SEO as an effective marketing strategy? – An experiment

seoexperimentA few months ago, I decided to do an SEO experiment. I wanted to see what I could achieve and (perhaps more significant) to see if, in reality, any SEO ‘success’ is an effective marketing strategy, delivering real marketing benefits.

Earlier in the year, whilst reviewing the stats on bsamarketing.com I noticed that our Sustainable Marketing page was listed on Google page 10 (position 106) for the term ‘Effective Marketing’. Checking the phrase on the Google Keyword tool revealed that it was being used in over 40,000 searches globally, and 4,500 searches locally each month, so I decided it would be worth trying to improve our rankings and to see what effect this would have on our site traffic.

As we discussed in this post, we use the YOAST SEO Plugin on our site so I decided to strictly follow the advice given by the plugin in optimising the page, and to focus on on-page optimisation (I did stray slightly from this in the latter stages, but more of that below!)

Initially my efforts centered around the main body text of the page, along with the key meta tags (Title & Description).  I tweaked these to ensure:

  1. My target keyphrase was appropriately represented in the body text
  2. The page URL includes the keyphrase
  3. At least one heading tag H2 tag included the phrase

All of these changes were suggested by the YOAST Plugin.

I then sat back and waited for Google to pick up the changes….

2 weeks later……

Move on a couple of weeks and Google had picked up the changes. Our ranking was now page 3 (position 35) – a definite improvement from page 10 (position 106) but what about the all-important page traffic? – Nothing!

I reckoned that as people rarely search down beyond the first page or 2 I shouldn’t be too surprised by this. To have some real impact, I needed to reach page 1! Shouldn’t be too difficult – I had just leapt over 70 places in the rankings, so how hard could it be to get up a further 25 to make it onto the front page?

My next focus was on links, the page currently had no links in it, internal or external, and YOAST was telling me that this was not good and I should include some. I added 3 internal links plus an external link to www.druckerinstitute.com from Marketing Guru, Peter Drucker’s name.

Again I sat back and waited.

Another 2 weeks……

Over the next couple of weeks the page continued to go up in the rankings, reaching the top half of page 2 (position 13); all before my link changes had kicked in.

Although there was still no discernible increase in traffic to my page, I wasn’t worried as I knew I needed to be on the first page for that.

Now I could see page 1 shining on the horizon, I put the champagne on ice, and got the holiday brochures ready. I would soon be on page 1 and all my marketing issues would be solved!

And 2 more days…..

2 days later I saw that Google had picked up the magic links, but … what is this? I was still stuck at position 13. The page had been there for a good couple of weeks, and seemed not to want to enter the limelight that was Page 1. I needed to change tack, and this is where I decided to temper my “On-Page only” philosophy, and move to some off the page optimisation.

I had been reading about how Google was increasingly using social factors (especially Google+) in its rankings, so decided to put an update on Google+ pointing people at my target page, and asking them to ‘+1’ it if they liked the page. Over the next couple of weeks, I managed to get a few ‘+1s’ on the page; then one morning I did my usual check of Page 2 – We weren’t there!

With not a little trepidation I clicked to the bottom of page 1 and there was my page, not at position 10 but immediately at 9! I had made it onto the fabled Google page 1. Now 40,000 people a month were going to see my page and come flooding to our site.

My only dilemma now was whether to pop the champagne or call the travel agent to book my world cruise on the back of all the business that was coming our way now I was on Google Page 1.

Don’t count your chickens…

I decided to be cautious and wait a few days to make sure:

  1. The listing stayed on page 1 of Google
  2. The leads came flooding

And I am glad I did!

Yes, the listing has stayed on page 1 for the term ‘effective marketing’, but in terms of increased traffic, it has delivered pretty much zilch!

So to my conclusions:

  • Maybe SEO isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be?
  • Maybe there is no marketing magic wand?
  • If your search term is not too competitive, a bit of careful on page optimisation can improvement your Google ranking
  • Google+ activity does seem to have an impact on page rankings

A footnote:

In parallel with my experiment, BSA has been expanding our target market base through networking & research. This broader reach has allowed us to expand the circulation of our bi-weekly e-newsletter Marketing Matters.  We are also developing our presence on relevant social media (mainly Twitter & LinkedIn). These activities have lead to a real and measurable increase in visits to bsamarketing.com. This activity is sustainable and not going to be undone by a changes in Google Algorithm.

And the moral of the story….

SEO might look good on paper, but for most SMEs a joined-up marketing contact approach showing you can deliver real benefit to a well targeted and relevant market might just be the way forward.

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About Duncan Wright

Duncan Wright

Over the past 25 years, working in both the corporate world, and the field of SME marketing consultancy, Duncan Wright has developed extensive knowledge & experience that really adds value to BSA Marketing's clients.

As a member of the CIM, and as a Chartered Marketer, Duncan has the marketing knowledge to come up with relevant and innovative marketing strategies for clients, whilst at the same time possessing the technical knowledge to turn these strategies into relevant and sustainable marketing campaigns in the real world.

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