Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): 2020 Update

Some digital marketing agencies will tell you that SEO planning is primarily a technical activity, inferring that clients are unable to provide any meaningful input into their search engine optimisation strategy.

Whilst it is undeniably true that SEO is a technical process to some degree, it’s not all as technical as it used to be. The only way to rank in today’s search engines is to create a digital strategy that is supported by search engine algorithms.

And that’s not to say the technical performance of your website is not important. It is. A website has to load quickly, be intuitive to navigate, be responsive across all devices, and provide a great user experience (aka ‘UX’).

However, the technical performance of your website only makes up a small percentage of the metrics search engines use to rank websites. As Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Ranking shows, the most important ranking factors are:

  • Content
  • Architecture
  • HTML
  • Trust
  • Link value
  • User-experience

The premium SEO metrics are trust and authority. Google only knows if search engine users can trust your website if they explore it, read the content and take some form of action (fill in a contact form, sign up for a newsletter, make a purchase, etc.). Therefore, the true success of a website boils down to driving visitors to the action button. In other words, if you’re impressing your potential customers, by default you’re impressing Google. Oh, and don’t get too caught up in bounce rates, time on site, pages visited etc. These are meaningless metrics unless put into the context of the sales journey of your unique business environment.

Optimising The “Shoppable” Experience 

The ‘Shoppable” experience is a buzzword that has become synonymous with social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

In truth, brands need to create an enjoyable and convenient shopping experience across every touchpoint, both online and offline.

And remember, “shoppable” does not just refer to ecommerce sites – it is for every website that is acting as a shop window for their business, even if nothing can be actually bought online (as is the case for the vast majority of websites). So, even though we refer to the action of purchasing something in this blog, the exact same principles apply to non-ecommerce websites too, where you are looking for a call to action to be completed, such as asking for more information via a contact form, sending an email or picking up the phone to speak to someone. These three options are the most normal CTAs for the vast majority of non-ecommerce websites.

Key points to consider are:

  • provide quality information and make it easy to find;
  • deliver an excellent user-experience and fantastic customer service;
  • understand your customers and know their pain points.

Let’s take a closer look.

According to Adobe, convenience will take precedence over price in 2020. By all means make life easy for your customers, but do not lose sight of the fundamental fact that trust and authority are always the two most critical factors for better search engine rankings on Google and Bing (who between them account for the vast majority of organic traffic in the UK – with Google being the biggest player by far with over 99% of our domestic search volume).

For example, installing automated services and chatbots may seem to be a good idea, but how effective are they? A study published by PwC indicates that 78% of UK customers hate chatbots and other gimmicks powered by artificial intelligence because they are replacing humans. People prefer to speak with people. Never underestimate the value of human contact.

One obvious solution is to offer both options. Chatbots offer convenience by providing immediate answers. This is great customer service. People like that. However, more complex questions are often beyond the capacity of robots. When people do not get the answer they want, it’s frustrating.

When your chatbot does not have a definitive answer, inform the customer they will be passed on to a qualified agent. During the wait, offer reference material such as FAQs or informative content that is relevant to their needs. Customers will mostly appreciate that you’re doing your best to deal with their query as effectively and efficiently as possible, and that is the hallmark of a great strategic approach.

Remove Intrusive Ads

It’s time to face facts. Consumers hate intrusive ads. You probably know this from personal experience. How annoying are pop-up, drop-down and slide-in ads? When readers are interrupted by an intrusive ad, they are more inclined to leave. If you want to promote a specific product or service, include it as a discrete native ad. Native ads appear naturally embedded in content, on relevant webpages or as a discrete ad in the sidebar.

Understanding what your audience needs to know and how they use online platforms is central to driving sales. Pay attention to their user experience, by making informative content and customer service options at the right moments.

Offline Marketing

Online marketing may be the pinnacle of your marketing strategy, but offline marketing is the foundation – especially if you are new to the web. According to some evidence we have seen, up to 40% of shoppers make purchases online after seeing offline ads. Whatever the actual number, it obviously makes sense that offline activity can deliver online traffic via brand-related searches, where potential customers type in your organisation’s name to a search engine.

Normally, it can take anywhere between 3-12 months before you start generating organic traffic through search engines, depending on the industry sector you operate in and the competitiveness and maturity of the marketplace. Therefore, you need may offline strategies to raise brand awareness in and generate leads for your products and services.

Neither is Google oblivious to the power of offline marketing. An update to the search engine’s Panda algorithm in 2014 incorporated “brand searches” as a ranking factor. A brand search infers that someone has heard of your company in an offline environment and is now searching for you on the web, rather than because they have received a digital media signal (such as a PPC ad) that they click on.

When somebody searches for your brand or types your website address directly into a web browser, it provides search engines with a strong indicator that you’re a legitimate business which potential customers are showing a genuine interest in finding out more about. The more people search for your brand, the more Google trusts you – especially if searches are backed up by high-quality relevant back links. More on that later.

Effective offline marketing strategies include:

  • Point of sale
  • Direct mail
  • Business cards, posters and flyers
  • Workshops/presentations
  • Events (networking, exhibitions, celebrations)
  • Magazine interviews (niche, local community or national)
  • Outdoor advertising (sides of car, roadside)
  • Uniforms or printed t-shirts, jumpers, caps
  • Promotional merchandise

Or the more expensive – but still effective in some instances – options:

  • TV
  • Radio
  • Cinemas
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Billboards

The Holy Trinity: Content, Social, PR

It’s no secret that effective content is the key to online success. Whilst your SEO strategy should revolve around producing high-quality content, your overall SEO strategy requires a three-pronged attack – content generation, social media and PR. Absent any one of these three elements, and your search engine optimisation activities are likely to lead to severely weakened outcomes.

High-Quality Content

Improving SEO involves showing up wherever people are hanging out. On the one hand, this helps you to reach your target audience, but it also means you will encounter a lot of competition.

To make a positive impression, it is highly recommended that you invest the necessary resources to create and publish high-quality content that is deemed to be credible, relevant and of value to the reader. We expect you’ve heard this before, but how many times do you read articles that do not deliver such attribute, but merely seem to be generated for the sake of doing something. There are two things to remember when delivering content – quantity and quality – and we would chose quality over quantity any day of the week. So, what qualifies as high quality?

  • It offers value; information that is useful, not just empty words that fill a page
  • It is engaging; an easy and enjoyable read
  • It builds trust; demonstrates you know what you are talking about;
  • It is relevant; includes keywords that match their search terms
  • It is eye-catching; visuals that prompt clicks and enhance the message
  • It is skimmable; highlight important information you want readers to know
  • It includes links; inbound and outbound links to relevant information

Marketers also have to consider how readers like to digest content. There’s a strong likelihood that a large proportion of visitors are using a mobile device when they read your content. On the other hand, Google favours in-depth articles of around 1,500-2,000 words (although you can go for more or less than this word count – it really depends on the scope, complexity and scale of the topic you are writing about).

Do mobile users really want to read a 15-20 minute piece? Probably not. This leave marketers with a quandary. Do you publish in-depth content or short snaps designed for mobile readers? Or both. (hint: this is the best option).

The type of content you publish should also be relevant to readers across different platforms. This is where savvy social media skills and powerful online PR really prove their worth.

This article is actually just over 4,000 words in length. But this feels to be the right length for this subject matter. So that is a good thing to bear in mind. Right the right length, and stop when you have said everything you need to say. 250-500 words could be perfect for a specific response to a particular issue, but longer content may be appropriate for more complex subject matter.

Social Media Marketing

At a time when consumer trust in brands has slumped, social media marketing provides brands with a platform that allows customers to do the up-talking for you. Or the down-talking if you are not congruent with your brand strategy in the way you conduct business.

Word-of-mouth is still, and always will be, one of the most powerful ways to drive sales for most businesses. The customer lifetime value (CLV) of each individual purchase includes not only their repeated purchases but also the added value they bring to the table in terms of endorsing you to their network or providing a favourable review to your community. Consequently, social media networks are proving to be an immensely powerful tool for brands.

As a result, brands should be building trust by encouraging customers to leave comments, reviews and even publish user-generated content.

Consumers not only want to know what your product does, but they also want to know what kind of experience they can expect; before, during and after the purchase. That means service is key. Does the whole process work well especially when things go wrong. Things always go wrong. Most companies fail to see the value of this essential fact. Truth is your friend. Put your hand up. Apologise. And put it right. And you will have a friend for life.

Genuine peer reviews and the opinions of family, friends and colleagues carry far more weight than anything a brand can claim – plus, it’s a lot cheaper (in fact, it’s pretty much free). If you’re not active on the social networks most relevant to your organisation, you may be missing out on a great opportunity to build authority and trust for your brand.

The key attributes of social media are:

  • Raising brand awareness in your marketplace
  • Reaching a wider audience of potential customers
  • Building trust and authority with search engines
  • Engaging with customers in a convenient environment
  • Delivering customer service in a cost-effective way
  • Building a community of loyal brand ambassadors

Google is not entirely transparent about whether it uses social shares and likes to rank websites, but they have admitted they crawl social networks for relevant signals. However, we feel it is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t they? Placing links in social networks may not be counted as an inbound link. No ranking points on offer there, probably. Likes may carry a little weight, but shares are probably seen as more credible.

What we can say with confidence is there is a high probability that search engines do take account of user-metrics from content on social media that drives traffic to your website.

Note here that Google ranks webpages rather than websites. Thus, a strong link building strategy comes into play.

More on that later. We need to discuss PR first.

Before we do – a final work on no-brainers. You will be told that adding keywords into your meta titles and meta descriptions carries no weight any more with Google. That may be right, but we suspect (and only suspect) differently. Why? Just circumstantial evidence relating to performance of some websites that have done so. There is nothing to be lost by doing so, as it is not seen by a negative, and it can also help to clarify your SEO strategy when building your website in the first place. So just do it. If you want.

Effective Online PR Strategies

Yes, we know we keep banging on about trust and authority, but it is highly relevant to online business success. The public perception of your brand not only influences potential customers, but also will be of interest to important industry adivsers who have the power to influence prospects and suspects.

To leverage your brand online, PR is essential. Customers, suppliers, employees, investors, online influencers, journalists and regulators all have the power to provide ‘earned media’.

In simple terms, consumer trust.

Customer Testimonials

No matter whether the customer testimonials on your website are genuine or not, nobody really believes them. Five-star reviews on peer-to-peer sites – they’re not persuading many people either. At least not until one has amassed a credible quantity.

Many of us are cynical about reviews for good reason – they are fake, or paid for. Think Amazon. Those reviews are gold dust. That’s why companies incentivise five-star reviews, provide free products in return for a great write up, or just make them up themselves. It’s being clamped down on, but it still happens. That’s the way things evolve. Every time on hole is patched, another is found.

So be cynical. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. That’s a truth we all know well these days.

To leverage customer testimonials, demonstrate they are genuine. As you no doubt know, social media is the most powerful online tool for authentic comments about your brand because, in the main, onlookers can see feedback that looks genuine.

When you receive positive social support, show it off. Make sure other people see it.

Use independent review platforms such as TrustPilot or any of the many others available to suit the needs organisations varying in size from a microbusiness or SME to a global corporate, in any marketplace you can think of – e.g. TripAdvisor for the leisure industry sector.

You could also interview customers to talk about their experience with your products and services, and show footage of how they use it and the benefits it offers.

Create a Community

Building a community on social media is a great way to get people interacting with your brand. Not only do you reach a wider audience, but you also build a crew of influential people who can leverage your brand.

Whether online or offline, building a community of followers prepared to support and champion your brand gives you kudos. Connecting with people nurtures loyalty and boosts your bottom line.

So, what are people most interested in today?

Seventy per cent of consumers in 2020 want to know what social and environmental issues a brand supports. There is a rising expectation for companies to be more socially responsible and support issues that benefit the local community.

If you don’t offer a product or service that directly benefits a social cause, perhaps you could sponsor events that do. Whatever issues are important to your customers should also be important to you too.

Influencer Marketing

One of the key attributes (benefits?) of the internet is that it has given genuine consumers a platform to provide ‘expert’ advice to other prospective customers.

Bloggers and social influencers have built up their own personal brand and have the power to potentially influence purchasing decisions. Consequently, influencer marketing gives brands a voice from a trusted source and the opportunity to tap into a ready-made audience.

A study by Tomoson revealed influencers can earn £5.00 for every pound spent.

Unfortunately, brands have abused the influencer marketing arena and dented brand trust. Tactics such as social celebrity giveaways, accounts with fake followers, clickbait ads in mainstream media, and advertorials in so-called “credible” publications have caused consumers to cast aspersions as to their authenticity. Google, social networks and the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) are clamping down on influencer marketing that is misleading.

Savvy consumers are already streetwise to celebrity endorsement. Today’s shoppers are more inclined to trust an expert with an earned reputation in a specific niche than a celebrity trying to earn a few quid on the side. Think Martin Lewis at MoneySavingExpert, for instance. Few are more credible than him.

For up-and-coming brands, generating earned media through journalists and bloggers is the way to go. Brands should be looking to work with a team of respected influencers and build robust, long-term relationships.

We recommend you look for quality rather than quantity. It is not all about follower numbers – in fact, in most instances, a disproportionately high follower base with low engagement levels is a huge red flag. Avoid such influencers at all costs, as they have probably built their community using spammy methodologies.

Effective Link-Building 

Poor industry practice has tarnished the reputation of link building as well. However, when performed legitimately, link building is a powerful SEO strategy that you really do need to invest in to get the best possible results, but this is rarely something that can be delivered internally.

Link building earned itself a bad reputation in the early years because black-hat webmasters hosted sites for publishing content with a link pointing back to a specific website.
It didn’t take Google long to recognise that companies were attempting to favourably manipulate their “trust” results. They hit both the host website and the target website with penalties.

This type of link farming still happens. The difference these days is that some websites do it really well. An interview with Google’s John Mueller last year revealed link building sites will not be penalised if data shows visitors get value from the website.

Some of these websites can be classed as influencers. Today, link farming goes under the title of guest blogging outreach.

Therefore, building relationships with influencers who have a credible reputation can be a highly effective SEO strategy in 2020.

Internal link building is also a key process for ranking your webpages effectively with Google (and Bing). Whilst many of your landing pages will be built into your blog, directing ‘link juice’ to relevant product pages gives these pages higher visibility in search results.

A quick note on Bing. If you focus on doing the right thing on Google, you will normally find yourself appearing on Bing too, so you don’t need two different strategies, although there are a few things you need to get sorted on Bing too, such as claiming your business. Google has some very helpful guidelines too.

SEO Strategies and Technical Techniques To Avoid

Now we’ve talked about what you should do, it’s worth talking about what you shouldn’t…

  • Don’t over-prioritise keywords on landing pages

Search engines bring up pages that match search content. If you create multiple pages targeting specific keywords, your website becomes difficult to manage, and Google will smell a rat. And Google does not like rats.

  • Don’t write for robots, write for humans

Focusing on SEO keywords when you write can make articles read awkwardly. Fortunately, search engine algorithms are now so sophisticated that they can automatically recognise the context of individual page content. This means you should always write in a natural style – if you know what you do, and you do it well, this will be easy. But if writing is not your bag, get a journalist to interview you and turn it into a good article, or write it down and ask an indsutry copywriter to work their magic.

  • Don’t accept poorly written guest blogs

Guest blogs can be useful for your SEO efforts. There’s an opportunity for you to publish content you have not invested in and it can even earn you a little extra revenue and drive good quality traffic to your website. But don’t let your quality standards slip.
Don’t use paid-for low quality links

Low quality paid-for links are heavily penalised by search engines. Although inbound links embedded in advertorials on high-authority websites are pretty much always paid for, this is acceptable to search engines. These publications often prompt other content creators to link to your website. If you’re producing high-quality content on a regular basis, you will naturally attract organic links.

Avoid Black-hat SEO

One last pointer to leave you with is black-hat marketers. Unfortunately, there are some SEO companies out there in the marketplace (the ones bombarding you with emails every five minutes telling you how bad your website or SEO is and how they can help you quickly and cheaply…) which perform techniques that deliberately attempt to manipulate search engines. In the process of choosing a reliable digital marketing company to work with, it’s important you understand how to identify black-hat marketers.

The first warning signal is if they claim they can get you on page #1 of Google within a matter of months or even weeks. Black-hat marketers typically use techniques that make it look like a website is attracting more people and encouraging more interactions than it actually is. Typical strategies include:

  • Keyword stuffing– irrelevant keywords that attempt to manipulate where the page ranks
  • Cloaking– showing search engine crawlers’ different pages to what your website visitors are seeing
  • Schemes– low quality paid-for links, likes and shares
  • Inaccurate mark-up– false information in structured data that fools search engines and users; i.e. a pasted five-star review from a trusted review site
  • Hiding– disguising keywords so they are not visible to readers
  • Redirects– sending end-users to a different page or website than the link they think they are clicking

Search engines are wise to these types of SEO manipulation tactics. It’s only a matter of time before falsified data is discovered. Once you are, you will be blacklisted and dumped down the rankings.

Why SEO?

Search engines are arguably the most powerful marketing channel in history. They can bring thousands of relevant customers with buyer intent directly to your shopfront. You don’t get marketing streams more powerful than that.

However, because online brands are often seen as faceless businesses, building a trusted online profile across multiple platforms is essential.

When you prove you are a credible and authentic business to consumers, search engines will champion you in search results. That requires a tactical SEO strategy over a technical one.

We estimate that SEO is 100 times more effective than paid-for ads. That doesn’t mean that paid-for ads are not the right strategy for some (lots of) companies, it just means that you will need to spend £1 on PPC to get the same results as you get for spending 1p on SEO. We worked this out on the basis that SEO is ten times more trusted than PPC and that SEO leads to 10 times as many CTAs than PPC.

Also, once you are on the first page of Google, you stay there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. With PPC, once your daily budget is spent, or you pause spending, that’s it. You’re invisible to potential customers.

Of course, the best of both worlds is to drive traffic to your website via SEO, capture their IP address, build a remarketing list and send out display ads promoting your brand when they are surfing relevant third-party websites. You can serve up ads for up to a year, you only ever pay if they click, and the CPC is about a tenth of the cost of PPC.

SEO Agency in London

Looking for an SEO agency in London? For companies willing to invest in longer-term strategies to get greater value for money from their marketing budgets, we cannot think of a stronger argument than investing in search engine optimisation as part of their digital marketing strategy.

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact Stephen Taylor-Brown, our Managing Director (and head of strategy and planning), at [email protected] – or you can find out more about SEO on a previous blog we wrote last year about how to create an effective SEO strategy for your business. If you are looking for a digital marketing agency in London providing SEO marketing services, please call us on 020 3858 7836 to find out more, or to arrange a free consultancy session (online or in person). You can fill in our contact form if you prefer.

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