For today's connected consumer or business, a Google search is just a tap or a click away, and digital channels play an ever-increasing role in life decisions. What is the best way for brands to drive web traffic and, ultimately, sales in this new digital landscape?
The traditional answer was SEO-search engine optimization, which is the art and science of getting your website ranking high enough to be noticed in web searches. In the past couple of years, though, social media marketing, which means engaging with customers on sites like Facebook and Twitter, has grown in importance. Social media interaction done right has the power not only to drive traffic to a website, but also to change the public perception of a brand and to win fans who will recommend a product to their friends.
SEO is changing though, as the algorithms used by Google to determine which sites are shown in response to a search evolve. Those present at a recent SEO seminar were keen to emphasise that both SEO and social media have key roles in digital marketing strategy. "SEO, social, content development, PPC [Pay Per Click advertising], they all need to work together."
"Most organizations are trying to get a handle on their SEO strategy, but are comparatively under-resourced on their social strategies." Although an average of just 1% of marketing spend goes towards social, analysts say that one third of new content discovery involves some form of social engagement. "There is a discrepancy there that people need to start addressing," Enagagement is vital.
For those companies who do embrace social media, it is vital to interact, by replying to users rather than just posting marketing messages. If you are a brand and you are just listening, you are not dealing with any issues or any problems that may arise. You don't really have a voice – you are not engaging with the customer.
"Google's technology has got smarter over the years, previously, SEO was about building links and about putting pages up with keywords so you can rank. Now it is about content that is engaging, great site design, pages that load fast. The old-fashioned and dishonest methods are starting to die away. It is becoming much more difficult for people to get any sort of results doing that, which is good for the industry."
It remains critical for businesses to think about what potential customers are searching for. ExxonMobil's site used to talk a lot about 'commercial vehicle lubricants' whereas people were searching for 'best oil for a BMW'. "It was really as simple as saying, you have to stop talking in this corporate-speak," "We did some very simple keyword matching and said that you need to develop content around those search terms. They went from position 100 for BMW car oil to the top five."
How is SEO changing in a mobile world? The starting point is to have a true mobile site. "If you don't have a mobile site it converts at half the rate of your standard desktop site. That's a problem for any business."
Search can drive traffic to social media, and social media can enhance search; they are not alternatives. The challenge and opportunity for today's marketers is to reach people where they are, which is as likely to mean working on your Facebook presence as topping the Google rankings.