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As team leaders and marketers, you have to walk that fine line between making sure the day-to-day stuff is getting done, while ensuring you’ve got a great plan in place and it’s being adhered to. We all have those big goals, things we have in the one, three or five-year plan, but how often are you working on them? Do you honestly feel you have the time, energy and resources to affect meaningful change? How often do you feel like other teams’ activities can and do get in the way of your plan or process? If you manage a team, can you say they’re all working on the things that make the greatest impact – those things that really make a difference to meeting the objective, not just the day-to-day firefighting?

These issues are endemic across the vast majority of clients I have worked with, and the time needed to fix them takes away from the actual important work that’s required to drive change. 

Working smarter 

This is where your agency can become invaluable. The best agencies out there will see the rise of AI, the growing number of companies taking teams in-house, and analytics insights becoming easier to interpret as an opportunity to offer more to their clients, not a reason to be worried. Working smarter together can reap huge rewards. For us, it’s about getting the right people doing the right things. Because we get it – why would you spend money on an agency to post on social, or provide keyword research, when you can easily bring people in-house to do those things effectively, quicker and cheaper?

What we’re talking about is creating a single team, in-house and agency working together as one, and being honest and upfront about where the expertise is, where it should be kept, and removing any ego from the equation. This may mean that current ways of working need to be evaluated; you should be getting value from your agency that your team can’t easily deliver.

That might sound easy, but it takes time, effort and the ability of your team to let go of some things. Let’s look at one of my clients as an example. We were brought in to support the natural search (SEO) team for a very large retailer. On the face of it, things looked great and the in-house team were all smart and motivated, but when we scratched a little deeper things weren’t so perfect: 

  • The team lacked focus and had to deal with queries from all over the business
  • Senior team members were asked simple SEO questions, where a more appropriate person may have been available, or not asked at all 
  • The same questions were being asked (and answered) again and again
  • The majority of the team’s time was spent firefighting or fixing issues on the site
  • Little or no time was spent on gaining real insight or strategic planning; everything was de-prioritised in order to deal with comparatively small fixes
  • Ultimately, my team were doing a great job but we weren’t used to our potential.

How much of that list sounds familiar? From my perspective, this is more often the rule than the exception.

On the subject of the list’s final point, if the agency isn’t being used as effectively as possible then this should be a red flag. It’s all well and good being there in the trenches with the team, but unless you’re able to demonstrate that extra value, who cares? In my experience, that’s a very precarious position to be in; even if things are looking great, if we’re considered to be ‘just another agency’ we can and will be replaced. 

We all want to get the best results for our clients and although we know our stuff and have delivered amazing work, any other agency should be able to do this – or at least pitch that they can do this. What makes your agency any different from the others out there?

Our flavour of empowerment

What changed? Necessity required a change in direction. A massive migration was planned which had touch points across the organisation. The frequency of queries that were coming in and the lack of knowledge across the other teams meant that we needed to find a better way of serving the wider business’ queries, in order to put the time needed into the migration project. Basically, we needed to make all teams ‘a little bit SEO’. 

So, we started training sessions as an introduction to SEO, and developed a specific team training roadmap. What we wanted to do was:

  • Reduce the same questions coming through
  • Provide the teams asking the questions with the tools and knowledge to get some of the answers themselves
  • Give the natural search team some room to work on making those site changes
  • Provide senior members of the agency and in-house teams with the time and resources to deal with the upcoming migration

What this meant was that the way we worked, and the type of work the agency and in-house team did, changed. Content teams were now able to do their own keyword research, and planning teams could develop their own wireframes. Migration aside, effort was now re-distributed against more valuable tasks. Specialist teams were able to tackle certain areas of the site for optimisation, dormant projects could be picked up – and change could happen. By giving away a little control, the team were given the gift of time. The migration was a huge success, the agency was able to raise the profile of the SEO team both in-house and agency-side within the organisation, and, as a result, we made ourselves far more valuable.

Evolving empowerment

Sounds great, right? Well, kind of. I’m sure there are many SEO experts reading this in disbelief, and you’re right, sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be more damaging than none at all. Although we gave some of the skills to other teams, in many ways this raised more questions.

However, we had a plan. We didn’t want to swap one problem for another, so we started another initiative: drop-in clinics. These were advertised across all digital teams as a safe space to raise questions and ask for advice, be it on wireframing, keyword analysis, broader strategy – anything that may be causing a worry or concern. We also used these queries as a way to refine our training packages, creating new, hyper-relevant and bespoke courses for the varied needs of different teams.

We now have a suite of courses, all constantly being tweaked and improved, a dedicated resource for queries and a knowledge base with all learning documents easily accessible.

What did this mean?

It’s my philosophy that your agency should be providing you with something you can’t get elsewhere. As I mentioned previously, all agencies are expected to demonstrate expertise – it’s a hygiene factor. This work, however, allowed us to go much further – building stronger relationships with the natural search team, and creating strong perceptions as ‘experts’ across the broader business, with product leads and senior stakeholders.

Those invisible walls between teams have fallen and the in-house team and agency have much more visibility on other site changes, which means things are planned correctly and things rarely go wrong – and when they do, they are much easier to fix. The client can still rely on their agency to scale up where required, as there are always those tasks that demand additional resources, but it protects the time needed for additional thinking. 

Time can be spent on getting those changes made, tested and learnt from properly. The team have the ability to develop the plan – and the strategy can be developed and enacted in a way that has been hard to do in the past. We have been able to get people doing the right things at the right time, working as more than an ‘all hands to the pumps’ team of client and agency firefighters. This has empowered the client and enabled them to react to an increasingly challenging marketplace with continued year-on-year improvements. 

Still not convinced?

Perhaps giving our specialist knowledge away could be perceived as weakening ourselves. I don’t subscribe to this at all; I think it massively strengthens the relationship.  

If a client believes that our giving information or training to other teams mean they’ll no longer need us, then shame on them – and shame on us for not demonstrating our value to them. The thing that makes our agency different is our ability to provide critical insights and ways to solve problems. It’s about the experience we bring from working with all our other clients. It’s about giving the client something that they can’t create in house. But if the only thing you’re offering is keyword research, or a social post, I’m afraid your days are numbered. Your agency shouldn’t be in the position of mere implementation; you need to be an expert, not just another supplier. 

Adjustments might need to be made for clients who take a more traditional approach, but in my opinion it’s an amazing way forward for truly affecting change in a business and strengthening the marketing team’s credibility across the company. 

We’re delighted to announce that we have been appointed by Tu, the Sainsbury’s owned clothing brand, to help improve SEO. 

We will improve SEO performance for Tu through looking at its technical SEO performance and capabilities, in-depth competitor analysis and taxonomy recommendations, alongside the usual hygiene and best practise guidance. 

We have a long-lasting relationship with Argos spanning three years, providing leading service and advice. We will provide the same level of expertise to Tu, which is part of Sainsbury’s Group PLC. 

The strategic partnership is set to enhance Tu’s online presence by driving more organic traffic to the website.  

Joe Ford Head of SEO at Organic says: “We are so excited to be working with Tu and expanding our relationship with Sainsbury’s Group PLC. We are well set to give both advice and support where possible in how Tu can improve their SEO thanks to our experience with Argos.”

Joe Southcombe SEO Manager at TU: “We’re looking forward to working with Organic to really help drive our SEO strategy.”

On the 14th of June 2018 we held Risky Business, an event in London focusing on the perils of website migration and how to successfully navigate them. A team of industry experts gave insights based on their experiences in handling website migration. After the keynotes were over the audience had their chance to ask questions. Here’s a rundown of what was asked.

The Experts

  • Dan Patmore – Natural Search Strategy Manager, Argos
  • Claudia Higgins – Natural Search Insight and Technology Manager, Argos
  • David Wise – Director Channel Sales EMEA, Magento Commerce
  • Jonathan Fink – Head of Search and Innovation, Organic
  • Joe Ford – Digital Marketing Consultant, Organic
  • Simon Dale – Senior Account Manager, Organic


Q: How long would you expect results to get back to normal after doing a “big bang” style migration?

Joe Ford – It depends on the type of migration, how big your site is, what you’re changing and how your performance recovers from site changes generally. So for sites like Argos, Amazon, Ebay, they will come back fairly quickly because they carry a lot of weight with Google. But for much smaller sites that don’t have the domain authority to back the site up, the return can take much longer. That’s why assessing the risks ahead before you start is so important and you have an idea, personally and for the project, what is going to happen.
Dan Patmore – I would support that and I think the key point is it depends on what you’re changing. What I would also add is that the time when you see volatility, from when Google picks up the changes, varies. At Argos we used previous changes to understand that. For Argos it would be 4 to 6 weeks to see the volatility and the path to recovery would then take 6 to 8 weeks, but we knew that we could add 50% onto that if changes were implemented poorly. I think understanding the curve of response to change is important.
Jon Fink – Yes, from direct experience when I was involved in a site that used 302s for redirections, and that site also had a wide variety of dodgy links, when they did the migration they lost 80% of their organic traffic. Understanding not just the technical aspects but also the history of penalty recovery helps you avoid a double whammy during the migration.

Q: In terms of planning a migration, if it’s taken two and a half years, how do you plan for emerging needs given that SEO and everything changes so quickly?

Dan Patmore – It is challenging. It really goes back to being clear on your strategy, and clear on what you aren’t doing as much as what you are. You have to be intentional about what you are, and aren’t, doing. Being in natural search you try and do everything, so you have to be strict. By and large people that succeed in natural search are interested in the area and really thorough, but I think that having someone to say “that’s a great idea, but not now” has been something that you [Claudia Higgins, Argos] and I have massively benefitted from giving each other.
Claudia Higgins – I think going from a big site change to looking at what you change next, from a data point of view, is that you have to give yourself time to understand what the impact of the changes you’ve just made have been on the site. What worked well, what you maybe don’t want to do again. So if you go immediately into making changes again you will have to work out the impact of all those things. So just giving yourself the time, freezing everything to make sure you measure how it’s working, is really important.

Q: Argos deferred the move to HTTPS until after this migration. Was there pressure in the business to do it all at once?

Dan Patmore – Initially there was. But as the technical teams began to better understand the level of work they would have to do, they realised actually they wouldn’t be able to do it as well. So it resolved itself quite quickly once we could explain the amount of change that would be going on. And as always it’s how you communicate it.
Jon Fink – People tend to take a sharp intake of breath around a domain or URL migration, but don’t realise there’s so much going on around whether a migration is secure.
Dan Patmore – Yes and there are high profile examples of it being cocked up. While to some people it just looks like putting an S in part of the URL, it’s a complete migration as well. For us the benefit of having them separate was understanding the mapping exercise, and doing it in a more controlled way.

Q: With big sites there is an almost constant migration instead of one point in time where you have to execute one. Do you feel technology is speeding up the need for migrations?

David Wise – Like Dan was saying, his project took two and a half years. That’s a long time, especially in ecommerce. Some of the things I’ve been talking about today didn’t exist two and half years ago, so how can you as a merchant start to do things when you’re having to take into account unknown unknowns? The only way is to break down the thinking about how to do things, thinking about flexibility, then looking at the process, and of course the technology. If you’re migrating a website you’re thinking about the CMS, payments, how can you unpick everything without breaking it, and then build it into the new systems. You need the most flexible people, technology, and processes.That’s why the big legacy systems are struggling, the pace of change is just so breakneck that they struggle to deal with it.
Dan Patmore – Absolutely. You need the right setup to be flexible. So one of the reasons Argos’ project took so long is the co-dependencies we had on other workstreams. The other challenge, with the pace of change, everybody has a limited amount of capex, so which new emerging things do you back and which do you wait to establish itself? It’s a risk and reward situation, because you can’t jump after every new trend, because if nothing else you’ll make a hash of it and those things may not even leave the ground.
Jon Fink – You have all these new technologies and changes in behaviour. Often the structure and taxonomy of a website reflects who they are as an organisation, and the language reflects that too. It often isn’t reflecting the users and what they are searching for, what their drivers are, and that’s where Amazon has a real advantage. Their taxonomy reflects the market, not their own understanding of their catalogue. And so for many businesses, whether that’s professional services or commerce, it takes a huge effort to start creating language and UX that reflects the market and where it’s going. It’s the boring part of the everyday change, but once you get into it and reflecting the market intent that’s constantly moving then you have to keep it under observation and understand what’s driving those changes.
Joe Ford – Changes will always be ongoing; migration is just a change. What you need is to ensure these big migrations, and any big changes, set a good base so you can make further changes with relative ease. For Argos making a simple change two and a half years ago would have been a nightmare.
Claudia Higgins – I think that’s down to how well organised we are as a team in knowing what the process is, what’s needed, and having a log on the site. We now have such a good view of what’s going on with the site, and how we work through those changes, and understanding what’s needed that now if someone wants to make a change then we know the workflows and can go through them.

Q: Who are the friends in the C-Suite that the SEO person can get an audience with and fight for the relevance of SEO within a business?

Dan Patmore – You don’t necessarily have to hit the C-Suite immediately. Integrating with other teams, the taxonomy team, the content teams, digital planning team. The product team can be difficult because there are so many stakeholders. Working out which conversations to assert yourself in gets easier, especially as team stakeholders are engaged. From a C-Suite perspective, really it’s whoever is in charge of ecommerce and technical products.
Simon Dale – I think in a big company it’s easy for departments to be siloed. SEO has a lot of touchpoints in all the different departments, even including PR and social. SEO is in a good place to break down the barriers, and help with integration. If everybody is pulling in different directions then there’s no point doing it. So I think SEO is ideally placed to make those friends and pull everything together.
Jon Fink – It’s always better to plan SEO in strategically from the beginning than bring it in later to try and fix problems that have arisen.
Claudia Higgins – I think inserting yourself consistently into other teams processes, such as asking to see wireframes before a page goes live, helps you build advocates in other teams who will say “We shouldn’t really do this before speaking to SEO”.
Dan Patmore – Nothing is delivered in isolation. As a business grows there are lots of people that have the opportunity to affect your digital future. It used to be that not following [SEO] best practice led to a missed opportunity, but now it’s the case that actually a big negative could come. For us, it’s not about empire building, but being a bastion of credibility, empowering other teams to have the knowledge they need, and know when we are best involved.
Claudia has invested a lot of time in which technologies to put into the hands of content writers and traders, so we can move beyond “where are we ranking for those keywords” to “how can we effect change”.

Download the Risky Business Whitepaper

If you want to find out more about migrations and the risks involved then you can download our free whitepaper on website migrations here, as well as watch videos from the event.

A website migration is a project that businesses will have to tackle more often than ever before. You might think that a migration is simply (as if it is simple!) shifting all your content to a new domain name. But actually, migrations come in a variety of flavours, each with their own challenges. What they all have in common is the potential to impact your search performance. We’ve put together an infographic so you can get a quick overview of the main types of website migration projects and the risks of getting them wrong.
On the 14th of June we’re holding a free breakfast event from 08:30 to 11:00 where a selection of experts in SEO, retail, and ecommerce will be discussing topics around the risks of website migrations and tactics to avoid disaster.
You can find out more about the event, sign up, and get a free whitepaper on migration risks too, right here. 
infographic showing the types of website migration and risks involved
So now you know the potential risks, isn’t it time to find out what you can do to make your migration a success. Come to Risky Business on June 14th to get expert insight. 

Five smart ways to increase your ROI in AdWords

Whether you are managing your AdWords yourself or outsourcing to an agency, there is always one question that gets raised again and again: How can we increase campaign performance? Whether you are measuring return on investment (ROI) or return on advertising spend (ROAS) there are a range of activities you can undertake to improve ROI from AdWords.
While the overwhelming focus of your activity to improve your AdWords performance will be increasing your account’s overall average keyword quality score and refining your keyword targeting, there are a number of other considerations that you can use to increase your ROI.

  1. Understanding which channel generates best return. Adwords provides a range of channels as part of your campaign. While paid search is the most popular others can provide a real opportunity to get better value clicks. If you understand how to utilise each channel, and target it with relevant messages based on the role it plays in the customer journey, you can get significant and unexpected returns.
  2. Segmenting campaigns strategically. How you organise your campaign can be the difference between success and failure. Get this wrong and you can have keywords that might deliver a great return on investment, but that need more than their fair share of the budget to perform. Relevancy is the key when looking at this aspect of your AdWords performance. Organise your campaigns and ad groups around customer intent and relevancy to make your budget work harder. Divide and subdivide to refine over time and watch your ROI from AdWords edge higher and higher. In addition, Google Analytics has a powerful segmentation engine. Break your audiences down into parts and understand how each part interacts with your site, then tailor your bidding strategy, copy and landing pages accordingly. Using secondary dimensions in Google Analytics can provide additional insights. They work like AdWords segments except that there are more of them and they’re more flexible. Want to know if your campaigns are working for you? Find out more about out measurement and analytics services.
  3. Link offline transactions to online campaigns. ROI is often underreported because you only end up tracking sales that happen on or through your website. For many companies the majority of sales still happen offline. Get some help connecting your EPOS systems, CRM and offline sales activity to your analytics and AdWords accounts. With the right technology in place you’ll get a better idea of how your AdWords performance is driving offline sales as well as online.
  4. Understand ROI in each location (as granular as postcode if needed). AdWords location targeting allows you to choose geographic areas where your ads appear, but it can also be used as an optimisation tool to help increase your return on investment. You can even target by postcode if you want to really flex this targeting option. Campaigns will perform better in some areas than others for a variety of reasons: coverage, visibility, store location, product relevance, and so on. A good way to optimise your campaign is to target more successful areas with more budget to maximise ROI from AdWords. Tailor your message to each area, for example surfing gear may be more relevant if you live by the sea. You can even split out your campaigns by location to help with targeting.
  5. Fully understand the role of each device. Different devices are used in different ways. As a result the customer intent and place on the path to purchase can vary. Google’s Zero Moment of Truth model describes this very accurately. Customers researching a B2B product may well read content and consume articles on their phone, but only purchase on a desktop computer. Alternatively a consumer looking to buy a product may choose to research on a tablet at home and then find the store location and directions via their mobile before heading to the bricks and mortar store. Understanding what role each device plays in your product path to purchase is critical to maximise your ROI from AdWords campaigns. Target your keywords and refine your messaging to suit the device and intent of the user.

Need a hand boosting your ROI from AdWords?

If you want a hand implementing some of this advice, or for a complimentary audit of your own Google Adwords performance by a qualified Google certified Professional in the Organic team, contact us today.

It is all about the customer! Said everyone. Always.
But not everyone has the time or expertise to really understand the customer perspective when planning spend on Google Adwords. Often short-term necessity, or the demands of the business, will trump those of the customer and in this instance everybody loses and your ROI from Google AdWords activity will plummet.
If you find yourself targeting the wrong customer at the wrong time with the wrong message you will simply end up throwing money down the proverbial Thomas Crapper (It is a brand – look it up)
And nobody ever got a pay rise for doing that.
Here are five ways that you can use better customer insight to boost ROI in your Google Adwords account.

  1. Understand customer behaviour by linking your Google Analytics and AdWords data. If you can use Google Analytics to better understand how your customers behave then you can begin to identify the behaviours that increase the probability of a customer making a purchase or completing a specific action. For example, you can use retargeting to drive cross sell. If you understand that clients who bought product X are also likely to buy product Y, you can setup a campaign to target those customers. Similarly you can begin to understand the lifecycle of your customer journey and how long it takes a customer to buy. You can then tailor the timing and message of your ads to make sure the message is relevant to where they are on the customer journey. Effective use of data to create targeted campaigns will dramatically increase the ROI from your Google AdWords budget. Find out more about how we can help you with measurement and analytics here.
  2. Strategic approach with Google AdWords audience creation. Making sure you have a strategy around how you organise your audiences is a great way to improve campaign ROI. If you know that users that return twice to the website are more likely to buy a product then you can create an audience for these users to retarget them with quality, relevant ads. You can also ensure you do not make the classic mistake of targeting customers with ads for products they have already purchased.
  3. Identify upselling opportunities by analysing each individual user using User Explorer. User Explorer is a great tool in Google Analytics that allows you to see the historic behaviour of anonymous individual users. This enables you to see what an individual person might be doing over the lifetime of their interactions on your website. You can see what kinds of content they engage with or see purchase patterns. This will enable you to target people more efficiently with more relevant ads based on rules such as days since last purchase, or days to renewal.
  4. Understanding the role of each marketing channel. Attribution allows you to see where in in the customer journey you’re getting the best ROI from Google AdWords. For example, your display ads might be great for driving first click, but the final visit and purchase may happen on the third or fourth click. With that in mind, you need to understand the value of each campaign in that context. A final click ROI model might discount an AdWords campaign based on poor ROI when in actual fact it delivers most of your first click engagements. In addition you need to know how different AdWords campaigns interact with each other. One campaign might drive new engagements and one might drive the same people to convert. You can speak to a member of the Organic team to learn more about attribution.
  5. Understanding your most valuable customers and how to capture them. As time passes and your campaigns mature you can begin to see some customers are more valuable than others. They may come back time and time again, or make larger purchases. You can begin to understand what campaigns these users responded to and therefore what campaigns generate the highest value customers by looking at the actual revenue displayed in Analytics, or by linking your AdWords data to your CRM or EPOS system. You can then build out tactics to target the highest value customers with highly relevant messages that give a better customer experience. This will improve the efficiency of your campaign and deliver higher ROI.

The secret to high quality, highly relevant marketing is always understanding your customer. The same goes with Google Adwords and display products.
To learn more about your customer and how you can improve you Google Adwords performance, or for a complimentary audit of your own Google Adwords performance by a qualified Google certified Professional in the Organic Team, contact us today.

If you want your Google media spend to hit the Bullseye (forgive the 1980s TV references throughout, but I’m grieving the loss of a cornerstone of childhood memories in Jim Bowen) you need to work with a Google partner agency.
You can tell if an agency is certified because they have a validation badge like the one you find on our website (zip down to the bottom of this page to have a look, I’ll wait till you come back). You can also click through to see agency specialisms and how many qualified team members they have here. As well as knowing they have trained and skilled staff, there are a range of other benefits that you can take advantage of.
Here are five reasons to opt for a Google Partner agency for any of your search marketing needs.

In One: Access to the latest Google innovations and betas

When you work with a Google AdWords partner you get access to tools and products that non-Google partners cannot use. These betas allow better targeting, more diverse ad formats, and a range of specialist services for research, customer insight and better marketing intelligence. In short, a Google certified agency gives you an edge on your competitors.

In Two: Greater understanding of your sector or vertical

Google can provide your partner agency access to insights, benchmarking and performance statistics for your vertical. This means you get to understand industry cost-per-click benchmarks, what budgets others are spending, performance across device types, conversion rates and more. You’ll know if you are underperforming or outperforming your competitors, and be able to make intelligent choices regarding how and where you put your money.

In Three: Access to seasonality insights

Your Google Partner agency will be able to tell you what times of the year your products and services are most in demand and when competition is at its hardest. They will be able to help you understand when in the week your customers are likely to be clicking on ads and buying. This will help you decide when you increase and decrease spending and when you launch more intensive campaign activity for maximum Google Adwords ROI. You can find out more about how we can use insights and data to help you by finding out about our measurement and analytics services. 

In Four: Whitelisted AdWords features

Some features of Google AdWords are not available to all agencies, only to those partners who are whitelisted. These specialist features can only be accessed by meeting certain pre-requisites. An example of a product you cannot access without access to a whitelisted agency is Google Brand Lift. This tool measures the direct impact your ads are having on brand perception and customer behaviour throughout the consumer journey. These types of insights can make all the difference when you’re spending serious money on your Google campaigns.

In Five: Keep up to date with best practices

 We all know that change is constant in digital, and unbelievably fast. In order to become and remain a Google AdWords certified partner your agency team will have to take regular certifications and exams covering Adwords, search, display, shopping, video and mobile advertising. Partners also get training and support to keep up with the latest strategies and tactics as they evolve.

And Bully’s special prize…

Most of these benefits hinge on one super huge advantage that you get with a Google Partner: the fact that as a Google Partner agency they will have access to a real life, walking, talking, human being at Google. This allows them to expedite the resolution of issues and provide you with a far more personalised service.

Go for the bullseye

Don’t think about what you could have won. Our Google Certified professionals are waiting to help you take your Google AdWords campaigns to the next level. Contact us today.

The state of SEO: it’s all about people

SEO is changing. In fact, it always has been changing but the shifts over the last few years have been nothing short of seismic, and have seen businesses the world over struggling to keep up. What was once a dark art of gaming the system has been dragged out into the light, kicking and screaming, by Google in their pursuit of consistently serving customers the content that really fulfils their needs.
Now SEO isn’t really about satisfying the search engines, algorithms and spiders (although that’s still a part of it), now SEO is all about people. Google wants to provide their users (your customers) with the most relevant and useful content as quickly as possible. Your customers want content that will help them in some way or fulfil a need. So if you align your SEO with the one constant in the changing SEO equation, the customer’s needs, then success is never far away.
We’ll be exploring the topic of people-centric SEO over the coming weeks leading up to an event where we will delve deeper into the issues with industry experts. But to whet your appetite, here are the broad concerns when it comes to making your SEO people-friendly.

The technical foundation

There’s been a big, and on-going, debate between SEO experts on the importance of technical SEO versus content-led SEO. The problem is that, both sides are important and quite often people seem to be arguing at cross purposes, or disagreeing when in actual fact they broadly agree with each other.
What is technical SEO? Basically it’s any SEO that is focussed on making your site and its pages easy to spider and index, and lays the foundations for everything else that follows.
Is your site fast? Is it mobile friendly? Is its architecture clean and easy for spiders to navigate? These are just some of the concerns of technical SEO, and they are all vital if you want your site to rank.
Technical SEO is important. It’s the foundation that all of your other SEO work will sit on, and if you get it wrong then everything else you do, no matter how good, will perform sub-optimally.
So yes, technical SEO really does matter.

Never mind the width, feel the quality

Time was when you could rank just by stuffing pages with keywords, or churning out pages and pages of content that was of no real use to anybody.
Not anymore.
Thanks to Google’s infamous Panda update, if you aren’t producing original, high quality content on your site then you’re going to feel the pinch. Nobody knows the exact details of the Panda algorithm but when Google published an article on creating high quality sites following the update most of the tips were based on creating content that real people will find genuinely useful and interesting.
In the simplest of terms, quality content gets more interactions and more links, which is good for your customers, your brand awareness and equity, and for Google.

What’s their intent?

Intentions, and the actions they drive, need to be put under a microscope if you’re going to really target your SEO strategy.
It starts with understanding the buying cycle, what kinds of content people want at the stage they are on, and what kinds of keywords they’re using to find that content.
The kind of content that is useful for someone in the research phase of the buying cycle is different to someone who is at the decision-making stage, and so the kinds of searches they carry out will be different. Let’s use running shoes as an example.
A customer wants to find a new pair of running shoes to train for a 10k run. They might start off just by searching for ‘running shoes for men/women’. That’s going to return a lot of high-level results, probably from big retail sites, where they can sift through lots of brands and styles. Perhaps they like the look of a pair of Nike trainers, but that pair of Asics seems to have good reviews. Then they might start looking for specific reviews of each online, changing their search terms appropriately. Now we’re in the evaluation stage. Maybe they do a ‘which is better for running Nike or Asics’ type of search too, to see if anyone has put them head to head.
At each stage of the cycle you need to create content that herds the user towards purchase, but it’s more than that. You need to be able to workout if users who engage with your content are taking the specific actions you want. That way you can focus your content creation to not only better serve their need, but also to target users who are much more likely to convert.

Positive signals

Most of the big ranking factors surround interactions, because if people aren’t interacting with your content in a positive manner then it tells Google and the other search engines that your content, and by extension your site, isn’t useful for the user.
While you used to be able to just get lots of links back to your site by handing over cold, hard cash that’s not going to cut it anymore. Google’s Penguin update launched in 2012 with the express aim of penalising sites that have created unnatural or suspicious backlinks to improve their performance.
Why do links matter so much? Because when somebody links to your content, and vice versa, it is seen as an endorsement of that content/page/site. And like recommendations in real life, the quality of the individual giving the recommendation matters. If someone you don’t know tells you to try a new toothpaste you probably won’t take their advice as seriously as if your dentist recommends it, or if an independent professional dental organisation gives it a seal of approval.
But if you found out that the dental organisation receives funding from the manufacturer of the toothpaste…well you suddenly put less stock in their opinion. It’s the same with links.
Links should be natural, and from quality sites, not purchased from low authority domains, if you want to succeed.
And it’s not just links. Social shares, likes, comments and other interactions all have an impact on your SEO performance.

The people-centric future

Being people-centric in your SEO isn’t the future, it’s the here and now and it will only become more important as technology becomes more sophisticated.

Twice a year SEOs and other digital marketing types head en masse to Brighton, not just for the culture or the beach, but to share knowledge about internet marketing as a whole. Often delegates want to show off what they’ve done, but just as often, the most valuable talks are from those who’ve looked into the future and seen a better way of doing things.
Last Friday Brighton Dome was crammed with enough SEOs to populate perhaps the whole of Hove too. The Brighton SEO event has become so ingrained in the UK SEO community that it’s significant that last Friday’s will be the final one at that historical location. Its success has meant the next event will be held at the much larger Brighton Centre to allow for over four times the delegates. With tickets selling out in less than a minute for the most recent event it’s no real surprise that a burgeoning industry needs more space for its experts to assemble.
Talks concisely covered themes such as preparing for the future, the importance of getting content to work harder in social spaces and technical SEO.

The Future of SEO

It’s clear from speakers that the future of SEO is in helping build and promote websites so relevant to the user’s intent that Google would blush not to rank it highly.
How to prepare for the future strategically is a topic that’s at the forefront of discussion. You’ll often hear of SEO being an investment for the future with preparation for that future becoming increasingly important as it gathers pace – rather like a snowball gathering speed downhill. It is no surprise, then, that the future of SEO was explored substantially and future-proofing sites for success remained a focal point. With exciting topics such as the branded TLDs on the agenda, I anticipated a day that would cater for many industries.

Tomorrow’s consumers

A somewhat startling fact that emerged is that by 2020, 40% of all consumers will belong to Generation Z, that is, those born in the nineties and early thous. This is a generation of digital natives weaned on social media – those who could type before they formed cursive handwriting. With this in mind we tend to think mobile-first when designing sites because we feel we know how our consumers purchase, but Generation Z is truly mobile-first. The notion that a world preceded mobile, one in which people didn’t possess mobiles, let alone smartphones, is an alien concept.
In a recent survey, 55% of 18 year olds said they’d rather buy clothes online than in-store. Similarly the majority of young consumers would purchase books and electronics online. Therefore their method of purchase is well established. Gen Y’s – millennials like myself – are impatient almost by definition, but the desire to access information, interact or transact immediately is nothing compared to Gen Z’s lust for fingertip-ready information.
All digitation, therefore, must be fast, concise and accessible – especially if you’ve got a young audience. The young people of today are the consumers of tomorrow, so by keeping an eye on the trends and desires that preoccupy your audience you can keep your brand fresh to avoid stagnation.

Anticipating a user’s needs

The best way to the heart of any consumer is to solve a problem they didn’t even know they had. An example of this is in one of my neighbours who had a plumbing incident. He immediately sought to discover how to turn the water off by going online. Sure enough, he found an article that described the process of turning the stopcock off, but needed to go elsewhere to discover what one looked like. If an article doesn’t have a picture of a stopcock, however, then a stand alone how to piece is redundant, and users must go elsewhere. Therefore the importance should be placed on revisiting content regularly to ensure it responds to user search data well enough to keep users on your site, or at least make it easy for them to search for the content then and there without having to go back to Google. Understanding how customers read and travel through a site and make that journey straightforward is crucial to retaining a top ranking position.

Discover more about customer-centric SEO

Our forthcoming summer SEO event focuses on placing the customer at the centre of search. We’re inviting guest speakers and industry experts to discuss in depth the topics that all businesses and brands must contend with. I shall be delivering a session on the planning stages of making massive international websites using branded TLDs to stand out from the crowd and present a unique user experience.