By Ryan Woolley*, Vice President of Client Services, Response Mine Interactive
The search engine results page (SERP) has changed wildly over the past year. The dynamic nature of the page, and the tactics required to be successful in the organic space evolve at a quick pace. This makes it a fascinating challenge for those who manage SEO programs while at the same time somewhat confusing to those who are responsible for it as one of many digital marketing channels within their program.
Having followed this space closely since the late 1990s, I’ve taken comfort in knowing that while organic search is rapidly changing, fundamental principles do exist. These principles have held true for years and will remain relevant for years to come.
Companies that are driving large-scale revenue and lead volume through organic search have shifted their approach and mindset when looking at this channel. They’ve begun to build strategies and analyze their SEO program in a similar way to how one would look at paid search – applying a direct response methodology with granularity in keyword-level data analysis.
Here are five principles that when applied, drive remarkable results for companies:
1. Stop obsessing over rankings
Could you imagine analyzing the performance of your paid search program by saying “let’s start off by looking at our Average Position report?” Absurd.
A keyword rankings report is one of the last things you should look at when evaluating the performance of your organic efforts. We used to live and die by these back in the early 2000s and a remarkably large number of companies still do. The SERP is fluid and dynamic. It’s personalized to your behaviors, preferences and location. Between personalization of the SERP, and the fact that rankings are subject to a high degree of volatility, it’s a mistake to put too much emphasis on a particular ranking for a particular keyword at any particular time.
Yes rankings are the ultimate path to conversions, but there are more impactful reports to spend your time with. A rankings report is never going to capture the real story of the program because it is usually only a sample of keywords that your site is ranking for. There could be hundreds or thousands of keywords that are driving traffic and conversions to your site that aren’t even being tracked in a rankings report. If you’re looking at keyword-level data, get right to the heart of it and study keyword-level conversions, not rankings.
2. Mine data to drive keyword selection
Formulating your SEO strategy by analyzing keyword-level conversion data is the cornerstone to organic success. Look at your top paid search converters as a starting point. In most cases their organic counterparts will not convert as high in comparison. But, keywords with a higher likelihood to convert will often times match up pretty well, on a relative scale. It’s a great starting point for your research. Pair this data with traffic potential and you’re moving in the right direction. Then bring margin into the mix and give more weight to high margin-driving keywords. When compounding these metrics you begin to create the roadmap for a very power organic program.
3. Measure incremental non brand lift
One of the biggest mistakes I see when presented with organic performance data is taking credit for revenue and traffic lifts that did indeed occur, but not as a result of organic efforts. For starters, clearly break out brand and non-brand data. Look at things granularly. If you say that you experienced a 54% month-over-month lift in organic traffic, ask yourself where it came from. Was the majority of that lift the result of brand increasing due to an aggressive offline campaign? These are important questions to ask. Consider seasonality as well. If revenue from non-brand keywords in aggregate decreased 18% month-over-month, was it the result of your rankings taking a hit, or is search query volume down that month for those terms? Google Insights for Search can help you answer that question.
4. Use direct response tactics in titles and descriptions
Persuasive, DR-focused copy seems to be forgotten when it comes to most organic search programs. Incorporate attributes like this into your titles and descriptions, and you’ll have a good chance to garner the click even if you’re showing in a lower position than your competitors:
• Price point
• Percentage off
• 100% guarantee
• Free shipping
• Order now
• Hurry, save now
Here’s a great example:
5. Predetermine your landing pages
Remembering that you are focused on conversions and not rankings, it’s time to map out exactly which page you want users to land on when they conduct a search and click your listing. Pair up keywords and landing pages from the get-go. We’ve conducted many tests around this, and the home page is usually not the page you want a user to land on, especially on a non- branded search. Get the searcher away from the home page and to the most relevant sub category or product page when appropriate and you’ll feel the uptick in conversions.
There are a lot of ways to migrate home page rankings to a deeper and more relevant page within your site. It comes down to your internal linking strategy and offsite efforts. Create a mapping guide, and stick to it.
A lot of companies are afraid to execute this switch in the fear of their rankings vanishing completely during the migration process. That’s almost never the case when done correctly. A very short-term dip may occur, but because your conversion rate will increase by ranking the deeper page it always pays to pull the trigger and execute this strategy.
No matter how fluid the world of organic search, applying these principles will increase the output of your program. They’ve just seldom been used within organic search. Take the plunge and change the way you think about your organic program, and you’ll reap the benefits that companies who have changed their mindset are experiencing right now.
*About the Author
Ryan Woolley is vice president of client services for RMI, an award-winning digital agency that helps companies acquire more customers using lead generation programs. For more than a decade, RMI has generated billions of dollars in revenue for world-renowned brands in the b2b, healthcare, travel, and home services channels using its strategic customer acquisition approaches.