Bad News, CMOs: Your SEO Is DOA

SEO Advice
March 22, 2017

SEO Advice Like all CMOs, you have your hands full.

You’re managing branding, marketing communications, advertising, promotions, public relations, market research, sales management and product development, and you’re doing your best to keep up with the changing technological landscape that complicates the successful execution of each.

Well, here I am to throw another wrench in the gears.

Last month, McKinsey published an article titled “The New Battleground for Marketing-Led Growth,” detailing some of the modern challenges CMOs must manage in the face of nonlinear consumer behavior. The article discusses the failures of loyalty-driven initiatives and the necessity for “more emphasis on the moments when consumers are initially considering which products or services to buy.”

What am I saying here?

SEO is now intimately linked to branding. It’s vital to the success of your company—and you’re doing it wrong.

To get some insight into the complexity of the problem and how CMOs can stay ahead of it, I called on an expert: Dave Chaplin, CEO of SearchDex. Here’s what he had to say.

Most people are still doing SEO for the Google of days past

Google has changed a lot in the past decade, from Boolean, keyword-based searches to contextual search. Now it uses RankBrain, a machine-learning artificial intelligence system designed to give consumers the answers they seek instead of simple word matches. Because people use different words when they ask questions than the words they want in answers, Google isn’t even using keywords as a primary directive anymore.

Instead, Google uses many data points about a user and the environment to figure out what they really want to know, and each “page one” result is customized to the user to match their own history and the context of the query posed.

What’s more, Google changes algorithms fairly often, which is even more disruptive at the keyword level.

“SEO professionals need to be as fluid in their quest for optimizing content for discovery and conversions as Google is—and we have come a very long way since pure keyword ranking days,” said Chaplin. “SEO—now and into the future—will need to be increasingly proactive, not reactive. The best SEO must go really deep because Google’s intent is to get the consumer what they’re looking for, not to simplify spamming them with unwanted data.”

Retail websites are inherently not SEO friendly

Adding additional complexity to the SEO equation for online retailers of all stripes is the fact that retail websites are designed to be transactional—and, therefore, not particularly SEO friendly.

Humans can’t perform at the scale and speed required to keep pace with a modern retail website that sees hundreds of product introductions and transactions on a daily basis, and IT departments can’t be expected to make thousands of website tweaks per day in a complex ecommerce environment developed more for selling products than for being recognized by a search engine.

And even if they could, it wouldn’t be enough.

Said Chaplin, “This is about much more than just search ranking. We’re talking about the first step in creating brand trust between product and consumer—the first moment of truth when the consumer is engaging in a brand relationship. If a consumer’s first interaction with your brand is your product or service popping up as the result of an irrelevant search query, the opportunity for a good first impression has been lost. And you only get one.”

The branding-SEO connection

Ultimately, SEO is not about ranking high in search results but about getting your brand in front of the people who are looking for it—whether they know it or not. It’s about providing valuable content across the web that makes Google “find you” for customers who are seeking what you bring to the party. In this way, brand is being built on search more than on messaging: content can’t be king without a position in the court.

“If a brand is the way a company behaves—and it is—then this is completely about brand building,” explained Chaplin. “This is about finding the right customers. Your website—your brand’s home—must be SEO-optimized for discovery. It’s not just about showing up in the search results but about exactly what shows up—the quality of language, for example—that will ultimately get people back to your site, which itself has been optimized for conversions once people get there.”

Technology, of course, is the solution

Humans will not be able to single-handedly manage the demands of this new SEO—we’ll need big data, machine learning and AI for that. Luckily (and SearchDex itself is proof), these technologies already exist.

But it is not an equation that can be solved solely by technology, either—the SEO consultant’s expertise is an art form all its own. Rather, it is the combination of the art of SEO with the science of technology that will ultimately create a new consumer channel that marketing must, in turn, manage.

“The key to building a company’s brand through the power of search is freeing marketers to implement an SEO strategy themselves through technology that they control. This involves removing the friction currently in place, with the reliance on web developers, and creating a straight path from marketing to consumers,” concluded Chaplin. “This straight path, combined with the technology to automate many of the signals coming in through artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning, will allow marketers to connect with consumers on an emotional level through search itself.”

This article first appeared in Adweek.

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Curtis Sparrer Principal Bospar PR Marketing

About the author

Curtis Sparrer is a principal of Bospar PR. He has represented brands like PayPal, Tetris and the alien hunters of the SETI Institute. He is a member of the Forbes Communications Council and has written for Adweek, Forbes, the Dallas Morning News, and PRWeek. He is an active member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association. Business Insider has twice listed him as one of the Top Fifty in Tech PR.