In 2014, we made trillions of searches and Google (with all of their paydays, pigeons, penguins, pandas, and pirates) ended up making 13 algorithm updates this year alone, which surprisingly clocks in at a much lower count compared to years past.
So with the new year rolling in, what were the key lessons I learned in 2014?
1. SEO is part of a much bigger story
I’ve been in the SEO space for around seven years now yet I continue to learn something new everyday when it comes to the latest techniques, tactics and ongoing Google updates. But despite all of the changes that are happening with SEO, the fundamentals (just like marketing) remain the same: it’s about creating relevant, valuable content for your audience and demonstrating this relevance to the search engines.
So this past year in particular, I’ve learned that while staying up to date is important, what’s more important is to understand how SEO integrates with the entire marketing mix (beyond PPC and social media), particularly when it comes to content marketing. And perhaps even more important is helping your organization understand how to apply SEO across all work, since SEO cannot succeed if it operates within a silo (and vice versa).
2. Accurately predicting organic website traffic is not as straightforward as it used to be
Although estimating organic traffic has always involved a certain degree of finger in air estimation, applying one average percentage, depending on rank, often got you close enough. But as time go by, it has become even more challenging to closely predict, as CTR becomes increasingly affected by so many more factors, including:
- Local/national/international results
- Desktop vs.mobile searches
- Branded vs. unbranded searches
- Short vs. mid vs. long-tail searches
- Searches based on different stages of intent
- Impact of PPC ads on CTR
This is why I jumped with joy when I came across a wonderful organic CTR estimation tool towards the end of this year. It was developed from a study by Advanced Web Ranking which looked at the impact of blended search results on organic CTR in 2014. I see this getting a lot of use in 2015.
3. Failures provide the lessons that will set you on a better path
The world of digital and search marketing is so fast-moving that change is the only constant. In order for us to grow within our profession, we must find ways to live outside of our comfort zone, and gain experiences that extend beyond our search marketing bubble in order to remain innovative in our thinking.
As part of this process, things can’t always be plain sailing. It is important for us to make mistakes, learn from them, never give up, and with this be prepared to take the risk of uncertainty. What 2014 taught me was that sometimes it is ok to get things wrong and learn from it, rather than to be complacent and always wonder, “what if”. And for those people who do you wrong, karma will always get them in the end.
Often, the hardest part about SEO is not your SEO skill set, but more the ability to apply and integrate SEO techniques into your every day marketing approach. Take content marketing as an example. “Content is king”, a commonly used (and often abused) expression, has helped to fuel a content marketing explosion, with varying degrees of quality when it comes to output. But with so much content being created, are you doing enough to ensure your content can be found?
Content audits are wonderful for showing and understanding where your content pieces fit within the buyer journey, and for identifying content gaps and opportunities. Often these audits are applied to Email nurture streams, to tell a cohesive story that helps to move prospects through the funnel. But if it isn’t taking SEO into account, particularly for those mass of unknown people who are yet to become prospects, there’s a good chance that it isn’t working as hard as it could be for you.
This is where a combined search and content mapping model can be handy. Taking a common marketing funnel approach (Learn/Research/Buy/Use) you can not only start to map out where content fits within the buyer journey, but also the types of searches that you need to consider and optimize content development for, in order for your content to get found.
The key components of the model include:
Search: Trigger Keywords
Trigger keywords provide insight into searcher intent. These are words that searchers use to narrow down their search when they have an idea of the kind of information they are looking for. Trigger words really help to provide clues to their intent, so we can better match up content that is relevant to them.
Search: Assist Keywords
Assist keywords also provide clues, but these clues are more implied through the kinds of search a person makes, as opposed to specific triggers. For example, a general category keyword search (EG: car, camera, laptop) indicates more of a discovery/educational need; versus a brand search (EG: Ford, Nikon, Apple) which can indicate more of a research need; versus a model/nomenclature search (EG: Ford Focus, Nikon Coolpix, MacBook Air) which indicates more of a purchasing need.
Within this model, it starts to become clear as to how different content types align with search and the overall buyer journey. As you start to map content out, don’t forget about content that helps to support existing customers since these customers are much easier to resell to compared to acquiring new ones.
Within this, you can also start to consider specific vehicles for delivery of content. For example, YouTube is a great video vehicle for early education (learn phase). However, as people start to move more towards buying and using, videos housed on a company website can often work better due to the increased level of content control and fewer “dancing cat” distractions.
The question of, “Do I attempt to complete this work with in-house resources vs. getting an agency to help?” is a dilemma that comes up often, particularly when it comes to digital marketing. Here are some benefits I’ve personally experienced when it comes to taking work out to an agency.
1. Get access to deep expertise across multiple disciplines and sub-disciplines
As an in-house digital marketer, lots of varied demands are placed onto you every day, and often we are required to dabble in different areas in a Jack-of-All trades way. In a prior in-house role, I had responsibility for all paid, earned and owned digital marketing. Although I was pretty comfortable on the search, social and analytics side, I was less clued up when it came to affiliates and media partners.
This is where agencies can make great partners. Not only do they have people with deep subject area expertise, but also people who are experts within subject sub-disciplines. For example, you can be good at SEO – but are you equally an expert at SEO strategy, keyword research, site audits, on-page SEO, technical SEO, content marketing, social amplification, or link development? Because these have become such deep subject areas in themselves, it can often be hard for you to be a true expert across all.
2. Keep your projects on schedule
It’s a sad state of affairs that whenever times got tough, one of the first roles to go within the marketing department at the companies I worked for was the Project Manager. We’d then often end up wondering why a project that should have taken three months to complete was knocking on the two year mark, with no end in sight. Go figure.
Good agency partners know the value of experienced Project Managers and are committed to keeping your project on track – their profitability depends on it. Having recently spent a bit of time in an agency, it has been interesting to see how on-time completion within every major and micro project milestone truly counts when it comes to getting campaigns out on time. You really can’t put a price on having good Project Managers on your side.
3. Benefit from flexible resources
Keeping projects in-house may mean saving money on agency services. However, often that also means you don’t get to spend money on bringing in additional resources in-house either. So the additional workload then gets placed onto existing members of the team who already have their plates full of other projects that take higher priority. Is it worth the saving vs. getting things done well and on time? Things that will ultimately help drive more business. Sometimes it may be, but mostly I’ve found not.
4. Get access to best (and next) in class practices
Agencies work with varied clients, some highly mature in the digital marketing space. These many different experiences really help to build up knowledge around best and next practices along the way. So why reinvent the wheel? From performance benchmarks to more efficient processes and testing out new ideas and theories, you get access to key learnings and expert help from your agency to supercharge your own digital marketing efforts.
What have your experiences been when it comes to taking work out to an agency vs. keeping it in-house?