Taking SEO to the C-Level
Online retailers must elevate search engine optimization to a strategic level if they're to meet the needs of their business, web users and, by proxy, Google. SEO is essential for generating online sales, yet there remains a lack of understanding amongst senior executives as to how SEO works, what can be achieved and why it's important.
Too often C-level execs are seeking justification for why they should be investing in what they perceive as some kind of "black magic." This disconnect is exacerbated by the fact that SEO, unlike paid search models such as pay per click, doesn't fit easily with traditional corporate procurement. Although in theory it's possible to charge for time spent on SEO projects, the process isn't as predictable as it is with PPC, where "deliverables" and spend can be broken down relatively easily.
However, with natural search, retailers can't simply "buy their share of voice," as there can only be one or two brands at the top of the search engine results pages taking the lion's share of traffic. Conversely, retailers are able to buy as much "voice" as they can afford with PPC or any other kind of mainstream marketing. Moreover, SEO is a process that takes years rather than months.
Back to Basics
SEO ideally starts with the technical aspects of a company's website, such as initial design and build, and the technology behind the site. It also encompasses the website's structure to deliver the most important information to users in a simple and effective way, but also such that search engines can identify information they believe is important for users. These factors are classed as "on page" activities.
SEO also embraces "off page" activities, which are designed to increase the popularity of a website and thus its rank within results pages. For example, the number of people that link back to a company's website and the strength and quality of those links are taken as a primary signal of authority by search engines. Link building/development is like seeking votes from other web users for being the best resource for a particular query or search topic.
In the eyes of search engines, there are techniques considered good SEO (i.e., white hat) and bad SEO (i.e., black hat). Black hat techniques are penalized by being ranked lower or, in a worst-case scenario, can result in a website's delisting.
Nevertheless, a website featuring unique content that's refreshed regularly, contains the right keywords distributed carefully throughout the site, and includes links pointing back to this content from other relevant sites stands a good chance of being ranked highly by search engines.
SEO cannot operate in isolation; it has to be considered a core pillar to your brand's wider marketing strategy. Thus the challenge for C-level executives is to ensure that SEO is embedded firmly within corporate strategy, and that it's approached as another key channel that's tightly managed in line with all of the other online channels and different stakeholders responsible for a website. This way, SEO activities can be undertaken safely, consistently and robustly to drive sustainable results and business outcomes over time.
Mike Jacobson is the co-founder, CEO and managing director of Ayima Search Marketing, a SEO agency. Jananya Wilkins is the SEO and business development manager at Ayima Search Marketing.