Businesses from multinational corporations to local mom-and-pop shops have been scrambling to get more visibility on search engines. People rely on Google and other search services to find practically everything they need, from products and services to general information, and attaining a noticeable position on those search services is almost a necessity in the competitive landscape.
However, many modern businesses have overcomplicated the idea of SEO, to the point where it actually works against them. Rather than focusing on fundamental concepts that can improve their business and their search ranking simultaneously, they pour their efforts into micromanaging myriad nitpicky tasks. In our age, SEO is more a byproduct of a successful customer engagement strategy than it is a wholly independent strategy. Finding success requires addressing this principle.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that older SEO strategies were tactical and independent from any other strategy. There was minimal overlap in the early days of web; design was design, SEO was SEO, and customer engagement was hardly a part of the equation. All it took to rank on Google was a ton of keywords stuffed into your site and a ton of indiscriminate offsite links pointing back to your domain.
Obviously, these processes have evolved as Google has rolled out gradual updates to combat the issues of spam and poor customer experience. Onsite content and offsite links were still vital, but the process to build them became more refined. Rather than trying to adopt a new strategy that naturally incorporates the cultivation of these ranking factors, many modern businesses are still using a hunt-and-peck style approach, implementing one-off tactics to piece together a high domain authority. While this approach is technically effective, it is nowhere near as efficient or as powerfulas it could be.
To understand why the technical approach to SEO is ultimately less effective than a customer engagement strategy, you have to understand the underlying motivation that keeps Google running. There is one thing that Google wants, and it drives every algorithm update and business decision they make: Google wants people to have a good online experience. That means getting people the best possible results for their queries—the most accurate, most relevant, highest quality, and ultimately most satisfying sites Google can find. Every factor that influences search rank is chosen based on its conduciveness to a great customer experience. Therefore, if you do a great job of giving your customers a great experience, you’ll naturally rank higher as a result.
It’s easy to talk in generalities about ranking factors and best practices, but in order to be effective, you need to dig into the fine details that constitute a successful and SEO-worthy customer engagement campaign. Many of these factors are related to peripheral areas of online marketing, such as design or content management, but they’re all important if you want to achieve the greatest results.
There’s one quality they all share; they are all focused on giving your customers a better overall experience. This is your top priority, and the SEO benefits you get from these strategies are secondary.
Onsite navigation is a critical factor for a successful online customer experience. When a new customer visits your site for the first time, what do they see? What do they think of your company? Where do they want to go, and what do they want to do? Is it easy for them to find what they’re looking for?
These are all questions you’ll need to answer positively. If you aren’t sure, you need to take a look at your site design and structure, and make adjustments to perfect the inbound customer experience. Use focus groups, A/B tests, heat maps, and Behavior Flow data from Google Analytics to make an objective determination. Great navigations have a comprehensive yet concise and easy-to-find list of potential areas, with clear and specific information about the function of each section. Sites with navigations like these are rewarded by Google, but more importantly, they tend to have better customer relationships.
If you’ve been reading any SEO news over the past several years, you know the importance of writing great content on a regular basis. But too many business owners are still focused on writing keyword-focused topics, rather than topics their audience genuinely wants or needs to read.
You can use keyword research to find great topics, but tread with caution. Don’t write with the intention of showing off to Google. Write with the intention of bringing value to your readers. Post in forums, participate in discussions, and ask questions on social media to get a feel for what your customers and readers really want to read about. Then, all you have to do it write it. The rest will take care of itself; you’ll rank high for relevant inbound queries, and the customers who find your content will be more likely to stick around and buy from you.
Of course, your social media presence is also an important factor that goes into factoring your rank. Your claimed profiles, filled out information, and ongoing updates help Google understand what your business is, but it’s the customer engagement factor that really helps your rank.
Businesses with large followings, and those with highly engaged followers who like, click, and share their updates rank higher than their inactive counterparts. There’s no way to buy or build such a dedicated following, so the only way to do it is to post meaningful updates, address people personally and directly, and keep your focus on rewarding people who engage with you.
Offsite Links and Brand Mentions
Building external links one by one can actually do more harm than good. It takes a ton of effort to find the right sources, create an ideal rhythm, and vary your strategy enough to sneak past Google’s robots. Instead, focus on giving a great experience and let the rest do the work for you. Create a detailed, lengthy piece of content that nobody else can offer—original research works great here—or make an infographic or video that people will want to see and share. If you’re successful in promoting and cultivating the viral spread of this content, you’ll attract hundreds of links, and you won’t have to worry about “appearing” natural. It will be natural, and your search rank will climb accordingly.
After the Pigeon Update, the importance of positive reviews online started to skyrocket. Google now scours the web, especially for local directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor, to get an understanding for how well a service performs. The quantity and quality of reviews they find is considered as a component of your rank. It’s possible (and punishable) to try and manipulate your rank by directly posting fake reviews, but it’s so much easier just to give people a great, memorable service and let them take your online reputation into their own hands. It really is that simple.
If you’re still trying to focus on posting blogs with three to five keywords appearing in the body content, or you’re posting links one by one on external sources, it’s definitely time to update your strategy. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business; they’re the people who buy your products and services, give you money, and keep the wheels turning so your business can move forward. It only makes sense that you prioritize them above all else.
When you’re truly successful in your customer engagement strategy, you will earn higher ranks in search engines. It is a natural fringe benefit of your work to improve customer experience. Have patience, and keep working to make your customers happier.