Sustainable SEO Strategies for 2015

Though we’re already into 2015, there are still many opportunities to refine your search marketing strategies. For years, SEO has been one of the key foundations of digital marketing. To maintain that value in every enterprise, it must be sustainable, renewable, resilient, and a core strength of transforming digital marketing into the global customer-facing entity it must become. Otherwise we risk losing the customer’s trust, loyalty, and advocacy for our expert knowledge, products, and services.

Ask yourself this question. Is your SEO strategy focused on satisfying the search engine algorithms or is it focused on improving your user’s experience, answering their needs, and facilitating their search for knowledge?

SEO Returns to Its Organic Roots

If you’ve been reading my columns, you know I’ve been talking in 2014 about structured authoring, semantic search, natural language processing, localization, and more recently with the concepts of Hummingbird, co-citation, and co-occurrence. If anything is changing in SEO in 2015, it’s the return to best practices in organic search to determine rank, authority, and importance in search query results.

A History Lesson in Organic Search

Organic search was born as a digital marketing channel when consumers moved online and brands followed. Before search engines, you had to know the URL of a brand’s website in order to “find” their content. The brand’s visibility depended on how well the consumer kept good records of the sites that were important. It was a primitive and difficult time for the consumer.

Organic search created the need for search engines to help consumers navigate the sheer volume of websites that began to pop up. Search engines were created to fulfill that need for the consumer. The organic search channel quickly emerged as a foundational marketing channel for driving new business on the Web, and search visibility became a top priority. We, the brands, have been a catalyst for constant improvement of search engine results.

SEO, the practice of optimization, was born out of the need to compete with all brands for top billing in the new search engine organic search channels. It also created a monumental struggle for influence over the consumer. Search engines sought to represent and champion the consumer in the search for relevant, authoritative, and quality knowledge about the products and services that existed to address the reason they were searching in the first place.

The search engines never-ending need to better serve online search users caused regular disruption in the SEO industry and has kept enterprise companies on their toes when managing their organic search channels. Most of the predictions of year-to-year changes in SEO are driven by the effort of search engines to change their search algorithms to deliver a better product to the consumer. In essence, SEOs existed to help businesses, whereas search engines existed to help consumers.

This simple conflict of interest has highlighted a struggle for power that is largely responsible for the SEO industry’s constant state of flux and its slow but interminable move back to its organic roots. The beauty of organic search has always been the implied trust factor—brands can’t buy their way to the front of the line. They have to earn it.

SEO in 2015 and Beyond Calls for a Sustainable Organic Search Strategy

What was your answer to the question about your SEO strategy? Have you eliminated the conflict of interest dilemma and moved in the direction of joining the search engines in their quest to deliver better, high-quality content in response to customer inquiries? There are no more shortcuts. Organic search practices must constantly look at ways to better serve the consumer.

My recommendation for 2015 and beyond is that all brands must develop a sustainable organic search strategy that involves a dedicated consumer-focused approach that answers questions, entertains, and helps customers through every stage of the buying cycle. It’s about total online brand presence, not just keyword rankings. It’s about understanding customer behavior, needs, consumption preferences, and conversion paths. It’s about informing and optimizing other marketing functions, from social and content to PR and IT and in alignment with paid search and display. Most importantly, it’s about truly engaging all consumers that encounter your brand online, regardless of the channel and providing a valuable personalized service unique to each customer.

Important Actions to Organic Search Strategy Success

  1. The customer is being encountered initially on mobile. Your mobile organic search process must be fully capable of engaging effectively in closing the deal on mobile and/or seamlessly following the customer to tablet, laptop, and PC until conversion is achieved via personalized messages and offers.
  2. Think in terms of better website visitor engagement and satisfaction rather than focusing purely on the number of visitors you are getting. Diversify your efforts in organic search to include traffic-generating efforts from various social channels. Treat the social channel as an alternative search engine where your visibility is high and you are recognized as an influential source of information.
  3. Create content that is engaging and truly helpful to your visitors. Develop your website’s internal search engine to be an authoritative vertical search engine for your brand’s areas of strength and influence.
  4. Structure your content so that the search engines can compare apples to apples when ranking your content against that of your competitors.
  5. Use content across your social channels to open up lines of two-way communication. Your goal should be to talk with prospective customers not at them. The ideal ROI for this effort is to improve the pass-along value and online word-of-mouth. This means that customers mention your brand’s name and article title, since sustainability will depend on being talked about by as many customers as possible in placing high in search results.

What Do the SEO Experts Say?

Turns out there’s close alignment between my industry colleagues and my own thoughts and predictions.

ClickZ ran an article with a few recommendations to consider in 2015:

  1. Focus on keyword intent even more, to account for Hummingbird changes
  2. Improve URL structure
  3. Clean up link structure and focus on fewer links
  4. Consider using secure encryption

Jayson DeMers gives us these seven predictions via Forbes:

  1. Companies must focus on both impactful technical changes with a strong content creation and distribution commitment
  2. Sites that aren’t optimized for user intent and mobile SEO will fail
  3. Brand mentions and citations will become as powerful as links
  4. Following the failed Google+ Authorship experiment, Google will place more value on social signals from Twitter and Facebook
  5. Search rankings will increasingly become more about building relationships and less about technical strategies
  6. Negative SEO will be a bigger threat than ever
  7. SEO will no longer be an isolated department, but become fully integrated with other aspects of marketing

The alignment to my discussion in these seven predictions is spot on in predicting the subordination of SEO tactics in favor of organic search strategies driven by relevant content creation and improving user experience. The bottom line is for brands to take back some of the power from search engines through diversification of customer engagement across multiple touch points including social media sites, internal search engine improvements, and a strong content marketing effort using real people (employees) to engage real people (the customer). That is the formula for success in building a sustainable organic search marketing effort that is influenced less by the vagaries of search engine algorithms and influenced more by the customer’s sentiments and needs. After all, we all have access to many of the same big data sources that the search engines use to establish their version of importance and authority. In fact, we create a good majority of that content and information. Who knows what it means better than we do?

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