What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
What goes into SEO?
To understand what SEO really means, let's break that sentence down and look at the parts:
- Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they're coming to your site because Google tells them you're a resource for Apple computers when really you're a farmer selling apples, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
- Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
- Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don't have to pay for.
As search engines get smarter about answering the questions potential customers ask, they can more easily see through low-quality, spammy content. Search engine optimisation keeps evolving and modern advances in AI – in particular neural networks – ensure that this keeps getting better and better.
However, in simple terms search engines are really nothing more than question and answer machines – a searcher types in a question (even in the form of a statement) and the machine returns the best answers it has to offer. The forms of these answers are taking on much more variety – for example sponsored ads, blog posts, web pages, videos, ratings and reviews from multiple sites, map widgets, your website, your competitors’ websites, and listings sites like Yelp.
What is the Customer Journey
The customer journey simply describes the customer’s experience with your brand or product from initial contact, through the process of engagement, and into a long term relationship. The further a customer is along the journey, the more valuable they are to your business. The customer journey framework takes an “outside the organisation looking in” perspective, and should be paired with your inside the organisation expertise. At any point in time, a given business has many customers at each stage of the journey, and possesses unique strengths and weakness at moving customers from any one stage to the next.
You can make the framework as complicated as you like, but at Malalta we like to simplify it down to five common steps:
- Awareness. The customer discovers what available options exist.
- Consideration. Once they know about you, the customer considers what you have to offer relative to your competition.
- Purchase. Congratulations! After considering your offering, the customer has decided to give you a go and try your product for the first time.
- Retention. The customer had a good experience with your product previously and has now become a repeat customer.
- Advocacy. You have built enough trust with your repeat customer that they are now willing to risk their reputation by recommending you to their friends.
Now, let’s consider how your SEO efforts fit into each stage of the customer journey.
Step one: awareness
This first step is the obvious one and the basis of probably 80% of the search engine optimisation (organic results) and marketing (paid results) industries. Having your business simply show up near the top of the targeted search results your customers are entering is the most foundational aspect of SEO.
This is where you start:
- Get your site built correctly
- Get your editorial calendar and content publishing process lined out
- Know what your customers and prospects search for through effective keyword research; and
- Work consistently over time to expand and improve your search rankings.
And don’t forget long-tail keywords either… especially if you’re in a highly competitive category or location and you’re just getting started. Long-tail emphasis could well be your most profitable path to market.
Step two: consideration
When considering your offering, most customers are going to look for social proof in the form of ratings, reviews and positive listings in other directory sites.
Take a look at search results for some of your key terms. There’s a good chance that at least three of the 10 results on page one for your keyword terms are links to “directory” or “listings” sites, such as Yelp. In many cases, your placement in those lists is largely driven by customer sentiment expressed through ratings and reviews. Yes, some sites seem to be “pay for play” lists, but we’ll leave that tactic for another day.
Technical tip: when building your website, make sure you take full advantage of schema vocabulary. Including this will help ensure that your snippets (reviews, about, products, etc.) are optimised for search engine results. Don't have the technical skills to do this in your team? Reach out to one of our friendly SEO consultants – we do this stuff everyday and we're happy to chat!
Just as new customers need to trust you in order for them to buy from you, Google needs to trust you to show your business in search results. You can improve your ranking by including the following in your site:
- Content – Educate your customers about your unique value, solve their problems in your content (FAQ pages and videos are great for this).
- Reviews – Objective, varied reviews on Google and multiple sites give search engines the “social proof” necessary to fuel your rankings.
And for local businesses:
- Google My Business – It is absolutely necessary that you claim and verify your Google My Business listing and continue to update it with content – photos, reviews, etc. – to keep it alive and vibrant.
Look for opportunities in your local market to contribute content, get high-quality backlinks and show search engines and visitors that you understand the local market.
Step three: purchase
Showing off your ability to deliver high value and solve customer problems through content you can work to rank in search engines can be as good as the potential customer demoing your product directly. Think about using videos for testimonials, case studies, product demonstrations, post-project recaps, as a way to deliver a trial or demonstration to a searcher via a search engine result.
Providing content above and beyond what’s on your web pages and blog can help spur buying decisions and continue the customer education process. Videos and infographics are two great methods for helping ensure that content that both prompts and reinforces a buying decision is ranked in search engine results. Plus, if you use content upgrades (e.g., offering a cheat sheet or checklist in return for an opt-in), you can expand your list of potential buyers quickly and keep the “just looking” folks nurtured and warmed up for future purchases.
And, while not strictly organic SEO focused, the emergence of capabilities such as Google Home Services Ads (currently only available in select markets) give you an early-stage opportunity to get ahead of your competition in your local market.
Step four: retention
There’s a good chance your existing customers search for your site time and again to find you. Be very careful about buying ads against your brand name, as much of the click-throughs could be customers you’re paying to “reacquire” as they use Google to find your hours, menus, products, services, address, etc. It would be a much better ROI to have an optimised organic presence so that customers can find you organically.
Step five: advocacy
Yes, I’m beating the reviews drum here again, but it’s because they are so important to your business. Think of reviews as digitally fuelled referrals. Aren’t referrals your highest quality leads? Also, your first impression, even in search results, can fuel searchers’ decisions on whether to click through to your site, so ensuring that your presence is optimised will fuel more referral traffic to your site.
Search engine optimisation isn’t the sexiest of topics (well, some of our analysts would disagree 🤓) but it’s fundamental to successful marketing for small businesses.
You can still find many opportunities to outrank your competition for the keywords that bring you new customers – but there’s no short cut. It takes strategy, focus and a commitment to take full advantage of the capabilities search engines use to evaluate and rank your site.
Through dedicated application of the principles here, and by organising your content along the customer journey framework, you can get the work done in bite-sized chunks that won’t overwhelm your team while at the same time providing steady results to the business.