For SEO Success in 2018 – Be Relevant and Reputable

With SEO, the adage holds that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Searchers are still looking for answers, so these are key for SEO success in 2018. But what is a high-quality answer?

With SEO, the adage holds that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Searchers are still looking for answers and have become increasingly accustomed to and impatient to receive high-quality results. So high-quality answers are key for SEO success in 2018.

What is a high-quality answer? This is not a tricky question. It is a result that answers the searcher’s query and is from a reputable source.

This seems so simple, but it takes complex search algorithms to identify the best and highest-quality answer for each search from a veritable blizzard of information online. A page may be relevant and have information that addresses the query, but the question of quality must be addressed through other means than what is on the page itself.

In the past, SEO practitioners focused on “link building” to get other sites to in effect vouch for the page’s quality. To game the system, SEO tacticians engaged in link farming, selling of links and other abuses. Each of these practices has been discredited. Some SEOs have gone so far as to say that link-building and by extension links are not valuable signals for search.

This could not be further from the truth.

You Can’t Teach a Pig to Sing

Link-building is not an isolated SEO tactic that will magically transform a weak page on a poor-quality site into a page worthy of a number 1 ranking. This just doesn’t happen anymore. Once upon a time, it was possible to game the system and make magic happen. It is much harder today, hence the premature obituaries for links were written.

Today, for a page to rise to the top of the listings, it must be relevant, authoritative and trustworthy. The page must contain an adequate amount of high quality content to satisfy the relevancy requirement.

Many SEOs have latched on to content creation and curation as the solution that will propel pages to the top. In a vacuum, this might work. The SEO environment is not a vacuum so unless the page provides information that shows expertise on the topic, it will not by itself move up. The website must be viewed as a trustworthy, authoritative expert source. If your site and its pages do not meet these requirements, you will be passed over.

This does not absolve you from having a fast, technically sound site. This is simply that edge that can make a huge business difference.

Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

A few high-quality links will do wonders for your performance; whereas, numbers of poor-quality links bring little value. Quality links having staying power. Some high-quality links may still be shining authority on your site years after they were acquired, so they are worth the effort. It takes time and effort to cultivate quality links, just like building your business network. If you treat link-building as networking for your site, you will not go wrong.

How do you get quality links? You create content that shows your expertise. Do this often enough and you will become an authority in your domain.

It is my contention that all of us who are in business are experts within some domain. It is up to the site owner to determine what is the business’ domain of expertise and project and inject it into the site and its pages. Some of the ways might include creating solid content that the sources you want will use such as original research or analysis. You might consider creating a stunning infographic that clearly shows you as an expert in your field.

Once you create your work, don’t hide your light under the proverbial bushel, reach out to the sources you want to link to your site. As your network of links builds, you will be rewarded with more top placements for your site’s pages.

Taking Personal Relevance Beyond the Message

Personal relevance is still mission-critical, but in a much different way. We don’t need to have customers’ names in lights or all over a direct marketing piece as much as we just need to deliver information about products and experiences that are timely and meaningful to them via channels and at times that are relevant, as well.

relevant contentYears ago, we got excited when digital printing technology enabled us to personalize direct marketing letters, self-mailers and pretty much anything else that could be printed on a Xerox iGen, which merged individual customer data into the copy and even the graphics of pretty much anything that could be printed. We’d open a #10 envelope and see our name in the header, at least one sentence in every paragraph, and sometimes even in the graphics, like on an image of the product the sender was trying to sell us. It made us feel recognized and valued.

A few years later, we enjoyed getting personalized videos that were “all about me,” too. And then, well, it just became standard to see our names on everything, even M&Ms and the covers of catalogues for our favorite brands. It just wasn’t a big deal any more; and in many cases, neither were the results.

However, personal relevance is still mission-critical, but in a much different way. We don’t need to have customers’ names in lights or all over a direct marketing piece as much as we just need to deliver information about products and experiences that are timely and meaningful to them via channels and at times that are relevant, as well.

This means that we need to have relevant content that inspires consumers to engage with our brands, purchase our products or just have a conversation with us. This content can be ads, promotional offers, white papers, invitations to join a cause and such. And this content must be adapted for every consumer segment or persona we target, and it must be delivered frequently enough to keep our brands top-of-mind, and on the channels that consumers use the most, which are not just a few any more.

Add it up, and we marketers need to develop and distribute a lot of content to a lot of customers a lot of times. And that’s the challenge to personalized, relevant marketing today.

Think about it. You want to promote a special offer for a limited time across all your market locations and you need to use all channels – print, digital, social, point-of-sale displays – and you want to do it in French, English and Spanish. And all elements have to be in place at the same time, as it is a limited-time promotion and you want to measure the impact of various channels and which locations and segments did the most business with you as a result. If you take that promotional ad or digital banner you created and manually adapt it for each segment or persona that won’t respond unless it reflects some aspect of how they see themselves, and you then manually adapt each of those for each channel, format and language needed, that’s a lot of time. And if you use an agency, that’s a lot of billable time. But you have to do it.

In many cases, customizing content such as that described above can increase your campaign costs substantially, according to Perry Kamel, a leader in the content management technology field and CEO of Elateral, a cloud-based content hub designed to manage and deploy content in all formats, digital and print, across all channels.

A key aspect of marketing relevance then is to have a system in place that enables you to adapt your content and get it ready for multichannel distribution in record time, while customers are thinking about your category, product and brand, and before you competitors get their “personalized” content out. Doing both requires content management processes and systems that enable you to create content frequently, quickly adapt to all channels and formats, and get it ready to send out via your CRM platforms quickly.

When you can adapt your content for multiple channels quickly, the impact of your programs go up, and often by a lot. Following are some real-world examples of cost and time savings realized by some of Elateral’s clients:

  • 89 percent unit cost reduction for marketing materials
  • 95 percent faster time to market
  • $5 million savings after first campaign flight

These numbers reflect the reality of relevant marketing today. Content must be relevant, the channels used must be relevant, and the frequency of content distribution must be, too. It’s not just about the message and its psychological or emotional appeal and impact.

Some tips to consider:

  • Time to market is critical for any campaign; just as much as the direct relevance of your offer and message to the persona and segments you are targeting. The more time it takes to get your content adapted for every channel is likely enough time for your competition to intervene and get the sale before you do.
  • Consumers expect messages and marketing images to reflect who they are and align with their lifestyles and aspirations. Content for ads, emails, social posts and point-of-sale displays that don’t line up with who they are or want to be likely won’t influence behavior as effectively, and there simply is not time to waste.
  • Every time you have to manually change a headline, language, image or size of shape of a marketing piece, you spend time getting it done, and that can be costly in terms of paying outside suppliers to do it for you. You need to find a system and process for getting your content adapted as cost-efficiently as possible so you can lower costs and improve your advertising ROI.

Take away: Relevance is not just about the message or offer, or how it appeals to each persona you target. Relevance must address the timing with which your message is delivered, the frequency and the channels that are most meaningful to your consumers.

SEO 101: The 3 Keys to Rank No. 1 in Google

Mark Twain was only half joking when he said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, then wait a few minutes.” Growing up in Massachusetts I distinctly remember days when one minute it would be raining or snowing, and the next minute it would be clear skies.

Mark Twain was only half joking when he said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, then wait a few minutes.” Growing up in Massachusetts I distinctly remember days when one minute it would be raining or snowing, and the next minute it would be clear skies.

In other words, the weather in New England is a lot like Google’s algorithm; It’s constantly in flux, and it can seem nearly impossible to stay on top of all the updates. Whether you are new to SEO (search engine optimization) or your rankings have recently slipped, you might have gone looking for answers only to become overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice. If you are feeling frustrated and confused, don’t worry because you are not alone!

Fortunately, no matter how many new updates Google rolls out, following the fundamental best practices of good SEO should keep you ahead of the power curve. Here are the 3 steps to achieving and maintaining a spot at the top of the rankings.

  1. Research
    No matter what else you do, choosing the right target keywords is the most important step for your success. Begin your research for free with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. As you study the available keywords, look for the ones that best meet 2 separate but related criteria:
    • A) Search Volume: This refers to how many people are searching for that particular keyword. A higher search volume means more potential eyeballs for your page.
    • B) Relevance: You want to focus on the keywords that draw customers who are ready to buy. Later, you can expand your reach to include “tire kickers,” or prospects who are in the early stages of considering a purchase. But for now, you want to bring in people who want your product or service today.

      While the “perfect” target keywords include both high search volume and high relevance, those can be tough or even impossible to find. For now, focus on those that hit a “bullseye” for relevance, even if the search volume is not quite as high.

  2. Relevance
    Once you have a list of target keywords, you need to make sure Google considers your website as relevant to those keywords. At one time, “keyword stuffing,” or unnaturally forcing the keyword all over the site, was a common strategy. Today, this action is penalized with lower rankings. Instead, focus on naturally incorporating the keyword where it makes sense. There are two steps to improving your relevance:
    • A) Website Structure: Match one keyword to each page of your website. This keeps the focus clean and helps Google recognize that the page is relevant. For your homepage, focus on your “dream” keyword—the one word or phrase that best describes your business and for which you would love to rank No. 1.
    • B) Page Elements: Each web page contains numerous areas where you can add your keyword. These include the Title Tag, Meta Description, Header Tags (H1, H2, and H3), and Body Copy. Remember to use the keyword in the Title Tag and Meta Description, and to incorporate it only where it naturally fits in the Header Tags and Body Copy.
  3. Reputation
    Convincing Google that your website and its individual pages are relevant is not enough. You also need to demonstrate that you are a trusted authority on your particular target keywords. You do this by building your site’s reputation.

    Traditionally, the best way to build reputation was through hyperlinks from other sites to yours. While this still remains very important, many old-school link building tactics are now penalized by Google. You need to focus on organic, natural relationships with other websites, rather than simply going on a campaign to build as many links as possible.

    Social media is also becoming an increasingly important factor. Page referrals through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets are now weighed heavily in the new Google algorithms. In fact, some experts believe that social media signals will soon outstrip web links as the No. 1 factor in determining your domain reputation.

What Does All This Mean for You?
As Google continues to roll out new algorithms and updates, some SEO ranking techniques will disappear, and new ones will be developed. What will never change, however, is the importance of creating excellent content.

Rather than attempting to “trick” Google into giving you higher rankings than you deserve, focus on creating content that is worthy of being ranked No. 1. Add new content frequently, spruce up old content that has seen better days, and make quality your number one goal. This simple policy will help you weather any storms and ensure that your site receives high rankings for many years to come.

A New Approach to Integrated Marketing

I had a great chat the other day with Elana Anderson, the former Forrester Research superstar analyst who has gone out on her own with her (relatively new) company, NxtERA Marketing. The company offers advisory and consulting services to marketing organizations and providers of marketing services and technology.

We were discussing a new study that her company worked on with marketing solutions provider Responsys.

I had a great chat the other day with Elana Anderson, the former Forrester Research superstar analyst who has gone out on her own with her (relatively new) company, NxtERA Marketing. The company offers advisory and consulting services to marketing organizations and providers of marketing services and technology.

We were discussing a new study that her company worked on with marketing solutions provider Responsys.

The main gist of the study–called Marketing Beyond the Status Quo–is that as customer response to broadcast messaging steadily declines and as the percentage of prospects and customers giving permission to market to them decreases, marketers must increase the relevance of their multichannel communications or risk falling short of revenue expectations from the C-suite.

“The data shows – and marketers generally agree – that brands have reached a point where they must invest more time and money in improving the relevance of their communications,” said Anderson.

The report also unveiled the MSQ Model to help marketers determine their relevance maturity and develop a realistic action plan to become a more customer-focused marketer.

The four-point MSQ Model assesses the four fundamental competencies required for marketing relevance: strategic (how customer-focused are your marketing efforts?), analytical (how strategic and actionable is your customer insight?), technical (how well-suited is your infrastructure to support customer-focused marketing?) and process (how collaborative, efficient and error-free is your marketing organization?).

Each competency is weighted and combined to yield an overall Relevance Maturity Score which defines a MSQ Level ranging from 1 (broadcast) to 5 (integrated). Marketers can use the model in conjunction with the MSQ Self-Test to pinpoint their MSQ Level as well as identify the steps they must take in order to successfully move to the next level.

Other key findings and strategies from the study include:
1. Response to one-size-fits-all messaging is declining steadily. The report found that one retailer increased revenues by 500 percent by dividing its e-mail list into four segments and customizing the message to each group. In addition, a comparison of aggregate response data from companies leveraging broadcast tactics versus those using a highly targeted approach showed that the latter delivered significant improvement in open rates, clickthrough rates and clicks per open.

2.Marketers who want to increase marketing relevance must think outside in – from the perspective of the customer. The first step to relevancy requires marketers to clearly define relevancy to include timely response to customer actions, cross channel integration and a programmatic approach, the study found. Marketers must then develop a realistic action plan based on their current relevancy competency as assessed by the MSQ Model and measure and test every step of their program improvements.

3. Without the right technologies, relevant marketing is impossible. Technologies that increase marketing relevance should be made for marketers, and include functionality for automation, collaboration and integration – with little or no IT expertise needed. The report identifies emerging software-as-service options are a boon for marketers looking for lower up-front investment costs, to reduce IT involvement and to decrease time to market.

To receive a full copy of the Marketing Beyond the Status Quo report, visit www.responsys.com/beyond.

Check it out!