What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a complex process that encapsulates an ever expanding range of skills and techniques. Increasingly, it also has deeper crossovers into web development, content marketing, user experience and other marketing channels.
That makes it very tricky to give a simple definition, but essentially SEO is the link between web development and content and the search engines and their users. Its aim is to increase visibility, traffic and conversions, primarily from organic traffic sources.
As SEO has matured as a marketing discipline, the list of activities and responsibilities under the umbrella of SEO has not only grown but also increased in complexity too. Gone are the days of simply stuffing keywords into the page content and building a handful of directory or blog network links.
It’s no longer about trying to trick search engines, or finding loopholes in their algorithms to exploit. SEO today is about proactively marketing your website and adding value for both users and search engines. This means it needs to be far more strategic, creative and considered in its approach. However, when done effectively, the benefits of search optimisation can have a significant positive impact for a business.
Is SEO still relevant in 2019?
Barely a week goes by without someone declaring the death of SEO as a marketing channel. So far though no one has proven themself to be the Nostradamus they believe, and SEO is still very much thriving as a marketing channel. It has continued to grow in importance as search engines have evolved, with new search results page features offering even more opportunities for increased organic exposure.
Local packs, knowledge panels and news features are now commonplace for a large variety of searches these days. And the emergence of featured snippets has given rise to a whole new SEO battle ground. We’re also only just beginning to see how voice search and home assistant devices could change the search landscape. All of these evolutions offer the chance to increase organic visibility and drive more targeted traffic.
Although search engines, and Google in particular, continue to increase the number of adverts they display and give them greater prominence on search results pages, users still have an inherent distrust of ads, and especially those from brands they don’t recognise. As long as search engines serve organic results, and users continue to prefer to click on these rather than paid ads, then SEO will remain worthy of investment.
The Benefits of SEO
Due to the complexity and often technical nature of SEO, it can be difficult to understand why time and resources need to be dedicated to certain aspects of the project, and what activities will have the greatest impact. There’s always the barrier of SEO generally not having an instant impact too. However, with the right strategy, exceptional implementation and given time, there are many benefits to SEO.
1. SEO gets more clicks than PPC
A recent study by SparkToro showed that in the UK, more than 32% of all searches on a mobile device saw a user click on an organic result, whilst just under 11% of users clicked on a paid result. On a desktop device, the clicks on organic results jump up to over 61%, with paid results receiving less than 7%.
Given the increase in the number of ads that are being displayed both above and below organic results, this data reinforces the belief that users still have a distrust of ads and choose to seek out organic results. If organic results are where users are clicking, that’s where you want to feature. It’s not to say pay-per-click ads don’t have their place in a digital strategy, but if you’re relying on these you’re missing out on a huge proportion of user clicks.
2. The top organic results get most of the clicks
Figures for click-through rates on organic results by position vary greatly depending on the search intent, the features that appear on the search results pages and device type. However, recent studies from Advanced Web Solutions have shown that on average, 71% of all Google searches saw a user click on an organic result on page one, with the top five positions accounting for more than 60% of all clicks.
With such a high proportion of clicks going to organic results, and the majority of those clicking on a result in the top five, businesses occupying those spots are reaping huge benefits from investing in the SEO campaigns that have helped to deliver this visibility.
3. Lower cost and better ROI in comparison to PPC
SEO generally delivers better ROI compared to PPC, especially if you’re engaging an agency to manage these channels for you. PPC is a pay to play environment and cost-per-click prices are continually rising, driving up ad spend budgets and offering a lower return on investment. Add in a management fee on top and some businesses are now being priced out of PPC as they’re unable to return a profit with this channel.
SEO, whilst not necessarily cheap, generally offers a better ROI. Investment in an agency or team is still needed, but there is no additional ad spend on top. Additionally, organic results tend not to wildly fluctuate day to day. This means that if you hold one of those top organic spots for relevant searches, that result is shown to users around the clock day after day. With PPC, budgets often don’t allow for your ads to be shown throughout the day, meaning you miss out on potential business.
4. SEO delivers long-term results
With PPC, your ads may be given greater prominence, but once your budget hits zero so does your search visibility. That is unless you also have an organic presence. SEO may take time to deliver this same level of visibility, and PPC can be a great tool to fill the gap whilst you establish an organic presence, but the results of an effective SEO campaign have a much longer term impact.
Sure, just because you get that coveted top three spot for a highly relevant commercial term doesn’t mean you’ll always hold that spot. But the chances of wild fluctuations are small if you continue to work at your SEO. However, we are all at the mercy of the changes search engines may make and how they choose to rank sites or serve results, so you can’t just sit back and rest on your laurels.
5. SEO is always evolving
As SEO evolves it opens up new opportunities to further increase organic visibility. For example, local packs have been great for smaller local businesses that had previously struggled to compete with larger businesses. With their introduction, these smaller businesses with a physical location now have the opportunity to be seen by users in their local areas.
With Google particularly, the algorithm changes that have been implemented over the past few years has also put paid to a lot of the underhand, black-hat tactics that made some sites so successful. These changes have levelled the playing field and changed the way success is achieved.
6. Organic is often the primary and best performing traffic channel
More often than not you’ll see organic traffic is not only the primary channel driving traffic, but it also delivers the most engaged users and the best conversions rates too. That’s because the users finding you through organic search are seeking you out, looking for those products and services you offer.
Sites that rely too heavily on PPC traffic or paid social traffic run the risk of eventually being priced out of bidding auctions, or having this cost eat into their margins, as they desperately try to keep up. And we know users don’t like clicking ads anyway.
Sites that were too reliant on social platforms like Facebook to drive their traffic have been decimated by Facebook continually decreasing organic reach for business pages. This means many are now having to revise their entire marketing approach as a result.
7. Builds trust and credibility
People have, rightly or wrongly, come to place huge trust in search engines and their search results. Sites that come up at the top of Google are automatically perceived to have the best information, or be the best provider, because they’ve earned the right to be shown there. Whilst that isn’t always the case that perception is fast becoming engrained in users.
So, having strong organic visibility helps to increase brand credibility, and ultimately trust in the brand, as people believe Google wouldn’t be giving your site such prominence if it didn’t deserve it. Additionally, think about how Google now delivers users answers to their questions directly in the search results through their featured snippets feature. Those answers appear to be a recommendation from Google as to which site contains the best answer to a users question, so why would users need to look any further than the site that holds that position?
8. Maximise investment made building your website
Great websites aren’t cheap. And cheap self-build websites rarely take SEO fully into consideration, no matter what the TV adverts for GoDaddy or Wix tell you. Your website is a marketing tool for your business but it’s of limited use if no one can find it when searching for the products or services you provide.
SEO practitioners, web designers and developers can often butt heads when their priorities misalign but that needn't be the case. SEO is about maximising the visibility of the website, and that’s why it’s crucial it’s considered during the design and development phase. Good SEO can also result in a better user experience, helping to drive a higher volume of conversions from the traffic that’s currently visiting the site.
9. SEO supports other channels
SEO continually crosses over into other channels. We’ve already discussed how it crosses into web design, web development and UX but it also crosses over with PPC, content marketing, social media and PR.
For example, well optimised landing pages with detailed or creatively written copy, that are structured to make it easy for users to consume the information, also help to increase Quality Score for PPC campaigns that are directing traffic to those pages. This helps reduce the cost per click and improve ad positions, benefitting the ROI on those paid campaigns.
Understanding SEO principles, keyphrase data and what it is that search engines are looking for in your content marketing also helps you to develop higher quality content that addresses known user needs. The SEO considerations and optimisation techniques help to drive increased visibility for that content, and especially for those content pieces targeting the coveted featured snippet positions.
If these benefits aren’t convincing enough there’s one final thing that may persuade you that SEO is worthy of your investment. Given all the benefits highlighted, there’s a very good chance that your competitors are investing heavily in this marketing channel. Go on, test it. Try a couple of searches for products or services that you provide and see which competitors are currently occupying those highly desired top organic positions. Now imagine all the benefit they are seeing from that level of visibility.
SEO is not easy, it’s not quick and it’s not cheap, but search engines are where your audience is, actively seeking out your products and services, potentially 24 hours a day. Can you afford to not be at the front and centre of those results that users want to click on?