As any marketer knows, search engine optimization (SEO) is a tricky thing to handle. Once you think you’ve got it nailed down, the rules can shift, depending on whether there are unforeseen changes in oft-finicky search engines.
During Toronto’s Mesh conference on Wednesday, a panel of SEO strategists shared their thoughts on how to do SEO well and to do it right. We’ve rounded up five of their points here.
1) Don’t depend too much on Google to draw in new customers.
As tempting as it may be to rely on Google to help with your marketing efforts, the fact is it’s a large company and it can’t help every small site out there.
“You’re really at their mercy. Google doesn’t care about your site,” said Dana DiTomaso, a partner at Kick Point Inc., an Edmonton, Alta.-based digital marketing agency. For example, when Google updates its algorithm, sites can disappear for whatever reason – and it’s hard to find any recourse.
She added it can be easy for small businesses, especially those who are new to the paid search game, to turn to a Google AdWords rep to get help.
“Google is not your friend and does not want to help you make the most out of this … [An AdWords rep] is here to get you to spend money,” she added.
The key is to focus on producing good content instead, said Krista LaRiviere, CEO and co-founder at gShift Labs, a web presence analytics platform.
“Take a step back, and think about where your audience is trying to find you online and offline,” she said. “Just focus on your marketing and producing engaging content that’s measurable. Concentrate on that and forget about trying to please Google only.”
2) Make sure you take advantage of YouTube and other video platforms to get the word out about your brand.
YouTube is also a viable search engine, one that a lot of people forget when they start creating searchable content for their businesses. The first thing? To just understand that YouTube exists, said LaRiviere.
“I see YouTube as one of the biggest missed opportunities for search and social. You don’t have to get fancy, and you don’t have to blow your brains and your budgets out,” she said. “You already have content that you can create videos from.”
For example, at gShift, she and her employees write blog posts. But they’ll often reuse that content and create short, quick videos.
Michael Pranikoff, global director of emerging media at PR Newswire, agreed that YouTube should be an important piece of the marketing strategy.
“It’s an incredibly powerful channel … One thing we had to do was cross-pollinate our channels,” he said, adding his company will take multiple pieces of content and then post it in various places – for example, one of their YouTube videos will lead to one of their blog posts.
“We share content in organic ways without having to forcefeed it down people’s throats.”
He added podcasts are also a great way to get people interested in your content. To get them listening, there should be a tag line encouraging them to tune in. It may also help to write a transcript of a podcast, especially as those are loaded with searchable keywords.
3) If you want to attract clicks, ensure your ad copy is solid.
The problem with most generic, boring ads is that they tend to use phrases like “Best prices on windows.” Not only is it hard to tell for a search engine to tell whether a company means glass windows, the ones attached to buildings, or Windows the operating system, but those are also boring and offer no call to action, said DiTomaso.
As an anecdote, one of her own clients was a company that provided tattoo removal services, she recalled.
“The client had ad copy, and they were like, look, this is an ad I wrote. Tattoo removal, best prices,” she said. “And well, I don’t think I’m really trying to save on a laser that burns my skin, but sure.”
So DiTomaso’s agency came up with better ad copy – “When forever isn’t as long as you thought it was.”
“You need to do brand storytelling in a teeny tiny space,” she said.
And what’s also key is to use ad copy to send people to landing pages designed specifically for a campaign – not to just drive them to the homepage and let them hunt for the relevant landing pages themselves, Pranikoff added.
There are plenty of great services out there that can help with this, DiTomaso added. For example, Unbounce helps marketers create great landing pages, and it also provides guides on how to build them.
4) Keep in mind the way people search for content will change, depending on how they’re accessing it.
When people search for things from mobile devices, the results will look different from the ones that show up when searching from a desktop. That’s due to a number of a factors – for example, when people do a search from a mobile device, they can enter text, but they can also do a voice-based search and change the wording of their search.
“A brand and a piece of content may be discovered, just lower down in the device. It’s a massive missed opportunity,” said LaRiviere. “You can really start to win over competitors who are not thinking about the change in behaviour across devices.”
Pranikoff added that means businesses need to think about ensuring their content is optimized for mobile as well as for the web.
“If people are looking for that content, we have to put it in a format that people can access it,” he said. He added this is already the norm in China, Hong Kong, and other places where people constantly use their mobile devices and have connectivity everywhere, including on the subway. As they’re constantly consuming content from mobile devices, brands have recognized it all needs to be mobile-friendly.
5) Reach out through social channels, podcasts, and any other way you can to promote your content and your business.
It’s not enough to just create content and leave it, hoping people will find it. Some of the best ways to promote content, even if it is optimized for search, is to share it on social.
The appropriate social network will change for every business, depending on whether they’re business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), LaRiviere said.
“If you can’t do a great job with all of them, pick one. B2C is good with Facebook, while B2B is more LinkedIn,” she added.
Another tip would be to use Facebook Promoted Posts to reach out to anyone with the job title “journalist” or “reporter,” DiTomaso said. That means when anyone in media is looking at their Facebook home feed, they might spot your post and want to write about it.