For senior people, it’s never been more important to understand the online ecosystem. It’s never been more urgent to appreciate how digital drives business and shapes the customer experience. At its most basic, SEO drives digital. And digital drives business – from direct sales to brand trust to future sustainability. But, it’s a fiendishly complex topic. So, here’s our quick 2-minute guide to SEO and how, increasingly, the digital ecosystem is where your business lives.
If you’ve reached the top of the corporate ladder, chances are you’re around 53 years of age. As CEO of a FTSE 100 firm, you’re manning a massive business quite literally. (Since there’s a 95% probability that you’re a man.) Indeed, you’re more likely to be a ‘Sir’ or just called ‘John’ or ‘David’ than a woman.
Of course, there is a slim chance that you’re neither knighted nor ‘male, pale and stale’.
But what’s pretty certain is that you are not a digital native.
Which is a pity since, out of all the accidents of birth, upbringing and education you’ve enjoyed, the way digital drives business is the one thing which can have the most dramatic impact on your company’s performance.
Naturally, there’s a temptation to think that ‘digital’ is just a channel of some kind. As CEO, you may imagine it’s like the media of yore. You might feel that the ins-and-outs of the issues are best left to marketing underlings and digital specialists.
That’s true to an extent. The field is mind-bogglingly complex, and it’s very difficult for a single senior person to grasp, or keep up with, the technicalities.
However, a general appreciation of how digital drives business (and its underlying strategic significance) is vital for every executive – especially if you’re exalted or merely hope to be.
So, here’s the first in our 2-minute guides: SEO for CEOs, CMOs, CFOs and Don’t-Knows.
Getting caught in traffic
Imagine the internet as a Super-Highway.
No, really. Picture a road jammed with traffic.
There’s you. As a business-to-consumer brand (B2C), let’s say you’re a big double decker coach. If you’re in business-to-business (B2B), imagine yourself as a large delivery truck.
Around you, there all kinds of people. In cars and people-carriers. In taxis and pick-up trucks. On motorbikes. All trying to get in front of you. Some dodgy geezers in white vans are driving down the hard shoulder. And there’s Google ¬ like traffic cops trying to maintain order, ensuring people stick to the Highway Code.
Everyone is competing with you – trying to get to the front of the queue, to get closer to your customers and prospects.
And now you see, ahead of you, a van pull in. Some guys jump out and put up a bus stop. They don’t actually have the trouble or expense of actually owning or running a bus, they just have a bus stop. And your customers start to congregate there.
You pull up and the guys want to charge you a commission, say, 8% of the annual value of a customer to get each one on your bus.
That’s intermediation. Their ‘bus stop’ might aggregate industry data or do ‘price comparisons’. But, fundamentally, they’re coming between you and your customers.
And, in many industries across the world, that’s the future.
All those people ahead of you are powering their progress with content – online information that’s regarded by Google as more credible and useful, engaging and sharable for users than the standard fare you provide.
How to be first
In many sectors, your business is no longer the sole, or even primary, source of information about your products.
Some bloke in his bedroom may be churning out opinion, qualified or not, which outranks your own information.
So, what is it that Google is looking for as evidence of ‘authority’ and ‘trust’? How does it work?
The Google algorithm is something of a trade secret. They want to keep it that way, partly for commercial advantage but also to stop the unscrupulous (of whom there are many) from practising deceit or simply gaining business from undeserved rankings.
Nonetheless, there are elements which can be deduced from Google’s statements or suggested from testing and experience.
There are over 200 factors involved. These can largely be broken down into four categories – Technical, User Experience, Content and Authority, though in practice these often overlap. For example, does your site load fast? That seems like a technical issue but has a huge impact on user experience. Is it mobile-friendly? Again, a technical issue but also critical for users.
At its most basic, your site needs to be designed, structured and built to be bot-friendly. It’s hugely helpful if the information is presented in a way that suits Google, but it also needs to engage people in the real world.
That means creating rich content.
How can you tell if you have rich content? The same way Google does.
On a particular topic, do you offer up-to-date information? Is there enough text for an answer that’s in-depth? Say, maybe up to 2,000 words? (Perhaps with a video or two for a richer, mobile friendly experience and, cynically, just because Youtube is part of the Google ecosystem?)
Does your text answer specific questions? Is the copy highly relevant to the topic? Does it introduce the key topic in the first paragraph? Does it use a targeted phrase and variations naturally, without being monotonous? Does the copy refer back to the key question in the conclusion?
Is the text original? Is it well written and easy to read? (Yes, Google can tell.)
So, if you find your pages are slow, haven’t been updated in ages, have a handful of generic text written without reference to customer queries, Google isn’t going to point potential customers your way.
Because the other thing Google wants to know is that you’re not some fly-by-night fraudster.
Good content takes resources and commitment and passion and effort. So, like a well-made ad used to signal a quality brand, good content communicates trust.
But Google also likes to check your references. How long have you been at this web address? (In other words, how old is your domain?) Are you well-known, respected, popular? How many other high trust organisations with high ranking websites also have online links pointing towards your site? Are people talking about you on social media, in a good way?
Like word-stuffing, Google frowns upon old-fashioned, cynical link strategies. However, high authority sites provide valuable evidence of your status and credibility.
As you’ll imagine any system with 200 factors is going to prove highly complex and somewhat unpredictable. Indeed, you’ll recognise that much of the foregoing text is a fairly simplistic take on the issues, and that sophisticated SEO strategies require serious thought and insight.
However, our hope is that underlying context and message is clear. If you want to develop an end-to-end Customer Experience, it must extend to the full journey. The customer must be able to find you online at the right moment, in the earliest phase of buying, to allow you to have a fair chance of helping the customer make the right, informed choice.
And that means having an SEO and content strategy that’s fully aligned with the complete customer journey – including the part before they become a customer.