Indepth: SEO Masterclass Part 1 - Moving towards Search Experience Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of the oldest disciplines in digital marketing and a potent way to boost your online presence. Unlike traditional campaigns, SEO is about understanding a Search Engine’s (Google) algorithm and smartly optimising in accordance to best practices to drive traffic to the client’s website. Delivering results via SEO cannot be accomplished in a day’s time so digital marketers have to work round the clock on updating and maintaining the client’s backend.
For a paid campaign, a lot depends on the budget that you allocate. You run the campaign for a month on a limited budget and get certain returns. SEO takes some time to kick into gear (not always), but once it does, it boosts traffic for a lifetime.
There are three foundational pillars to SEO – Technology, Content and Creating 3rd Party Connections. Search Engines like Google look at these three areas before determining the ranking of your website.
While the basics of SEO have remained the same over the last decade, it is important to understand that the media landscape has evolved considerably throwing new trends. A decade ago, textual information was the dominant content on the Internet. Now, cheaper data costs have led to the increase in consumption of rich media formats like images, audio and video.
Internet users have become more discerning about the sites they visit, more discriminatory against intrusive advertising and more cognizant about their privacy. SEO helps thwart those barriers by targeting the user based on intent.
In Part 1 of this Indepth report, Vishal Shah, Associate Vice President – SEO, iProspect and Asad Khan, Associate Vice President – SEO and Performance Content, iProspect, discuss the how to build an effective SEO strategy from the ground up.
Vishal Shah observes, “Ten years ago, a client would just ask for the rankings for specific keywords. Now, SEO is actually driving business outcomes if you utilise it smartly as a channel. We get briefs that are both traffic oriented and business oriented.”
Since then, the agency process has evolved. Depending on how far the client has come in his digital journey the agency may:
Audit the client’s digital footprint: If the client has an existing website (most do), we evaluate where the market is headed, whether the client has the relevant content.
Optimising technology: The first three or four months can be spent just on optimising the website from an architectural perspective along with adequate modifications/ enhancements in the in client’s backend from a technology standpoint.
Identify client’s requirement: Whether they have the kind of content that the user is searching for and whether it relates to the brand.
Picking the right search queries: From a vast pool of queries, select the query that reflects interest in your brand/ product. Then populate your website with content pertaining to that query.
Objective of the client: Does the brand want website traffic to see an uplift or do they have more aggressive business objectives.
Phase of consumer journey: Depending on the search query and the business objective, the client could choose to target the consumer during the research phase or during the consideration phase.
Establish brand lifecycle: Understand which stage of its journey the brand is in. If it is a newcomer in the category and awareness is low, then content needs to be built from the ground up to raise awareness about the brand.
If awareness is high and the brand is a leader in its category, then the goal is to sell the end product.
Understand the category: A client may be from BFSI, Retail, E-commerce, OTT or any other category. The agency must understand the consumer approach to the category before they develop a strategy.
The agency can then deploy an array of strategies to improve the client’s ranking and make discoverability of their website more seamless. Normally, you want to avoid a situation where a user types a search query goes on a landing page but it takes additional queries or clicks for the user to reach the right page. Eliminating friction in the users’ digital journey is a critical part of the agency’s mandate. According to Asad Khan, “SEO is heading from search engine optimisation to search experience optimisation.”
Phase of consumer journey
“Identifying the base of users, you want to target, depending on which stage of customer cycle they are in, is very important,” says Shah.
He further adds, “For example, a BFSI client’s mandate was to drive traffic to their website because they had reached a ceiling with their existing base. We identified which search queries are input during the research phase of a consumer looking for life insurance product. These were consideration-based queries or ‘how to’ based queries. We then created content around those queries.”
Content generation – Quality vs Quantity
Khan says, “A question that we often get from clients is how much volume of content should I create? A big challenge that we always face is to convince the client for the need for content. While content is one of the large pillars of SEO, we need to measure it from a qualitative and not a quantitative perspective.”
According to him, “It is better to focus on a specific stage of the customer journey and build content around that stage. If you look at the entire AIDA funnel (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) right until the consumer purchases the product, sometimes it is not possible to build content for all stages of the funnel. If you understand your brand image in the market, then you can focus on the stage of content that leads to higher number of transactions.”
A search query in a broad category like entertainment could be ‘Watch Hindi Movie Online’ or specific like ‘Watch Uri Online’. For a generic search query, the audience is huge and the client needs to be ranked right at the top.
SEO marketers will have to optimise the client’s website first by understanding the context of that category.
Shah shares how their agency approaches OTT segment with their SEO strategy, “There are two challenges when it comes to OTT brands. The first part of the challenge is that while the OTT brand has a lot of genuine video content, they have to compete with sites displaying tonnes of text content, pirated content, etc., from a search perspective. The next step of the challenge is that once you get a base of users to visit your website, the challenge is how do you display your content.”
Delivering content is a matter of usability and experience. How do brands structure their content to make it easier to navigate?
Khan explains, “We adopt a two-fold strategy when it comes to OTT optimisation. You have two kinds of content on OTT platforms – curated and original. We need to rank higher for the curated content present on our platform, which is available on other platforms as well. However, from a viewership perspective, original content works very well in bringing new users to sample the platform.”
Shah adds here, “In the digital entertainment category, the competition is not just direct (other OTT platforms), but also an IMDb or Wikipedia. They are not competition from a business perspective, but they are competition in search rankings. If you rank higher than them then you will automatically see higher traffic.”
Khan observes, “We’ve typically seen that entertainment consumers are enthusiasts, which means they don’t just watch the content but also research about the cast of the film and look for additional content. It is important to diversify your content creation strategy to not just focus on video, but also those lateral searches.”
Predicting query intent
Search Engine Optimisation predicts the user intent through the query that is typed in. Technology makes it easier for digital marketers to understand the intent behind the query and identify new patterns.
Citing the example of a publisher website that wanted to be optimised for the Maharashtra Assembly Elections, Shah explains, “You can look at keyword search queries from 3-4 years ago to identify the search trends at that point of time and build your content on that basis.”
Khan adds here, “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are part of Google’s search algorithm with their latest RankBrain update. This brings a new level of personalisation in the search results from Google’s side. This update allows the algorithm to get a better understanding of the query intent.”
Shah concludes, “While technology is important in understanding query intent and automation, human intelligence will always be required to optimise a piece of content. The best possible combination of the two will deliver the client’s objectives.”