun to optimize their sites for search engines (think Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) due to a growing awareness of the importance of being listed by the various engines. Initially, all a webmaster needed to do was submit the URL of a webpage for it to be indexed. Search engines relied on metadata, information that webmasters inserted in the code of a webpage, to determine what a webpage was about and to index it appropriately.
Realizing the importance of being ranked highly in search results, webmasters began using the search engine’s reliance on metadata to manipulate the ranking for their websites. In turn, search engines have developed their own more complex algorithm, including a number of other ranking factors. While at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a search engine called Backrub that relied on a mathematical algorithm that ranked web pages. This was the precursor to Google. In 1998 they founded Google, which relied on pagerank and hyperlink analysis, as well as on-page factors, to determine how prominent a webpage was. This enabled Google to avoid the same kind of manipulation of on-page factors to determine ranking.
Ranking highly in search results is vital to website performance and success, so successful webmasters have adapted just as search engines have updated their algorithms to avoid being manipulated. Google, for instance, now uses more than two hundred different factors in its algorithm (which changes over four hundred times yearly) to determine relevance and ranking.
Search engine optimization should be a constant process whereby enterprises should continually make improvements to their website. This is because search engines are always upgrading and changing their criteria for good rankings. It is important, then, that you have a solid SEO strategy in place that keeps up with this ever-changing SEO landscape.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can be divided into two main strategies:
Your SEO strategy should take into consideration these two factors, so as to be able to achieve optimum results. Let’s start by looking at on-page optimization strategies.
As the name suggests, on-page SEO covers all the measures and modifications that are made on your own website. These include:
As a retailer and a website owner you should know that “Content is king.” Search engines always try to give you the best experience possible by directing users to the best content it can find. Panda, for example, is a filter in Google’s algorithm that aims to do away with thin, inauthentic, and low-quality content. In fact, it has become part of Google’s core ranking algorithm. This means that brands should produce great content at all times. Here are some good practices that will ensure that your content works wonders for you and your overall SEO strategy:
Your website has to be indexable if you want to achieve rankings in SERPs. You can do many things to achieve this. First, you can use a small file called “robots.txt.,” which is a text file that is stored on your server. It stores instructions for bots which specify which areas they may crawl and which they may not. When a search engine bot visits your website, it immediately looks for this file and follows its instructions.
An example of a robots.txt file would look like this: User-agent:* You can then save this content in a text file and save that in your website’s top level directory , for instance: http://www.mysite.com/robots.txt
The robots.txt file can also specify areas where the bot is not allowed to crawl. This is feature is enabled using the word “Disallow”:
User-agent:* (all bots)
But you should not restrict the bot with too many exceptions. Search engine bots should be allowed to crawl any areas that are important for displaying the website just as web visitors can see it.
Another element you can use to manage your website indexing is the XML sitemap. Google in fact, claims that, “For optimal crawling, we recommend using both XML sitemaps and RSS/Atom feeds. XML sitemaps will give Google information about all of the pages on your site. RSS/Atom feeds will provide all updates on your site, helping Google to keep your content fresher in its index.”
The XML sitemap helps search bots discover and index content on your site just like a typical map helps you discover places in an unfamiliar city. RSS/Atom feeds are a great way to notify search engines about any fresh content you add to the site.
The structure of your URLs can also help search engines to understand your website content better. A best practice here would include altering the URL so that, for instance, it incorporates the name of your website. Other good practices for a good URL structure include:
Businesses should make it easier for users to interact with their sites by integrating images within texts. Images are a great way to break up pieces of text and to communicate with search engines. Every image that you upload to your website will have a file name, and if you insert the image into your website, your image’s file name will also appear in your site’s source text.
Make sure that you use file names that best describe the content of the image, as search engines normally scan webpage code. For example, the name “black Adidas football boots.jpg” is more useful than “pic12345.jpg.” You can also do well by adding alt attributes (“alt” stands for “alternative”) to all your images. This metadata consists of a short piece of text which is displayed in the browser as an alternative if the graphic cannot be displayed because of technical problems. The alt attribute also helps make your website more accessible. For instance, reading programs and software for blind internet users can read alt attributes.
Title tags are the online equivalent of newspaper headlines. They are what shows up in the tab of your browser as blue links on search engines when your website is listed in an SERP. The HTML tag for them is called ‘title,’ but when it comes to blogs it often becomes an h1-tag, which stands for heading of the first order. The title tag is a ranking criterion for Google as well as other search engines. Title tags have up to 70 characters. This means you should choose your words wisely, and as they are easy to optimize, you should definitely make the most of them using the following methods:
The title and the meta description are usually the first elements that a new visitor to your website sees in the SERPs. So you can influence whether or not a visitor clicks on the search result with your website by optimizing the title and description.
The technical aspects of your website also matter a great deal when it comes to search engine optimization. For instance, how quickly your site loads plays a major role in your website ranking. To improve the speed of your site load time, you can do the following things:
Your server should also be accessible, as search engines want to provide the best possible search results. Their aim is to guide users to sites which work well, and which can always be accessed and used.
Mobile is now ubiquitous when it comes to internet use and in fact, the number of mobile searches now exceeds the number of desktop searches. As a result, mobile friendliness is now a ranking factor for Google, since it forms an integral part of a positive user experience (UX). Google has even begun experiments with a mobile-first index. This means that their algorithms will primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, understand structured data, and show snippets from those pages in the results. So, to stay on the safe side of SEO indexing, make sure that besides optimizing your sites for desktop, ensure you also do the same on mobile to boost user experience and rankings. Here are some actions you can take:
Search engines have considered security to be a ranking signal for some time now. Google, for instance, now warns users when websites are not secure. These warning notifications will essentially tell them not to provide their personal information (or worse, their credit card numbers).
The last thing you as a retailer would want, especially after working so hard to get traffic to your site, is for your users to bounce immediately because a big, red notification from Google is warning them away. There are two common security protocols that are worth considering to avoid this: HTTPS (a secure version of HTTP), and SSL (Secure Socket Layer). If you are starting out with a new domain, consider purchasing one as option from your web hosting service.
Brands can use off-page optimization to improve their website’s reputation and authority. This depends mainly on inbound links. Off-page optimization strategies involve measures which ensure that good-quality, relevant backlinks are created in the long term. Here’s a look at what off-page optimization entails.
Links are a crucial part of optimizing your off-page SEO. The purpose of a link is to allow a user to go from one web page to another. Besides allowing search engine spiders to find websites, links are a way of validating relevance (for instance, a link such as ‘Frankfurt hotel’ sends the message that, “users can trust the destination site that is relevant to the term ‘Frankfurt hotel’”) and indicating importance.
If you create content on your blog or specific web pages, you should also nonetheless refer to other pages within your website. You can do this by adding links between the pages (think anchor text). Anchor text is the visible text that forms the hyperlink. This is the text that should contain the keyword you are targeting. The link sends a signal that the target URL is important for the subject used in the anchor text.
You may also be wondering: how do websites get quality links in an honest and ethical way that won’t lead to penalties? Well, here’s a look at some of the ways:
When it comes to backlinks, make sure that you follow good practices. Google’s penguin filter, for instance, aims at detecting artificial backlink patterns and penalizing sites that violate its quality guidelines in regards to backlinks. Ensure that:
Be creative, since the best link-building strategies are those that provide added value and automate the linking process as much as possible.
Have you considered guest blogging to grow your brand, build awareness, generate high-quality traffic back to your site, and become a household name in the industry? Guest blogging is also a part of off-page optimization. Here, you should look for high-authority publication channels that would be a good fit for you to write guest posts on.
Local search refers to search behavior and results where location matters. Search engines have become smarter, and as locations of search results can more often be determined, this influences search results. A user may search for ‘Insurance Berlin,’ for example, and the search will know to return results for insurance companies based in Berlin. These may even be returned on a map. However, a user in Berlin may also search simply for ‘insurance.’ The search engine can now infer from the user’s IP address that the user is in Berlin, and will still return results for Berlin-based insurance companies, since the person searching for this term is likely to be looking for a nearby service. So it follows that brands should include the name and addresses of their businesses on their sites. As a result, SEO efforts will be boosted, especially when it comes to local search.
Email marketing is also a sound strategy when it comes to off-page optimization. If the emails you send out to prospects are personalized and useful, you will be able to get traffic back to your site. Make sure that your emails include a clear call-to-action, and also ensure that it’s easy for your email readers to share the content with their friends and post it on social media. This will extend the reach of your website content and give you more inbound links, which is ultimately good for SEO.
Social media nowadays plays an important role in search. Google is the biggest search engine worldwide, YouTube is the second, and Facebook is growing yearly. This should tell you something about search engines and social networks. If you are logged in to a social network while searching on a platform like Facebook for Bing, or even your Gmail account for Google, you could see results from or influenced by your social circles.
Social content, such as Twitter messages, Pinterest images, and YouTube videos, can appear in the SERPs. This influence of social media rankings on search rankings is therefore undeniable. Companies can do the following in terms of social networks so as to ensure a solid SEO strategy:
Keywords vs Content Clusters for SEO
Traditionally, searchers posed fragmented keyword queries to search engines to find answers to their queries. Nowadays, web visitors normally pose complex questions to search engines, and they expect accurate and timely results in return. Web visitors who want a specific answer also use many different phrases in their queries. Search engines, for their part, are also smart enough to recognize the connections across queries. This was as a result of Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 and Google’s RankBrain update (Google’s machine learning algorithm) in 2015. These algorithms can understand the topical context behind the search intent, tie it back to similar searches they have encountered in the past, and deliver web pages that best answer the query.
This means that the SEO landscape is now largely shifting to a topic cluster model. As a result, a single “pillar” page acts as the main hub of content for a overarching topic, and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link back to the pillar page, as well as to each other. This linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, and over time, the page should rank higher and higher for the topic it covers. The reason for this is that many businesses that invest in content find themselves with dozens of webpages that cover similar topic areas. All these pages end up competing with each other to be found by search engines, and ultimately, the searcher. As the volume of content on the internet and within each website continues to expand, a more orderly, thoughtful arrangement is needed – one that tells search engines what page should be prioritized and displayed for a main topic, and then organizes all the pages related to that topic in one interlinked cluster. The topic cluster model, at its very essence, organizes a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture.
Does content clustering actually work?
Yes, the topic cluster model works very well as a good SEO strategy. An experiment from HubSpot on the topic cluster model showed that the more interlinking they did, the better the placement in search engine results pages (SERPS). Impressions (or views) also increased with the number of links they created through this practice.
An effective SEO strategy involves measuring your results, interpreting those results, and using your analysis to make meaningful changes to your approach. Here is a look at some of the ways to go about doing this.
Google’s Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools), for instance, has an “HTML Improvements” report that will help you choose the best title tags and meta descriptions. Google uses your site’s metadata, including the title tags and meta descriptions, to figure out exactly how to classify your site and then tell users about it.
Inside this report, you’ll be able to quickly know if:
The report will basically give you a site-wide analysis and thereafter, you can click on specific items to dive into that specific page or post issue.
When it comes to building viable links, competitor analysis can help you find out who is linking to your competitors, and which non-competing sites are ranking highly for your keywords. You can then use this information to identify sites to then target for link requests. Here you can leverage the data in your Google Search Console account, or paid tools that provide link index data, such as: majestic.com, www.linkresearchtools.com, ahrefs.com, or www.opensiteexplorer.org.
Make sure that in your link-building tactics you use your keywords when communicating, as this will enable you to tell people how to link to you, and ensure that search engines notice your authority.
Retailers should regularly check their search results on every main search engine. As a retailer, you can easily type in keywords or phrases that describe your brand in order to find out how it ranks in the search engine results pages (SERPs), and therefore how well your site is optimized. You can capitalize on tools such as Google Search Console, OnPage.org, HubSpot tool, Web trends (webtrends.com), One Stat (www.onestat.com/) and Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics), which can help you to examine various details about your website and its usage. Key performance indicators (KPI) that you can keep a close eye on include the number of landing pages you have, the bounce rate of those pages, and the number of keywords driving traffic to each of those landing pages.
Also look at the following metrics to track your optimization progress:
The point to take away here is that brands should spend time experimenting with different metrics and reports, and as a result, they will be able to have a better SEO strategy in place.
The SEO landscape is marked by a history of algorithm updates, new technologies, and new techniques to win positions at the top of search engine result pages (SERPS). This means trends will always arise that will shape our businesses’ digital futures. Here’s a look at the trends that are defining SEO.
Studies indicate that 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search daily, and that the ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search. In fact, voice search currently accounts for about 20% of all Google searches, and it is estimated that by 2020 a whopping 50% of searches will be initiated by voice. To put this into perspective, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day. The 30% increase in voice search in just the next two years means that there will be a huge shift in the way people consume information and interact with search engines.
You will now need to optimize your SEO strategy so as to meet the demands of voice search (think Google voice search app, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa). Voice search calls for a whole new keyword research routine, because voice searches generally use normal, conversational sentences. In most cases, voice searches appear in the form of questions, such as, “What movies are showing at Zoo Palast Berlin?”
Additionally, smart speaker sales, like those for Amazon Echo and Google Home, surged in 2017, and sales will probably grow further in future years as newer models start to roll out. These speakers are activated by voice, and provide spoken search results. This means users are getting even more used to interacting with search engine results with only their voices and their ears.
Business organizations with the best data-driven processes and individuals will be the businesses that remain competitive, especially when it comes to SEO strategies. Google is actually making this easier by improving their insight data resources and tools to help enterprises identify new opportunities and fix problems. This trend means that businesses will have to improve their data visualization and alerts to identify search threats/problems/opportunities by harnessing data application programming interfaces (APIs) such as Google’s Keyword Planner, Campaign Planner, Analytics and search Console (GSC).
In the case of content optimization, businesses will have to prioritize improvements by thinking of their content as a portfolio of pages of different types, which contribute different amounts of value to the business based on their popularity and conversion rates. In other words, this means making your content work better for you by reviewing it’s effectiveness. HubSpot, for example, has used ‘Historical optimization’ to more than double the number of monthly leads generated by the old posts they have optimized. They also increased monthly organic search views of old posts, optimized by an average of 106%.
On reporting as a growing trend, Google’s deployment of Data Studio, for instance, can enable brands access to superior professional reports which show the channel and goals deltas (e.g. month-on-month, year-on-year changes) needed to manage performance much more clearly than what was previously provided in Google Analytics. This tool also enables you to use different API data sources to pull in different data.
There is no arguing that the search Results Pages (SERPS) are now almost unrecognizable from even 5 years ago. The list of blue links and snippets are now much richer, offering options for many types of visuals and data to support searches. The trick here is that you can leverage tools such as SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker, which will enable you to track your rankings within these features. It also monitors the features that show up for your keywords, indicating who is potentially stealing traffic from you. The Google SERP Features column will show you all features triggered by your keywords, with the ones you rank in highlighted in green. In addition, you can measure the volatility of SERP features day-to-day under the SERP Analysis tab.
Based on this data, you will be able to address the following opportunities that SERP features offer:
Let’s face it: if your page isn’t mobile-friendly, then you are losing...big-time. With the rise of voice search, and over 54% of Facebook users accessing the network exclusively on their mobile devices (and considering that Facebook now has 1.65 billion monthly active users, that number represents nearly 900 million mobile-only users!), you simply can’t afford to ignore mobile SEO anymore. Besides, mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor, and over half of Google searches now come from mobile devices. There are several ways to make your pages mobile friendly. You can start by visiting Google’s tool, for instance, to see if your pages are mobile-friendly. If not, you can just implement Google’s suggestions from the tool yourself, or hire someone to make the changes.
Do users have a satisfying experience when they visit your mobile site? A positive user experience (UX) means more return visits, more clicks, and more revenue in Google’s pocket. Thus, it makes sense that this is a priority. Sites with favourable navigation, readability and speed rank highest for UX. Google uses Rankbrain to determine if your site provides a positive user experience. As discussed earlier, Rankbrain is an algorithm based AI system that helps Google rank process some of its results. It is programmed to target sites that provide quality UX.
The bottom line here is that moving forward, businesses will need to understand how Rankbrain assesses UX on your site. For instance, it looks at your visitor’s browsing habits. Once they land on your page, are they staying for 5 minutes, or 20 minutes? A visitor who stays longer is indicative of a positive UX, whereas someone who lands and then immediately leaves sends a signal of a poor UX.
Improvement in video and image search
Google and other search engines are changing the way they treat images and videos in an online environment. This is because online interactions are evolving and becoming more visual thanks to faster internet speeds, more visual-friendly social media platforms, and a general consumer desire to engage with more images and videos. The point here is that we will start to see a vast improvement in search sophistication for visual assets.
Enter machine learning
Machine learning will spell the end of traditional search algorithm updates, especially with Alphabet, Google’s parent company, investing heavily in machine learning and AI over the past several years. RankBrain remains Google’s deepest dive into machine learning, but this will likely change as we begin to see a greater influence of machine learning over typical search results. Algorithm updates will be a thing of the past, and in its place will be an automated, continuous and iterative algorithm updating process carried out by machine learning.
Google and Bing still dominate the search engine space, but this is set to change. Business organizations are competing for ranking space outside these two search platforms, using platforms such as Yelp and Amazon, as well as digital assistants like Siri. If businesses want to be found by a greater percentage of user searches and introduce themselves to the widest audience possible, they’ll need to begin to think beyond Google’s and Bing’s range of influence.
As for hyperlocal results finally becoming a key player, this means there will be an increased influence of local search and local SEO. “Hyperlocal” refers to the process of targeting customers based on physical proximity. Studies show that whenever your audience searches a local keyword, seeing your company ranked on the first page of Google will instantly instill confidence and trust in your company and abilities. This means that brands currently involved in local SEO will have to do more to target hyperlocal keywords and optimize for even more locally relevant appearances, especially if you consider the increasing number of mobile users and the adoption of technologies like VR and AR.
The days of brand loyalty are dead and gone, now that just about any product is available on demand. The modern day consumer has innumerable options to choose from. They are also thorough in searching for their desired products and as a result, retailers are expected to meet these demands. In other words, if you are not meeting these expectations, search engine optimization should be your top priority in order to maintain your market share. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an extremely effective way of generating new business to a site. It’s a continuous process and a way of thinking about how search engines see your website, as well as how prospective customers use search engines to find your website. It’s also an ever-evolving activity, and retailers often have trouble keeping up with the latest updates, but one thing that will never change is the value of your buyer persona finding you through organic search.
So, make sure that you are well-versed with SEO strategies. Once you learn and master search engine optimization (use the following resources: www.Moz.com , www.SEOBook.com, www.SERoundTable.com, www.SearchEngineLand.com, https://www.hubspot.com/, etc.), SEO will suddenly seem far more approachable, and you’ll be well on your way to a positive ROI.