digital marketing

A Search Engine Optimisation survival guide for marketing managers

There is one topic which tops the list from a digital marketing point of view and it’s Search Engine Optimisation (aka SEO). It is indeed one of the most important levers for bringing traffic to a site. I can barely think of a Marketing manager I have bumped into in the past 18 months who isn’t obsessed with the fact that his products will or will not show in search engines.

A Search Engine Optimisation survival guide for marketing managers

A Search Engine Optimisation survival guide for marketing managers
A Search Engine Optimisation survival guide for marketing managers (click to enlarge)

This is obviously a valid request and a lot of expectations are set on the improvement/optimisation of web pages to be more search-engine friendly, and a lot of pressure is put on web site owners like yours truly. There is nothing wrong with that though, I believe it all boils down to getting the right explanation across to our managers and explaining what SEO really is and isn’t about. In essence, it’s not about cheating; on the contrary, thinking that optimising your site for ‘free products’ when you sell expensive products is not only daft, it’s pointless. So I won’t take any of your time debating on whether SEO is cheating because it’s not. Or at least it’s not a side of the business that I’m interested in.

My conclusion is that education is at the heart of that matter and I have developed a little web owner survival kit in which I have included some of the fundamentals of SEO, to help Marketing managers and site owners with their daily task of improving their web content and better serve their visitors. This post and Slideshare presentation will complement nicely our previous manual on the subject of Internet content.

Your SEO is more than just about  web pages: it’s a matter of strategy

My aim here is not to depict the complete picture of website optimisation. This would be an impossible task. Search engines vary their rules on a daily basis, and narrowing down our attention to Google only wouldn’t be sufficient to simplify our work. What I have attempted to do in this article is to focus on the fundamentals of search engine optimisation. I have used this canvas in the field and I have found it pretty effective in order to evangelise about SEO and get marketing managers to take ownership of this task, as a means, not only to improve their web pages but mostly to improve how their products/services are presented: well, in essence, I could sum it up by adding that improving your SEO will also help hone your marketing strategy, therefore killing two birds with one stone.

When Marketing managers come to see me about their web page SEO they often have grievances about the Internet, or the website or even the webmasters, but none of these is really to blame.

_ “I can’t see my products when I type ‘0800 numbers’” I was told by quite a few marketing managers (just change the keyword/product name, you’ll always get the same problem)

_ Ok, I replied, “but why isn’t your page named ‘0800 numbers’ then?”

_ “It’s normal he answered, we don’t call it that way internally!”

As a result, it’s natural, the name of a product which is only internal will never show outside the Web because a website isn’t done for your co-workers, it’s meant for external visitors, who need to be addressed with their vocabulary, not yours. Actually, this means that the marketing manager in question is going to have to step into his visitors’ shoes and stop interpreting the world through his own cultural references. In essence, this is what marketing is all about, and it has nothing to do with the web.

10 steps for improving your SEO dramatically and simply

including a Slideshare pictorial guide for SEO marketers (see bottom of this article)

Important notice: it is reminded that this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to SEO. All steps have been voluntarily simplified in order to help marketing managers, not to turn them into bespectacled anoraks. My method described here is simple, it is certainly not scientific, it is bound to make any SEO guru scream in dismay I’m sure, but I’ve tried it and it worked time and time again, so I believe there must be something good in it.

Step 1: define your SEO niche

Trying to be all things to all people is a bad thing in Marketing in general, but in web page optimisation it is a lethal mistake. First and foremost, one has to target a so-called SEO niche in order to be well-positioned in search engines. Reaching number one rank is nice to have but can rarely be achieved from day one. On the contrary, it is easier and more effective to aim at niches, one at a time for each page you want to index, and eventually, your ranking will improve.

1.       Target 3 keywords (or combination of). I don’t mean that one cannot index a page for more than 3 keywords, I have seen counterexamples. What I mean is

a.       It’s difficult to target more than 3 keywords from a resource viewpoint,

b.      If you want to be consistent, these keywords will have to be repeated all over your text, so imagine if you have 10 of them!

c.       Your website has probably more than one page so do use other pages to target other keywords, based on relevance (the more the keywords are repeated in the page the more relevant because it means that this page really is about that),

d.      Don’t try and spam search engines, their designers are really shrewd, so spamming a page with repeated keywords may sound very clever but I assure you it’s not plus your readers might not appreciate your style.

2.       Analyse popularity AND competition and focus on that KEI

a.       keyword popularity will tell you how much a keyword combination is sought after,

b.      competition will tell you how often your competitors have tried to use this combination of keywords for their own SEO,

c.       the right combination between a & b is called the Key Efficiency Indicator index (aka KEI), a very effective way of balancing the two factors,

d.      bringing realism using personal judgement is also advised. Some of the numbers given by some keyword generation tools (see last section about useful tools) will not make much sense unless you interpret them properly and eliminate irrelevant keywords. For instance, networks appears as if it were a relevant keyword for telcos but in fact it’s not because it’s too vague as it mostly refers to social networks. A simple search engine query will prove the point very quickly and therefore, the ambiguity can be removed by qualifying the keyword better (network security is more relevant for instance, etc.)

e.      each page can/must be indexed with a different strategy in mind. This is how you can ensure that different targets are reached from the same website.

note: “The Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) was developed by search engine guru Sumantra Roy. it compares the daily searches with the number of competing Web pages to pinpoint exactly which keywords are good enough so you can use them while optimizing your site.” (source: sitepoint)

Step 2: fine-tune your page title

As said in our previous post about Internet content, good content shows in the title. Good SEO too, and this is rather obvious so I won’t expatiate.

Step 3: implement keywords in the URL

Adding your keywords to your URL is also very effective as it will improve the search engine friendliness of your website. It also means generic keywords. Business people are always obsessed with their brand – and this is natural to an extent – but Internet visitors aren’t forcibly. What you have to do is get them to associate your brand with the good content that you are providing. It’s just the same objective but it works the other way round.

Step 4: it may not be useful, but it can’t hurt if you update those hidden meta tags (keywords, descriptions)

Web pundits may declare meta tags dead and buried, the fact is my SEO tool disagrees plus I believe it doesn’t really hurt if you update meta keywords and description and even the highly transparent author tag for some obvious reasons: a) Google declared them dead but who can tell they’re right, since their algorithm is kept secret? b) can you guarantee they won’t change their mind and when? c) it’s a matter of discipline I believe, because if you spend time doing this right, it probably means that you have given a thought to your keywords, and that in itself is good because very few people do d) it will keep your SEO tool quiet when you verify your pages 😉

I do not recommend you oversee this step, it only takes a few seconds and I believe, if nothing else, it serves the purpose of tidying up the page, a little as if you were cleaning the table before lunch, it’s always nicer and healthier.

Step 5: get page copy to reflect your choice of keywords

Page copy, i.e. the length of the text to be found in your pages is the crux of the problem. I have seen websites – God knows I have – which looked like screen versions of paper brochures with nice pictures on them, the odd flash animation and very little text underneath. Usually, Marketing managers are put off by text. It “doesn’t look nice”; the “page is cluttered”, it’s “messy and it’s hard to find what you want” … are a few examples of commonplace feedback one gets from Joe Bloggs who thinks he can design a website just because he browsed one a few minutes before. Yet, the significance of the page copy is paramount. The number of times that your keyword is repeated in your page is of extreme importance, and not just because of search engines like the idea. The reason why search engines behave that way is that their programmers have – rightfully – decided that if your page were about football, you shouldn’t try and lure people into believing it’s about hockey or rugby. One way of making sure that a page really is about its main subject is by measuring the number of occurrences of your targeted keywords. As a result, each of your 3 keyword combinations should be repeated on average 5-10 times on a page. And if this page is just made of cut and pastes from one of your sales brochures, forget about it.

Step 6: keywords behind images (‘alternate tags’)

Alternate tags are these little pop-ups which show text when hovering over an image with your mouse. Your SEO will improve greatly if you make sure that these pictures have tags on them. Saving the pictures with meaningful keywords in their file name can also help greatly. Image file names also are URL’s (images are resources, i.e. the R in URL, unique resource location) and are therefore indexed by search engine too.

Step 7: turn your keywords into hotlinks

This step is often overlooked and yet this is one of the most powerful accelerators for SEO. Search engines like keywords in links so please avoid naming your links “click here” or “read more” etc. All your links should be meaningful and contain keywords in plain English: “download the file” should be replaced by “download the report on IT security market trends in America” for instance.

Step 8: submit your site to search engines

When I work on SEO with Marketing managers I realise that they are paying a lot of attention up to step #8 and then they’re done. Or so they think rather. For in fact it’s only just started. Don’t just stop there and wait. SEO requires that your site be submitted to the search engines which will send their bots to visit and index your links and pages. Yet, Google is not good enough. For a start, Google’s market share in the US doesn’t go beyond 65% whereas in the UK and France it reaches 85-90% (source: Orange Business websites). Besides, submitting your site to more than one search engine will help build links around your site and that too can’t hurt.

Step 9: use web 2.0 to boost your positioning

Website optimisation really is longwinded as it takes sometimes up to several months to get a website well-indexed by search engines, but it bears some results in the very long run. On the opposite, Blogs and social media links are more dynamic, can sometimes be indexed in a day or even several times a day. Social media brings speed and reactivity in your SEO but things change fast in this world and blog SEO delivers more short-term results than Website SEO. Hence, having a good mix of the two is a good idea, and I don’t mean here creating fake blogs in order to boost SEO productivity, as fake blogs are completely out of the question.

Step 10: Just keep trying

SEO work shouldn’t stop with step 9. For one, results don’t show immediately, priming the pump a few times is required before something actually happens. Secondly, the results aren’t forever because they also depend on your competitors. It’s almost a full-time job in so far as one has to follow up on one’s position on search engines on a regular basis. Rankings evolve all the time, one has to be very careful not to let sleeping dogs lie for too long.

However, the beauty of working in a large enterprise is that one can teach Marketing managers to follow up on their products regularly and this is a lot better and more satisfactory than just having one central marketing person doing all the job over thousands and thousands of pages.

In conclusion

Marketing managers shouldn’t be over-obsessed with SEO, and mind their own (Marketing) business and shouldn’t forget that things change fast on the web (it’s a continuous task).

There are definitely too many marketing managers getting obsessed with SEO. SEO is a serious discipline, as is Web management or Social media, and is best left to experts who can tell a good keyword from a bad one. As well as I encourage our marketing managers to get involved with SEO when they design their product descriptions, I believe that the eventual expertise will always remain with the professionals of that domain who eat and drink the stuff every day in the field. At the end of the day, what matters is not what you read but what you achieve, and the results you get on search engines themselves. Besides, don’t expect miracles – Meta tags aren’t a magic solution for instance – and the number one rank in search engines is often a pie in the sky unless you have defined your target niches properly (see above). Besides, no one can guarantee number one position, let alone in the long run, so don’t focus on this, it’s irrelevant and it changes on a daily basis if not more.

All you have to do is your job, work on your products, step in the shoes of your clients and your ecosystem and work patiently, over and over again … and try again when you’ve failed. Your SEO will be the result of this. And your Internet strategist will be more than happy to oblige … once your part of the job is done. Our 10 step survival kit will in that case come handy so as not to miss a crucial milestone in the process.

A few simple tools I recommend:

1) Google Trends and Google Insights show how popular keyword searches are on the Net

2) Google (Adwords) Keyword Tools will check keyword popularity in detail and let you fine-tune your SEO niche

3) WebCEO, a fully-fledged SEO tool, used by many a big business name

4) Page ranking tool to check your ranking online and then post on your website

A SlideShare representation of our 10 tips for simple SEO

note: a picture is worth a thousand words (literally). Feel free to use our slide and pin it on your wall while you try and improve your SEO and want to spread the word around amongst your marketing teams

Yann Gourvennec
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Yann Gourvennec

Yann Gourvennec created visionarymarketing.com in 1996. He is a speaker and author of 6 books. In 2014 he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur, when he created his digital marketing agency. ———————————————————— Yann Gourvennec a créé visionarymarketing.com en 1996. Il est conférencier et auteur de 6 livres. En 2014, il est passé d'intrapreneur à entrepreneur en créant son agence de marketing numérique. More »

8 Comments

  1. If everyone understood the true value of seo work, all search engine optimization specialists would be overwhelmed right now! And, heading towards some serious money! Convincing people that I’m not going to cheap in SEO just to give them a moment in the sun, when they could have a longterm success, pits me up against considerable greed issues with some clients. If only all were more honorable in their intentions, as I have always strived to be and am.
    Hope to see more on this.

    1. I can’t guarantee everyone will get it, but at least one can try and explain things over and over again until people understand that a) they can seek help from [true] experts b) that such experts shouldn’t be of a the “get rich quick kind” and work ethically c) that they can also helps themselves by doing true marketing and leaving the web part to experts, be they internal or third party.

  2. You bring up great points. I actually didn’t know about some of this, glad I dropped by. Thanks!

  3. You bring up great points. I actually didn’t know about some of this, glad I dropped by. Thanks!

  4. This just goes to show that Internet Marketing strategies are becomming more and more covert and it’s time to step up your tactics.

  5. Organic seo is one of (if not “THE”) the best investments a business can make. Of course, I am biased a bit but I can’t think of anything that can provide such a high ROI in the right hands.

  6. I think there is a line that you can walk when starting the SEO process. All the on page factors are a must to beginning. I look at it kinda like giving Google a road map to what you would like to be found for. On page alone will not get you the rankings but thats where all the off page seo comes into it. That is where a true professional can come in handy because in 2014 Google is getting really specific on what drives rankings. I have seen to many sites make huge gains in the last few months and then to be taken down by the last algo changes in the past month. So when you are doing seo its a marathon and not a sprint in todays niche markets.

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