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What your organization’s executives and senior leaders must know

30 second summary:

  • Did you know that 53 percent of trackable web traffic is organic?
  • A study by BrightEdge found that search (organic and paid) still delivers more traffic to websites than any other channel, including social media and display
  • These statistics show that the role of SEO will increase in all industries in 2021, as organic traffic flow is more critical today than ever
  • Eryck Dzotsi, Vice President SEO at Merkle Inc., explains six key areas that business executives need to clearly understand the role SEO plays in increasing organic search performance

2020 wasn’t a year we’ll soon forget. Life and the way we do business have changed forever. E-commerce has grown faster in the last year than in the last five years combined. As a result, many companies have had to adapt their marketing efforts to these changes. The role of SEO in 2021 has increased across industries as organic traffic flow is more critical today than ever.

As it navigates this year, executives in various organizations need to clearly understand the role of SEO and focus on increasing organic search performance. Let’s dive into some of the focus areas:

1. Define the future integration of SEO into other channels

Did you know that 53 percent of trackable web traffic is organic? A study by BrightEdge found that search (organic and paid) still delivers more traffic to websites than any other channel, including social media and display. That statistic alone shows why brands need to realize that organic traffic is not going away and that they need to evaluate SEO in 2021 and beyond. They need to integrate SEO with their other media channels. Organic search is the only channel that has a point of contact in every phase of the customer journey.

While TV and display are generally associated with notoriety, paid search is typically centered on the middle to bottom funnel as customers make a decision about the product or service and convert. The story is different with organic search.

  • When users are interested in a product or have a problem they are trying to solve, they search (often due to interaction with an ad).
  • When users make a decision and compare options, they search
  • When customers are ready to convert, they search again. Often times, the search is done again after the purchase to learn how to use the product, service, and more

SEO is about answering users’ questions and helping them find what they are looking for. As a result, SEO is one of the few channels where engagement is initiated by the user and the ad doesn’t disrupt the customer journey. This makes SEO the channel that should be the point guard for a cross-channel occupation and that supports the other channels.

2. Businesses need to make SEO the same accountability and control as other channels (ROI).

In the future, companies must provide a clear SEO analysis plan. Since SEO has no cost associated with it, marketing prioritization is often low and measurement becomes sloppy. ROI can seem abstract and teams cannot properly track measuring success in terms of effort. This is not ideal. SEO teams need to have a systematic measurement plan and resources in place to achieve proper mapping and customization.

First align your goals with the other media channels – look at the impressions and have a clear understanding of your share of the voice in your industry, click-throughs, visits and conversions as part of the full view – what percentage win? compared to the market?

This accountability must be required of your SEO team going forward.

3. Companies need to optimize a search experience by harmonizing SEO and SEM

In the first half of 2020, and during some of the social unrest that marked the year, many advertisers paused their campaigns. In these cases, this was a real-time experiment to capture organic and paid traffic. The conclusion that many have gotten away with is that you need both, but the programs that have invested heavily in organic search produced the best results overall.

With unbranded keywords becoming more expensive, it is not always efficient to have an unbranded campaign in paid search. As a result, many campaigns have been reduced to maximizing visibility on brand terms. So how can you win in search when paid campaigns can’t buy your way out? Organic search is the answer. Analysis should be done to find the balance between paid and organic so that you can optimize the overall search experience. Companies that win here have a clear strategy to capitalize on where they win and where they have gaps.

4. Marketing teams need to coordinate SEO and user experience

Many lessons have been learned to reduce friction on the customer journey and optimize the conversation between customers and brands. As a result, many brands have set out to either redesign their websites or migrate to a new platform. When redesigning or redesigning a website, it’s important to incorporate SEO into the project from the start. Otherwise, an extra step will likely be added when a botched content revision degrades performance. Start the project from the beginning with SEOs to save time, money, and headaches. In addition, the ranking factors will be more aligned with elements controlled by the UX team. SEO connects your media team with your user experience team, and collaboration between the two is required to fill the void in 2021 and beyond.

“Page experience” is already a ranking factor in the Google algorithm and represents a number of aspects that are considered to be important for the general user interface of a website (usability, security and others). There are some things happening this year that specifically highlight Google’s continued focus on rewarding websites that offer a great experience. First, Google is finalizing the move to mobile-first indexing. This means that all websites and their content are crawled, evaluated and indexed from the standpoint of mobile devices. Then the core web vitals are included in the ranking factor for greater page experiences.

5. Technical priorities for the web must include SEO, core web vitals and user experience

If you ask 1,000 SEOs what the big SEO trend will be in 2021, 1,000 will tell you it will be the year of Core Web Vitals. Core Web Vitals are a number of aspects that Google considers important to the overall user experience of a website. Several things happen this year that make it stand out. Most powerfully, Google’s move to a mobile indexing environment, which marks the end of an era as we know it. This means that Google is largely using the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. In the past, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content to assess the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Many sites did a great job of preparing, but adhering to your tech basics is non-negotiable going forward.

6. SEO is anchored in the optimization of content over the entire customer journey

Marketers need to create content that is tailored to the user’s journey and that answers the needs and questions they will have at each stage of the funnel. When planning content, have clear keyword governance to manage your content strategy across the company and clearly define each owner. Which business unit from the banking, credit card and mortgage business, for example, has the SEO performance for the keyword “Credit Score” for large financial institutions? It is imperative that copywriters work hand in hand with SEO in order to develop a functional content strategy to optimize the journey. You should be using SEO not only to prioritize your content and keywords, but also to determine the voice and narration surrounding those keywords.

According to a new Google update on December 3rd, Google prefers information and user-centric websites. As a result, the ranking has shifted for companies that create value and promote their customers. User-centric content throughout the journey is no longer good for businesses to have, it’s a must-have for proper ranking.

Organic customer loyalty throughout the entire customer journey is and will remain a key element for marketing success. As the data shows, the channel is error-free. Brands that have invested in an institutionalized approach to SEO have achieved and sustained successes that span other channels. There are a lot more opportunities for growth, and as expectations for ecommerce and customers continue to soar, the outlook for SEO in 2021 is optimistic.

Eryck Dzotsi is VP Head of SEO at Merkle Inc.

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