SEO

Big SEO Needs to Get BIGGER: Multi-Channel Optimisation

SEO’s evolution in a growing web

I have written for Search Engine Journal before but have kindly been given my very own monthly column on search business – so I thought what better way to introduce myself than through a rambling piece on the industry, a little about search engines and what I love about where SEO management is heading.

So, with the increasing importance of brand as a result of the personalisation and real-time announcements of late, I thought what better topic than the evolution of multi-channel optimisation.  So without further ado…

Scaling the Web

The web is growing – as is competition.  It’s growing at such an accelerating rate that right now, and more so in the coming years, search engines will have to contend with managing this exponential growth in a way that still provides excellent, fresh results.

Here, I’m going to lay down my thoughts on the challenges for new business propositions in this arena (both from existing companies and new companies).   I’ll consider where opportunities arise for these propositions and SEO managers that roll with the punches and simply love what they do!  I’m going to consider the growing importance of optimising multiple marketing channels and web assets, and for me, I think that is a very, very cool thing indeed.

Complexities around Social, User Profiles, Intent and Link Graphs

This growing web has quite clear ramifications for search professionals.

There are quite clear differences between a search engine trying to assign rankings for 1,000 competing sites to that of 10 million across 200 ranking factors (maybe these, these, or these).  Of those sites which sit in the top 10, which should then have sitelinks, which should appear with secondary listings, or with Universal search listings, or include real time results, or should be geo-targeted, etc, etc?

But how can search engines deal with this increasing scale and complexity of the internet and the services they keep on developing?  The sophistication of search results is truly quite remarkable…and getting more sophisticated but realistically it raises some interesting challenges for SEO’s.

What does the aging web mean for SEO?

As the web ages, search engines are having to look for ways that are able to filter websites out that are spamming the networks (a subjective phrase, I realise), and highlight the most relevant, trusted and authoritative sites on whatever grounds they wish.

BUT they also need to encourage the idea that organic search results are great entry-points for new marketing messages, otherwise the SERPs will age, becomes stagnant and dissatisfaction will rise, and importantly, their revenues will fall.

Or do they?

Cynically, one might argue that search engines are taking the view that in order for a business to get initial visibility and traction online they are going to have to pay for the search engines for it.

Those that add genuine value to consumers (e.g. those companies that are first into an industry with a new value-proposition) will then gain some incremental organic / natural visibility.  And, sadly, those that don’t (the majority) must continue paying for their traffic.  I’m making a huge generalisation, I realise, but then again, huge profits are been made from many generalisations!  What do you think?   A good way of explaining it is that there is a very common approach to expanding online strategies, possibly something similar to this process:

Initial Paid Search Campaigns > Incremental Investment in SEO > Tentative Investment in Social Media > Reduced Spend in Paid Search

…my take on this approach is that it typically provides a degree of reassurance by starting online marketing via a purist DR channel, then shifting attention and ambition to less DR-focused channels (such as SEO and social media), to those that quite potentially have longer term returns and reduced CPA’s (cost per accounts).  That’s a long sentence, and again, a simplification of the facts, but I think it’s an important summary.

This goes go on to support the view that search engines, especially Google with its very public obsession over quality results, can look to earn a level of guaranteed income from each business that wishes to enter the beautiful world of search results.

So, anyway, let’s take the less cynical view that search engines can and do provide organic entry-points for new business propositions, but how do they do this?

Is the only way for a relatively new website to gain significant organic traffic through brand-related searches?  There must be a more ambitious, expansive and value-adding approach to online marketing that relies less on consumed impressions, paid for clicks and above-the-line activity to drive brand and non-brand related volume.  So how can we look to establish organic entry-points for new websites that adds value for the long-term?

Fresh, Universal Results?

So we know that the query-deserves-freshness (QDF) algorithm has seen some great returns for some SEO’s as they have been able to rank positively in some reasonably competitive and many more uncompetitive results.  QDF though, in my view, rarely infiltrates those search results that are well established as SEO battle grounds – e.g. short-tail finance and travel verticals.

Universal results have helped to mix things-up, with a timely spread of the formats of results being a priority by some of the search engines.  Often Universal results can create quick visibility from such things as local optimisation, video optimisation, image optimisation, blog post optimisation, digital / online PR, etc.  All of which is really cool stuff, but how many new businesses with superb, value-adding propositions take advantage of these channels as an entry point to the SERPs.  Am I right in thinking that more optimisation could take place across these Universal results?  There is often a huge plethora of social media assets, 3rd party assets, company assets and website assets that a company could use to build value for its target audience with.  It’s just as important for this reason to mine the business as much as it is to mine for keywords and analytics data.

A fantastic, new business proposition could therefore make a real, sustainable drive in to the SERPs via these channels, but is this any different from paying for visibility in the search results?  Well, yes, I think so.  The longevity comes as a result of the increased authority, trust and recognition of these digital assets across multiple digital marketing channels.  An example might be video optimisation in the right sort of niche that can continue to harvest the benefits of such visibility beyond the life of the campaign.  I love seeing marketers using digital assets, such as video content or press releases, with an eye on other media channels and a long-term, value-adding perspective.  However, it’s easier to dodge this extra work as it’s probably not immediately in any one person’s remit to consider this level of long-term integration but as a part of the company, I think it’s where we see the best in marketing prowess.

SEO, SMO and Brand

As a result of this increasing competition in more diversified SERPs, my thoughts are that we are going to see continued specialisation of roles in this space.  We already have those that optimise social media channels (SMO’s), video optimisation gurus, awesome link-builders, digital PR pro’s, sharp creatives and brand builders, techy tech guys, usability specialists, and gazillions more…but I think we’re set to see more specialisation again in time as the industry matures.

I recently stated how I think specialisms should be created as a result of SEO training, and this follows perfectly from what we are seeing in the ever-diversifying SERPs…specialists that capture multiple forms of user intent, and I think new business propositions can enter the SERPs – modeling and managing their approach to marketing around this sort of thinking.  Taking advantage of a clean slate in business is certainly not something to be sniffed at!

The Wrap-Up

Search engines algorithms play a big role in what sites float and what sites sink, but there is a lot you online marketers can do to diversify their optimisation channels.  And if Google has a 90% reach of the UK’s searching population, then we as SEO or social media professionals really do need to be mindful of what we are working with.

Frequency of changes in the search marketing sector seemed to be occurring in ever increasing doses it seems.  And for this reason I love the idea that we can look at optimising more and more channels as they arise; this is, after all, what great marketing is all about – spotting new opportunities from new marketing channels.  This does not mean that SEO is dead or anything similar, but rather maturing into another phase of its life cycle where the complexities of SEO seed a growing number of multi-channel optimisation specialists that consider integrated optimisation at the root of what they do.  In my mind, this is where new business propositions can make the greatest gains in building visibility in competitive SERPs.

What do you think?  Is this a model of SEO management that you see as having increasing value in a maturing industry?  Share your thoughts…

Ben McKay writes about SEO consulting over at Just Me and My, and works as a SEO Manager for Mediaedge:cia.  Say hello to Ben on Twitter.

 Big SEO Needs to Get BIGGER: Multi Channel Optimisation
Ben writes about managing SEO and the ever growing joys of consulting on SEJ and his blog, Just Me and My. He's an organiser of the not-for-profit search, analytics and social media conference, SAScon, and all whilst working as an SEO Director for Mediaedge:cia, WPP.
 Big SEO Needs to Get BIGGER: Multi Channel Optimisation

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3 thoughts on “Big SEO Needs to Get BIGGER: Multi-Channel Optimisation

  1. Thanks for this great article, you have a clear vision of today SEO with the emerging of the social media. I thing that Multi-channel optimisation specialists will bring a great new dimention to SEO and will increase the value of the SEO industriy.

  2. Hey Ben,

    In the fits of struggling to keep up with all the channels and be skilled enough in some to offer my clients real value, I’ve wondered about having niche specialists to cover off all the opportunities and channels. Like your thinking here a lot.

    I’m less inclined to agree on your online strategy process for my particular client base; PPC is not commonly the starting place; in fact social media is becoming the “toe dip into internet marketing” more and more. Probably dependent on size of company tho’.

    Search traffic is from search engines became less relevant in 2009 as a fraction of total traffic to our customers. Will that decline continue as people use and trust their social networks more to find what they want?

    Many humans are still better at complex tasks than an algorithm; for now. The search indexes are incrementally better but still filled with crap.

    Is the race more about humans finding and creating valuable networks to trusted human crowdsourcing vs the search engines tweaking their algo’s to return ever more relevant results?

    Those who invest deeply in their social networks will have an advantage over people using a search engine IMO. My question is how many will discover (or be led to) that vs. how many will just use a search engine? Hmmmm

  3. @Caroline, thanks for the comments. Appreciated.

    @Mark Bossert That’s really interesting that social media is the toe-dipping place for your digital marketing…although I guess a company blog or company forum could be classed as social media. I’d be interested to hear how you define social media – my definition was more focussed on driving volume and commercial campaigns, as opposed to setting-up a Twitter profile or passively setting-up a company blog.

    Regarding search traffic…according to much publicised Hitwise data, social media sites (USA especially, considering the less monopolised state of search compared to the UK) are beginning to receive more search volume than Google at times…but naturally this does not account for downstream traffic – as Google et al are still going to drive most of the volume in this way in the near future.

    In response to: “Is the race more about humans finding and creating valuable networks to trusted human crowdsourcing vs the search engines tweaking their algo’s to return ever more relevant results?”

    I agree that people are always going to trust what they know and who they know over and algorithm, but then again search behaviour is being modelled in a way that is learning about people’s search and behavioural networks more so than ever…it won’t be long before Google will more obviously be taking your online networks / presence as a guide on what results you would like to see when you do a search. But you’re right, social media is dominating more of our time online and across a broader demographic than ever before so should be seriously considered by marketers and search technology specialists alike.

    Regarding: “Those who invest deeply in their social networks will have an advantage over people using a search engine IMO. My question is how many will discover (or be led to) that vs. how many will just use a search engine? Hmmmm”

    I totally agree there is huge opportunity to marketing and optimising other digital assets than simply a website…but that does not mean to say that the latter should be avoided. ;)

    Really cool comments Mark, thanks for that.

    Ben