Search engine optimization (SEO) remains an essential practice in the digital marketing mix and for many brands is equally, if not more, important than paid advertising, social media, email or referral marketing.
The challenge for many companies however is understanding the various processes that are required to achieve a respectable level of success. Most do not have a good understanding of even these tactics and that often leads to mistrust of those responsible for optimizing a website (and the pages of that website) so that it appears in a position where users can - and will - select it over others in close proximity.
Let's take a look at some of the responsibilities of an SEO and what happens throughout the course of a campaign.
RESEARCH: There is no more important step in the practice of search engine optimization and marketing than that of research. For an SEO, research takes on many forms. Keyword research, for example, is a critical component of the practice, but there is also research that aims to identify the practices of a company's competitors. Link research is a very meaningful tactic that identifies the tactics being employed within an industry vertical to improve a link profile by other brands. Competitor research is another aspect of SEO that should not be ignored as it reveals the actual practices that competitors use to secure high rankings on the search result pages.
IMPLEMENTATION: Armed with an abundance of usable research, SEO's can begin implementing on-site modifications that they believe will help the website improve its rankings. SEOs tend to focus on a few core areas of opportunity including page titles and meta descriptions, on-site elements including header tags and anchor text, and often page naming and infrastructure changes. Depending on the size of a website and the number of page level changes required, the initial implementation can take days or weeks. Oftentimes, many changes can be automated which can accelerate the opportunity to achieve higher rankings.
OPTIMIZATION: Once research-driven changes have been implemented on the site, the pages have been crawled or recrawled, SEO's will then be able to determine how successful their initial efforts have been - but their work is far from done. In what is arguably the most important aspect of any search engine optimization campaign, SEO's must also set out to optimize the pages upon which they have made changes. The optimization phase includes practices such as enhancing the relevancy of a page for a particular keyword (by including additional content or variants of the target keyword) and strategically linking other pages to the page being optimized.
OUTREACH: It is impossible to rank for a competitive search term (a word or phrase that has a high volume of searches) without a high number of high quality, authoritative. For this reason, one of the primary responsibilities of an SEO is to engage in link building. While it is the single most challenging aspect of search engine optimization, it is also the most rewarding. By leveraging all the marketing creativity a brand can muster and investing the time required, outreach initiatives (including the distribution of content in the form of guest posting, contacting other sites to reclaim lost links or claim brand mentions, etc.) can be immensely rewarding - and not just from an improved ranking perspective but also from the improved referral traffic that results.
ANALYSIS: A significant amount of work has already been completed but there's more. The analysis of the performance thus far can reveal the quality and usefulness of the research, the quality of the implementation and optimization efforts, and the success of outreach initiatives. What should a company look for as they analyze their SEO performance? In the past it was common (and in some cases preferred) to measure success by the search results positioned achieved, but as company and the marketers they employ become more mature and sophisticated, a better approach is to measure the uplift in organic traffic. Keyword rankings fluctuate - sometimes with great frequency - but when traffic and conversions increase, companies can be confident that their search engine optimization efforts are paying off.
For many companies, the organic channel will be their most important and optimization will be the highest priority. By understanding what an SEO campaign entails, experienced marketers and digital newbies alike will be better positioned to achieve success and develop a digital presence that is most meaningful to their company.