One of my first jobs in search marketing some years ago was managing the English website of a forex company based in Tel Aviv that had sites in various languages and targeting various countries. Each week, the CEO wanted us to update and send spreadsheets of keyword rankings. This was the only metric by which we were judged — even to the point that the CEO had told us that if we could collectively get our rankings to a certain point by the end of the year, we would all get an exotic company vacation to Eilat in southern Israel. (Well, exotic for Israelis.)
A few years later after I had left that position, some recruiters contacted me about potential jobs. Each one’s only question — in that blunt, particular, Israeli way — was simply, “How much have you increased website rankings?” As if that was (and is) the best gauge of success. Both the forex company and the recruiters had missed the point: Rankings, in and of themselves, are meaningless.
If you are an e-commerce website, the most important metric is revenue resulting directly from online traffic. If you are a B2B company, it might be the number of qualified leads gained. If you are a B2C firm, it might be sales resulting from traffic that ends up subscribing to sales-funnel methods such as e-mail newsletters. Every company is different — and any firm’s metric of success should be that which best matches its business and marketing goals.
The process of online-marketing success in Google search today is three-fold:
- Optimize for rankings
- Optimize for clicks
- Optimize for conversions
This post will focus on the second part.
Optimizing for Rankings
The basic elements of technical SEO (a targeted keyword in the meta title, meta description, page text, and so on) and the advanced ones (the presence of an XML sitemap, a good site hierarchy, page-load time, and so on) are commonly known today. When one optimizes a website technically for search engines, one usually sees a boost in rankings a few weeks later. (The rankings rise further the more that the site publishes and spreads quality, original content to gain social-media signals and backlinks.)
However, this results only in what Yoast CEO Joost de Valk calls ”search-engine listing.” Part of the real SEO job is just starting.
Optimizing for Clicks
I thought about the story at the beginning of this post after reading Valk’s recent blog post at SEOmoz on the importance of search marketing rather than what he aptly calls search listing:
SEOs tend to think their job is done when they’ve got their top 3 / top 5 listing, when in fact you’re only half way when you’ve reached that.
A lot of “old-school” SEOs, myself included, speak about PPC with some disdain, calling it “checkbook SEO” and “anyone can do that.” When I do so, I do so in jest, and I know that most of my friends who say stuff like that mean it that way too. But we’re probably not helping our industry when we do that, because the one thing that PPC guys and girls do best, is the one thing that most SEOs suck at the most: optimization for clicks.
For more information on what Valk means, check out his great slideshow presentation:
The nutshell: Just getting your site in Google is “search listing.” Once your website is there, you need to do “search marketing” — getting the target audience to click on your result in Google. One important method is to test titles and descriptions — just as in paid-search campaigns — to see what text garners the greatest amounts of traffic (relative to the rankings). A second way is to use schema code to tell Google additional, specific information about your product, service, or article that can be included in the SERPs themselves. Barbara Starr shows us just a few details that can be shown:
Writers, like Dan Petrovic, Rand Fishkin, and myself, can also use Google+ and author mark-up in the SERPs:
As Aaron Bradley puts it in an e-commerce context:
Put another way, this means that webmasters can now provide Google, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex with much more granular information about products and offers on e-commerce sites in a manner that is officially sanctioned by these search engines. In terms of e-commerce SEO, this is potentially a pretty big deal: it is a means of providing very exact e-commerce information to the search engines in exactly the form they want it.
Paul Bruemmer notes that retail companies, for example, can get thirty percent more clicks to their websites from the SERPs with structured mark-up because peoples’ eyes are drawn more to images, graphics, and other items than to straight, boring text. For more information on using schema code, I recommend looking at the organization’s website.
All of these technical developments are pointing towards something far greater in the future. As Starr also notes:
According to announcements on Google’s Inside Search blog, this is only the beginning of building an “artificial intelligence” engine, or its ‘Star Trek’ computer.”
Of note was the comment posted at the end of Google’s blog announcing the Knowledge Graph by Amit Singhal:
“We’re proud of our first baby step—the Knowledge Graph—which will enable us to make search more intelligent, moving us closer to the “Star Trek computer” that I’ve always dreamt of building.”
Here is the big picture of search today and tomorrow (again, from Starr):
In the end, Google’s goal is to provide answers, not websites. In the above search for Coldplay, Google has compiled structured mark-up from the sources the search engine views as authoritative to provide answers all in one place for all of the major queries about the band: songs, albums, historical information, and so on. If you want to know in what year “Fix You” was released, you now only need Google — you do not even need to click to another website. This is how Google will preserve and increase its brand as the best search engine online.
The takeaway for SEOs: For more and more types of queries, Google will show information in SERPs from only the most-authoritative websites. The challenge is to make your website one of those trusted sources of information. And that comes from technical optimization, content creation, brand building, and link earning — and, now, structured mark-up. Once your website is technically optimized and then presented in the SERPs in the best, marketable way, then you can move to the next step: Optimizing your website’s inbound-conversion funnels.
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.