In its early days, Search Engine Optimization had mainly two aims: increase your ranking on SERPs and stay visible to possible traffic. However, over the years, the term Search Engine Optimization has gained both positive and negative connotations: the latter being primarily due to black-hat techniques that were intrusive, such as spamming webmasters with requests for link building and gaming the search engines with tactics like keyword-stuffing.
Those who knew better - the honest white-hatters - had to deal with a reputation that they didn’t deserve, being tarred with the same brush as black-hatters. However, in time, Google began countering black-hat techniques with updates to their algorithms, such as Panda and Penguin that cracked down on websites using questionable tactics such as keyword-spamming, doorway pages, link farms and mirror content.
However, even as SEO began to slowly recover from its nearly tarnished reputation, the Panda and Penguin updates were only the beginning of a seismic shift in the world of Search Engine Marketing. Google et al. had long begun to understand that behind every search term entered, there is intent: a specific need to find a specific answer to a specific query. What’s more, each of these search queries is entered by a real human being: one with complex emotions and behaviors. In short: every search carries CONTEXT.
This meant that consequent algorithm updates were set to make Google’s search engine even more intuitive and discerning, in order to provide the exact information that the user was looking for. By using previous search histories, geographical location and even the user’s personal search settings, Google attempts to provide context to the user’s search query, and then uses that to return the best results for those search terms.
Ways in which Search Engines Have Become more Intuitive
In today’s digital-run world, where users are more and more seeking information on-the-go, mobile readability and geographical locations provide Google with the necessary context to serve up results that are optimized for readability in mobile devices and relevant to the current geographical location of the searcher. Mobile optimization, in particular, has become a major factor in ranking: businesses need to have a mobile presence whether it’s through mobile responsive design or through a separate mobile domain.
Google’s Hummingbird update, which was released in 2013, represented one of the biggest shifts in the way Google parsed search terms. While it previously parsed the terms word-by-word, this update made the search engine understand “conversational” language: full sentences and questions. This means that search engines can now understand the intent behind a search, and then pull the relevant results based on that understanding. Therefore, SERPs for specific questions or sentences rank pages that address those queries in their entirety over those that address only part of the search term.
Social Media and Link Authority
There was a time when getting a link back from reputed sites like WSJ or Huffington Post was considered the gold standard for link authority. However, with the shift in perspective, social shares and linkbacks are now considered higher link authorities. Why? It’s really simple. People trust people. So, the more a link is shared on a social network, the higher the indication of trust. So, links that have higher social shares on networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, are ranked higher.
Marketers also need to jump right on the context-train, and shift their focus from themselves (the brand) to the customer. Understanding the context behind their potential customers’ search terms would give them an edge: they could serve up optimized content that they know their customers want to see, which, in turn, would give them a chance of attracting quality inbound traffic to their website with a greater chance of converting into customers.
Search is no longer merely about ranking high or staying visible: it is using optimized, relevant content to attract the right traffic and encourage them to take specific actions based on their position in the sales funnel. Sound familiar? SEO has gained a whole new perspective: the necessity to optimize search engine results from the inbound perspective. It is a part of a bigger, grander marketing methodology: inbound marketing. It should, however, be said that the original intent of SEO hasn’t been thrown to the wayside: they are still very much the same; they’ve just been given a more meaningful purpose, if you will.
With that being said, it baffles us when we encounter articles that attempt to distinguish SEO and Inbound Marketing as two separate entities, when in actuality, one plays the most significant part in the success of the other.
SEO and Inbound Marketing
On its own, a well-executed SEO campaign would fulfill its aims of high rankings and greater visibility. However, these aims do not automatically translate to increased revenue, which is the company’s end goal. A higher ranking on an SERP may increase your traffic volume: but unless a fair percentage of that traffic volume successfully converts into qualified leads and sales revenue, the whole SEO exercise would amount to wasted resources.
Inbound driven SEO tactics play a surer role in generating leads and ROI, rather than just traffic. Across every stage of the inbound methodology, SEO plays its role by making relevant content rank high and remain visible for the searcher to find it. The guesswork and uncertainty on whether inbound traffic gained through SEO will successfully convert into prospective leads is largely minimized within an inbound strategy.
Dismissing SEO as a lesser “cousin” of Inbound Marketing is not only erroneous, it’s dangerous. Without SEO’s ranking and visibility boosts, any inbound strategy implemented will be rendered effectively useless: for inbound marketing to work, your SEO needs to work.
In the light of what we know about how search engines work today, let’s look at some ways in which inbound-driven SEO practices can reap dividends both in terms of increased quality traffic and increased ROI.
Dynamic Smart Content
SEO’s primary goal is optimizing your content for search engine visibility; however, an inbound-driven content marketing strategy provides relevant, quality content that is optimized for search engines. Since search engines focus primarily on customer intent and context, dynamic smart content seeks to do just that: focus on addressing customer’s direct needs reflected in the search terms.
Inbound marketing agencies usually house content and SEO teams that work in synergy to generate quality content for every step of the Inbound Cycle and the buyer’s journey: Awareness, Consideration, Decision. Content generated and optimized within inbound campaigns are carefully crafted to convert a visitor to a lead, and eventually, to a customer by seeking to address that particular visitor’s intent clearly.
Pay Per Click
This is a bit of a tricky pony, since PPC costs are constantly on the rise, and can be considered a risky investment. However, by crafting PPC campaigns that are more prospect-focused than brand-focused, such as those targeting specific landing pages and educational content, you can ensure you get a higher ROI on all your PPC efforts. In fact, recent studies showed that PPC campaigns which used landing pages generated three times as many leads as those that didn’t.
Link building is one of the key components of SEO strategy, which focuses on building organic links from high-authority, relevant links. Since inbound marketing helps create content that can boost a website’s authority within its niche, it automatically increases its chances of gaining natural inbound links. Additionally, becoming active in forums like Quora and Medium or sharing posts on active social channels like Facebook and LinkedIn can also encourage shares across these platforms, and thereby, increase your link authority.
Buyer Personas and Keyword Analysis
We already know that buyer personas, which are fictional representations of customers with specific behaviors and attributes, are the basis of the inbound marketing strategy. It’s easy to see how this ties in with how search works today: they can help you find the right keywords for your target audience and help you craft the right content for that audience. Since search engines are intuitive and user-centric, long-tail keywords (and content) centered on buyer personas will pull in more organic traffic than generic short-tail keywords.
Also Read 5 Steps to Creating Smart Buyer Personas
While the effects of on-page SEO in an inbound strategy may not seem immediately obvious, they are by no means negligent. In fact, they’re central to making your website search-engine friendly. On-page SEO, by definition, refers to optimizing your website code, content and site structure to be search engine-friendly. If you’ve done your keyword analysis right, and paid attention to crafting on-page elements like your title, meta-description, Title/H1/H2, and internal links with those keywords, you can draw targeted and qualified traffic to your website.
Conclusion: Drive Traffic the Right Way
The landscape of search and search engine marketing has evolved dramatically over the last few years, becoming more oriented towards user behavior and intent. As such, the bare-bones definition of SEO - building links and attracting traffic - no longer hold strong, no thanks in part to the damage inflicted by black-hatters.
With the rise of inbound marketing, however, SEO has been given a much broader perspective: generating qualified leads and in turn, higher Marketing ROI. Since both inbound marketing and today’s search algorithms are customer-centric, it logically follows to optimize search engine results with inbound-driven SEO tactics.