Back in October, as part of our continuing focus on the joined-up marketing approach, we announced our strategic partnership with search marketing specialist Orange Tree Digital. As we move into a new year, we felt it would be interesting to ask for their views on potential developments in search marketing over the coming year and the likely impact on SME marketing. Here are the thoughts of Orange Tree Digital MD, Michael Wignall:
Google will remain the only game in town for getting visitors from search traffic in the UK and Europe. I think we’ll continue to see less diversity in search results, and increased difficulty for SMEs in getting page 1 rankings for competitive terms, particularly in B2C markets. We’ve already seen heavy engineering of the search results to promote Google’s own products for example YouTube, Google Local listings, Google Shopping , Google+ posts; at the expense of other video platforms, business directories, shopping comparison sites, and general blog and social media postings. Expect that to continue, with indications that Google will be moving into insurance, vehicles and education slots this year. The effect of this is to shrink the available spots for ranking your website on page 1 of Google, and also reduce the visibility of general and niche directory websites you may be listed in, from Yell downwards. There was a consistent theme in 2012 of Google favouring major brands, whether through changes to its search and ranking algorithms giving them higher rankings, or failure to impose penalties for tactics which draw punishment for smaller brands. None of this has to be calamitous, but SEO practice needs to evolve.
From March 2013 the previously free ‘product search’ listings which power Google Shopping move to a pay-per-click Adwords model. There’s no real upside to that, retailers will have to pay to play. I also expect a stick + carrot approach to getting B2C retailers on to the Google Shopping ecommerce platform as it goes toe-to-toe with Amazon in this market. With the difficulties in getting natural search rankings, a lot of small retailers are looking at moving their entire operation onto Amazon and cutting Google out entirely. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, but it’s true that something like 15% of all online shopping activity already begins and ends at Amazon. There’s going to be quite a punch-up there.
A quick word on paid advertising, which will continue to supplant organic search opportunities as Google looks to grow its revenues close to infinity. That means more competition. For B2C companies, advertising on Facebook now provides a reasonable alternative platform to Adwords, and that is going to grow. I think the bottom line for SMEs, is that if you can’t get a return on investment using PPC then it’s unlikely that you’ll get SEO to work either.
The death of cheap SEO
Another feature of 2012 was Google starting to penalise tactics used by a lot of ‘We’ll Rank You No.1 on Google’ SEO firms, such as bulk link building using comment spam, blog networks and article directories, which simply no longer work long-term. (Although they do work for a few weeks, which is why a lot of search results for very commercial terms are still terrible quality.) The target for this is mostly spammy affiliate sales websites, but the collateral damage was huge. For SMEs on limited budgets this is both good and bad. On the down side, the entry level for SEO just got more expensive. The ‘£150 a month’ packages, and in fact quite a few of the ‘£1500 a month’ packages being sold were little more than link spam and a monthly report. They’re dead in the water. Not so good if that’s what you’ve been paying for. Nor is writing a blog and waiting for links going to get you any traffic. The web is competitive and commercialised, and SEO is now a high-cost, high-return marketing tool. The good news is that swathes of poor sites are disappearing, likely some of your competitors among them, a lot of cowboy SEO firms are going out of business, and above all it is possible to still get decent RoI.
SEO Tactics for 2013
SEO is now about ‘Inbound Marketing’ rather than search rankings. I see 5 distinct areas for success in 2013:
1) Social Media and Press Work
Are SEOs becoming more like PR companies? To a certain extent yes, due to necessity. Content marketing has been a solid link building tactic for a few years now, and that is liable to refine itself more and more into producing press-releases and other unique content for media outlets and social media networks. You may think your B2B product is too dull to generate press coverage; you’d almost certainly be wrong.
2) Technical SEO
You will need a website that is optimised for mobile phones and tablets. Ignoring that fact is the equivalent of ignoring the internet 10 years ago. Do it now and you’ll get a competitive advantage. There’s also a rankings (and traffic) boost to be had from implementing structured mark-up language, which I won’t begin to explain here.
3) Universal Search
As Google gives ever greater prominence to its own services, get onto those services that are still free and exploit them – that means video for YouTube, Google Shopping for reviews, a Google Local account and integrating Google+ into your website.
If you are a local or regional business, you need to be optimised for local search. I think we may also see a renewed growth in local or hyper-local directory sites, particularly aimed at mobile users looking for services. 5) Conversion Rate Optimisation & Analytics Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) involves analysing the data from your website usage, PPC advertising, email campaigns and whatever else you do online; then using this to make (and test) changes to your website in order to make more money out of each visitor. It’s by some distance the most cost effective way to increase revenue. Best of luck in 2013! Michael Orange Tree Digital www.orangetreedigital.co.uk