Search engine optimisation (SEO) has more of a marketing impact than it’s normally given credit for. Discussion about SEO usually focuses on its ability to drive traffic to a website. The reality is that the benefits of SEO are so much richer than just an increase in visitor numbers. This post will explore some of the more intricate ways in which search engine optimisation supports strategic marketing. It is hoped that by demystifying the SEO tapestry, that this article will be of use to marketing practitioners and business owners alike.
Search engine optimisation can be categorised as a promotional marketing tactic. It falls into the last category of ‘the 4Ps’ – Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. As such, SEO can be used as a tactical response to strategic marketing aims; SEO is not a strategy in its own right. It is therefore fair to say that SEO supports strategic marketing, but does not set the agenda.
For the purposes of this discussion we will use a definition of strategic marketing that encompasses:
- Marketing planning;
- Goal formulation;
- Positioning strategy;
- Consumer behaviour; and
These are some of the more important areas of strategic marketing. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the usual suspects, and will help to frame this analysis.
It should be noted that Kotler, Keller, and Burton have written a comprehensive text entitled Marketing Management (2009), which has provided input into some of this discussion. They don’t deal with SEO per se, or with online marketing at anywhere near the level they should, but they do cover the overarching elements of strategic marketing quite well.
1.) Microenvironmental Analysis through Keyword Research
The development of a marketing plan for any given business should be built upon a sound understanding of the situational environment. This is partially accomplished by developing a proper appreciation of the microenvironment, and then crafting the marketing plan in response to this information.
Search engines come in to play here through the process of keyword research. The beauty of keyword research is that it allows you to tap into real world statistics about traffic volumes for particular search terms. This can give you insight into the overall popularity of a market or industry, into the levels of searches that are conducted for your competitors, and into the desires of your customers. This is extremely valuable information that is based upon hard metrics, and which can then be used to frame your marketing plan.
2.) SWOT Analysis Using Search Engine Results Pages
The SWOT analysis is a tried and tested method of analysing a company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It provides a solid framework within which to examine both the internal and external environment; strengths and weaknesses come from within, opportunities and threats exist on the outside. The SWOT analysis can be applied to search engine optimisation by using Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) as the input data.
A business is able to understand its strengths and weaknesses by looking at its ranking positions in the SERPS. Is the business currently performing well for organic results in general, or is it completely off the radar? Which keywords are achieving high rankings and which are the ugly cousins? What does this say about the search engine optimisation processes at work within the business?
The opportunities and threats of the external environment can also be analysed by comparing and contrasting the SERP rankings of the business to those of the competitors. How are the competitors performing in the SERPS in general? Are they obtaining more organic traffic, or are they running by the wayside. Which keywords are competitors threatening to overwhelm, and which keywords present opportunities for exploitation? What is the state of play in the search engine optimisation stakes amongst competitors?
3.) SEO Goals Can Be SMART
When formulating goals it’s always important to make sure that the goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Search engine optimisation goals fit nicely into the smart criteria due to the ability to generate low level analytical data for internet marketing campaigns. This facilitates the rapid and accurate measurement of performance against pre-defined SEO goals. It is easy to track the level of traffic received through organic search results both on a global and per-keyword basis. Compare this to the difficulties associated with measuring brand awareness (surveys, cost, sample size considerations etc) and it’s easy to see why SEO goals can be suitable business objectives.
4.) Keyword Selection Supports Positioning Strategy
The brand position that a company chooses to adopt in the marketplace can be supported by keyword selection and targeting. For example, let’s assume that we’re dealing with a car manufacturing company, and that this company wants to create a value proposition that revolves around performance, durability, and exclusivity. The company should employ search engine optimisation to support its value proposition. This would be achieved by optimising the website for keywords that confirm its points-of-difference, and also for keywords that support its points-of-parity. Yet it should avoid ranking for keywords that run contrary to its chosen value proposition. Therefore, the company in question would want to rank for ‘fast cars’, and ‘reliable cars’, yet it would not want to rank for ‘cheap cars’.
5.) Analysing Your Competitor’s Websites
A lot can be gleaned from an SEO audit of a competitor’s website. Part of the SEO audit can involve generating an accurate picture of the terms that your competitors are targeting. Competitive intelligence on target terms can help you formulate your battle plan; perhaps you want to outflank your competitors by differentiating your terms from theirs, or perhaps you want to hit them where it hurts by beating them at their own game. Either way, an understanding of target terms is crucial to this process. Additionally, if you keep an eye out for changes in the terms targeted by your competitors, then this may provide insight into wider changes in the competitive landscape.
6.) Competing in the Search Engines
One of the primary choices to be made in SEO revolves around keyword strategy. This goes beyond just keyword selection, it involves deciding upon the levels of effort that go into optimising each of the selected keywords. Is it preferable to pursue a niche targeting strategy, where the aim is to rank extremely highly for a relatively small selection of keywords? Or is it more desirable to pursue a saturation targeting strategy, where the aim is to have a presence in the SERPs for as many keywords as possible? Obviously there are shades of grey between these two strategies, and the ‘best way’ is entirely dependent upon the specifics of the business. Further, it’s worth remembering that regardless of strategy the long tail of keywords will often drive the majority of traffic. Nevertheless the keyword strategy has direct implications for competing in the search engines, and therefore should be front of mind when planning a competitive approach.
7.) High Search Engine Rankings Reduce Perceived Risk
People are risk averse. We like to make calculated decisions about the trade off between risk and reward. This is especially true when it comes to purchasing behaviour – we hate wasting money. It’s for this reason that consumers seek to make informed choices when they’re putting money on the table. This need for information means that the buying process often starts with learning about the product in question.
The ability to research via the internet has a significant impact upon the educational journey. On the one hand, learning is made easier by the fact that the consumer has access to vast amounts of information that can aid in the buying process. However, on the other hand, the consumer also feels more disconnected from the information source; reading about a product online does not carry the same level of authority as asking a trusted friend about their personal experience.
Search engine optimisation can help your business overcome consumer risk aversion by giving your business more credibility. People associate a high SERP ranking with business scale and gravitas. As such, SEO can help alleviate the perceived risk of purchase by lending authority to your business.
8.) Information Search Can Lead to Problem Recognition
Consumers normally begin the buying process with an initial recognition of the problem at hand. For example, someone may realise that their house is too small for a growing family. This recognition of a problem will then lead to the creation of a short list of possible solutions. In this case, that may be ‘buying a new house’, ‘renting a new house’, or ‘buying an apartment’ etc. Once this short list has been formed, it will then provide a context from which to search for further information about the possible solutions available. Hence, problem recognition has led to a solution shortlist, which has led to an information search. The end game may or may not result in a purchase, but either way the consumer has begun the process as a motivated buyer.
However, sometimes the buying process starts in reverse; an information search can elicit a purchase decision. Consumers may stumble upon information that leads them to recognise they have a problem, which can then inspire them to make a purchase. Search engine optimisation is well placed to capitalise on this sort of consumer. Whereas a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign needs to focus on relevant traffic in order to keep the cost-per-acquisition (CPA) down, an SEO campaign does not incur a cost-per-click (CPC), and as such can seek to take advantage of the potential to motivate visitors once they have arrived.
9.) Geographic Segmentation through Keyword Targeting
One of the core aspects of strategic marketing involves the segmentation of customers into target markets. The ability to separate the audience into distinct groups is a crucial ingredient of cost effective campaigns. Geographical segmentation is one of the more obvious and useful types of segmentation available to the marketer. The physical proximity of a business can be a significant factor in a consumer’s choice of provider. This doesn’t hold true for all products and services, but it generally comes into play for any business that involves tangible products or face-to-face service. Search engine optimisation can support geographical segmentation through the targeting of keywords that include country, city, or town names in the search terms.
10.) Behavioural Segmentation through Keyword Targeting
The other primary form of segmentation available to search engine optimisers is that of behavioural segmentation. This type of delineation allows the internet marketer to firstly target people who are actively looking for information on the product at hand, but more importantly allows for the targeting of people who are at an advanced buyer-readiness stage. For example, if someone is searching for the term “buy house”, as opposed to just “house”, then it is likely that this user is either interested or intent on buying a house. By actively targeting the keywords associated with buyer motivation, the search engine optimiser can drive high value traffic to the site. When combined with the more generic terms associated with information search, the search engine optimisation campaign will be utilising a holistic approach to keyword strategy.
So what’s the conclusion to take away from this post? In sum, search engine optimisation can play a significant role in the support of strategic marketing. There is a direct relationship between strategic considerations and objectives, and the capacity to address these needs head-on through search engine optimisation. By understanding the full spectrum of SEO benefits, the intelligent marketer can get the most out of their internet marketing campaign.
Here’s a list of actionable takeaways that can be applied to SEO campaigns:
1.) Conduct Microenvironmental Analysis – Use keyword research to give you insight into the state of the industry, competitor, and customer environments.
2.) Perform a SWOT Analysis on the SERPs – This will help you understand your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
3.) Ensure that your SEO Goals are SMART – SEO goals should be structured as SMART business objectives – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
4.) Target Keywords that Support Brand Positioning – Make sure that your keyword selection strategy targets terms that support your brand positioning strategy.
5.) Perform SEO Audits on Competitors – SEO audits of your competitors’ websites can help you formulate a battle plan and predict competitive trends.
6.) Choose a Competitive Posture in the SERPs – Understand that your competitive posture in the SERPs is influenced by the choice of either a niche or a saturation targeting strategy.
7.) Combat Risk Aversion through High SERP Rankings – Achieve a high SERP ranking to assume the associated credibility, and use this to help you to combat risk aversion amongst your customers.
8.) Target Information Seekers – Employ SEO campaigns to cost-effectively target information seekers with the aim of inspiring purchase motivation once they arrive.
9.) Target Geographical Segmentations – Use keyword selection to target geographical segmentations that are located within a desirable proximity.
10.) Target Motivated Buyer Segmentations – Use keyword selection to target behavioural segmentations that include people who are at an advanced buyer-readiness stage.
Living Online are experts at using search engine optimisation in support of strategic marketing. We understand how to construct an SEO campaign to deliver maximum return on investment.
Contact us today to see how internet marketing can set your business on the path to growth.