Search is a critical part of the marketing mix for many brands, but the landscape is one which has been dramatically disrupted through changes made by search engines and through changing consumer habits and the rise of connected devices. The online research and discovery stages of the customer journey have grown in importance as consumers have immediate access to a wealth of online information, to their peers and social networks, and they have this access at on the go through their mobile device. But this disruption equally brings opportunities for brands to effectively reach their target market.
1. Optimise for the user (not the search engine)
- Factors affecting user experience, such as page load time, have long been ranking factors. As consumer habits and expectations change, Google is looking to make sure we keep pace.
- Most recently, Google announced that they will be expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal this April to reflect the increasing importance of mobile sites to user experience.
- So, how can brands stay ahead of the curve with Google algorithm changes? Focus on the user experience rather than the quantity of links generated.
2. Deliver quality content
- The remits and goals of SEO increasingly overlap with those of content marketing and social media as search engines reward relevance and quality content.
- Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been the most notable algorithm changes in recent years penalising websites with low quality or duplicate content and unnatural backlinks. This was followed by Hummingbird which sought to better understand user queries in order to surface the most relevant pieces of content. The emphasis is on quality over quantity, reaffirming the message that to increase ranking sites should be designed for people.
3. Make use of rich snippets
- Rich snippets and structured data mark-up give users more detail about a search result, for example product ratings or pricing information. The mark-up increases click through rates by providing further product information for the user and by helping the result to stand out on the page. While this is not a new feature, it is still underused with only 0.3% of websites currently making use of it.
4. Tailor your mobile and local strategies
- Mobile and local search users each have different requirements and merit different strategies. Search intent will be different and the information surfaced will need to reflect this.
- For example, Google Mobile Search Moments Study shows that 40% of mobile searches have local intent and that 17% occur on the go. For retail, ease of discovering opening hours, store location and stock levels are critical for these users. Paid search is also lagging in these areas, mobile search in particular which takes on average 9% of a brand’s search budget.
5. The Voice of the Customer
- Search data represents the voice of the customer and is increasingly being used by brands as a source of customer insight.
- For example, Unilever uses search data to understand what hair advice consumers are most frequently searching for and uploads corresponding video content to their All Things Hair YouTube channel, where the company also promotes online purchase by linking to relevant product and ecommerce sites.