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Just over two decades ago, search engine optimization (SEO) burst onto the internet scene and kicked the digital marketing doors wide open. Today, marketers consider SEO an effective and required part of their digital marketing mix — well, some of us at least.
Many thought leaders, marketers, and brands have speculated that SEO is dead, but we’d argue that it most certainly isn’t. Rather, it’s being reborn. However, it appears to be fading as a core digital and content marketing strategy.
Why? There’s no one answer. Instead, multiple challenges and frustrations have fused to create disenchantment with the practice.
The Current Sitch
While HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018 report indicates that 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority, a recent survey from Clutch shows that SEO is the least popular digital marketing tactic, with just 44% of marketers leveraging SEO. (And just think of how many articles you’ve seen — including this one — pondering whether SEO is dead or alive.)
Setting aside the different methodologies and sample groups used for these reports, I think we can all agree that some marketers are struggling to see the value of SEO (and many may even be missing its important connection to content marketing).
*Cue the dramatic music.*
But why are marketers shying away from this foundational digital marketing tactic?
The Modern Marketer’s SEO Struggle
It’s a Dog Eat Dog World
We’ve all heard (and maybe said) the top complaint: Thanks to high content marketing adoption, the organic search landscape has become too [expletive] crowded. And as a result, many marketers feel they can’t effectively compete.
As a result, more marketers are forgoing the long-term play and turning to paid search to get top placement in SERPs. In fact, paid content promotion has increased almost 400% since 2014, according to a survey from Orbit Media.
Furthermore, digital marketing budgets are slowly growing. According to August 2018 CMOsurvey results, in the next five years, digital marketing spending is expected to overtake the majority of marketing budget spend, rising from 44% to 54%.
To us, this not only signals that marketers feel the required SEO effort is too taxing and competitive, but also that they’re under increasing pressure to deliver fast results. And with larger budgets to allocate to digital, marketers may be looking to other options that can show results more quickly.
It’s Not Black and White
Since its inception, Google has been constantly leveling up the sophistication of its ranking algorithm — much to the dismay of marketers. In fact, just this summer there were several Google updates such as mobile site speed and HTTPS, all of which had SEO and ranking implications.
Savvy marketers have been paying attention to these updates. They understand that while Google will never divulge its full ranking algorithm, there are key ranking factors such as relevant, user-friendly content and quality backlinks that are important for SEO and user experience. And they know content optimization requires tweaking and testing to see what works for them.
However, with so much on their plates, the fast paced change is hard to keep up with. And couple this with the content saturation mentality, SEO can feel like a losing battle.
It’s a Waiting Game
When black-hat tactics went extinct, marketers had to get used to the notion that SEO was the long-play. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been happy with the waiting game, especially if other tactics have the potential to work more quickly.
But marketers aren’t the only ones who want fast results — so does the C-suite. And if marketers don’t deliver, they sow seeds of doubt and stand to disappoint executives, who are likely the ones who approve their budgets.
And, of course, hearing phrases like “Rome wasn’t built in a day” or “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” adds to the frustration — and doesn’t quell pressure from higher-ups.
Our Hot Take: Now Is Not The Time to Quit
The changing and challenging search landscape is frustrating. There are trillions of unique web pages and counting to compete with. Algorithms and search styles are constantly evolving. And, to top it all off, you’re under pressure drive results and meet internal stakeholder expectations. We get it.
But here’s the thing all marketers should remember: Change is inevitable. Our world is increasingly digital, which means the digital marketing landscape will continue to experience rapid shifts.
Also, many of the changes and challenges you’re experiencing now aren’t new. “Easy win” or black-hat SEO tactics have been dead and gone for a while now, and Google has been tweaking algorithms on the daily for a decade or more. Furthermore, content marketing is closing in on a decade of growing use—and shows all the right signs to continue as a staple digital tactic.
So, rather than abandoning a tried-and-true tactic, perhaps it’s time to shift your strategy. As founder of SparkToro and Moz, and one of SEO’s most recognizable experts, Rand Fishkin once said:
“SEO is powerful precisely because it’s hard to predict and hard to measure.”
So, it’s not a matter of “can” you get results with SEO, it’s a matter of “how” you’ll adapt to find success.
We know quality content that matches search intent is a key ranking factor. And we also know quality backlinks are important, too. So, how do you create link-worthy content? Check out our post featuring five types of link-worthy content.
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Savvy digital marketers have their ears to the ground and eyes to the sky, striving to be on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest trends, tactics, strategies, and tools. After all, change comes hard and fast in this industry—especially when it comes to evolving buyer demands and expectations.
However, innovation doesn’t have to be net-new. To put a slight spin on a classic line, everything old can be new again. And that’s where convenience as a strategic digital marketing tool.
Convenience has been a core customer service principle for decades. And more often than not, convenience is a defining characteristic of customer experience and the brand as a whole. Think about what 7-Eleven did for weary travelers or time-crunched professionals. Think about what Amazon first did for avid, deal-seeking readers—and what they’re doing now for folks from all walks of life.
They disrupted the industry and created loyal followings by offering a convenient customer experience. And according to customer service and experience guruShep Hyken, marketers can learn a thing or two from these examples—and what he calls “The Convenience Revolution.”
[bctt tweet="What separates rockstar companies from all the rest? They’re just easier to do business with. - @Hyken #CX #ConvenienceMarketing" username="toprank"]
Recently, Shep was gracious enough to sit down with me to explore what some of these principles and an eye on convenience can do for marketers.
Meet Shep Hyken
Shep’s been in the customer service and experience industry for nearly 35 years—it’s in his DNA.
“I started my first business when I was 12,” Shep recalls. “It was a birthday party magic show.”
That’s right. Shep worked his way around the local birthday party circuit performing magic tricks for oohs, awes, laughs, and a bit of cash. But his success was rooted in consistently innovating the service he was delivering.
“Writing thank you notes was the minimum,” Shep explains. “But my parents encouraged me to also ask the parents which tricks they liked the most—and drop the tricks that didn’t make the cut. So, you see, at a very young age I’m saying thank you, I’m asking how the service was, I’m gathering feedback, and I’m using that feedback to make changes—all fundamentals of customer service.”
“And this is all certainly relevant to marketers,” he adds. “Customer service experience is the new marketing; it’s the new brand.”
[bctt tweet="#CustomerExperience is the new #marketing; it’s the new brand. - @Hyken" username="toprank"]
Eliminating the Customer Experience Enemy
Your goal is to deliver the right information, at the right time, to the right person, on the right platform. This is the essence of convenience. You want to make it easy on your audience to get the information they need and to make a decision—and you want to enhance the journey and create a better experience for all.
How do you do this? By reducing friction. Why? Because where friction exists, frustration exists—and frustrated buyers and customers will seek out the path of least resistance.
“Reducing friction is perhaps the No. 1 opportunity for marketers,” Shep states. “It’s simple. If you don’t know your friction points, you can’t improve the customer experience and build customer loyalty.”
Where should you start?
As Shep suggests: “Map and study your customer journey, and ask yourself: What are my top customer touch points? Where is there friction? And how can I reduce that friction?”
[bctt tweet="Where friction exists, frustration exists—and frustrated buyers and customers will seek out the path of least resistance. #Convenience #DigitalMarketing" username="toprank"]
The customer journey is anything but linear. We know prospective buyers and existing customers are increasingly self-directed in their quest for answers. Many turn to the internet-at-large and social media to research solutions, engage with brands, inform their decisions, and troubleshoot issues.
Marketers have the opportunity to create on-demand content that not only aids existing customers, but also engages prospects. For Shep, this falls under the convenience category of self-service.
[bctt tweet="#Marketers have the opportunity to create on-demand #content that not only aids existing customers, but also engages prospects." username="toprank"]
“Salesforce is a great example of this principle in action,” he says. “They offer great explainer and how-to content online, which gives their existing customers answers at their fingertips. If customers have a question or issue, they don’t have to call support."
Here's an example of one of Salesforce's How-To videos, one of many featured on their YouTube channel:
“What makes this a fantastic marketing piece is that anyone who happens to be considering their products can see this great content, allowing them to learn more about how a product works and the level of support offered,” he says.
But what about those who stop the search early and just pick up the phone? Shep says self-service content still plays a pivotal role.
“This content is a great supplement for live support,” he says. “Your team member can answer questions live, but also offer more convenient, digital solutions customers or prospects can walk away with.”
Defining Your Own Brand of Convenience
Here’s an important thing to remember, marketers: Convenience is objective. As Shep points out, what’s considered convenient for one business may simply be unacceptable for another—even within the same industry. That’s why it’s important to define your own brand of convenience—and not fall victim to what Shep calls “We Can Do It Too” Syndrome.
“Marketers need to stop placing so much emphasis on catching up or edging out their direct competitors,” he says. “Customers don’t compare you to your competitors anymore—they compare you to other positive experiences they’ve had.
“If you keep chasing what your competitors are doing, you’re always a step behind,” Shep adds. “That’s a good way to go out of business because you’re just doing what someone else is already doing.”
Aim to delight and surprise—not just satisfy—if you want to build relationships and create meaningful connections with your customers and prospects.
“Convenience is a separator between a satisfied customer and a loyal customer,” Shep says. “Satisfactory is a rating. Loyalty is an emotion. So, you need to figure out a way to create a lasting emotional bond.”
[bctt tweet="Satisfactory is a rating. Loyalty is an emotion. So, marketers need to figure out a way to create a lasting emotional bond. - @Hyken #CX #DigitalMarketing" username="toprank"]
Create Convenience. Create Loyalty.
Simply put, your customers and prospects want to do business with companies that make their lives easier. They want fast answers to their questions. They want service they can count on, every time. They want convenience. And they’ll pay with their budgets and loyalty.
By adding the convenience lens to your marketing efforts, you can uncover and mitigate friction points, and provide better on-demand content that fosters connections with your customers and prospects throughout their journey.
“As a marketer, you need to think it’s beyond just creating awareness, and think about creating an experience that your customers will talk about to create more awareness,” Shep shares. “The best marketing is when other people market for you.”
[bctt tweet="The best #marketing is when other people market for you. - @Hyken" username="toprank"]
A big thank you to Shep Hyken for sharing his expertise and insights. If you want to get ahold of his new book, it’s onpre-sale now.
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