Let’s agree on a few things first: If you are the CEO of a company, and you haven’t heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), then you’re way behind and need to get started with SEO now. But it’s 2021, and you probably have heard of SEO already and acknowledge the importance of ranking within the top results for searches that are relevant to your business. We know you’re not in a position where you can get into the technical details of SEO but you still need to make sure you know what SEO is like in 2021 so you can keep up with your marketing team and ensure you’re fairly evaluating their investments in SEO.
In this article, we summarized 5 imperative SEO practices that concern you as a C-Level. We cover topics such as who needs to handle your SEO, why budgeting for SEO is important, and how to avoid being ripped off by SEO “experts”. We’ll also point out outdated practices which you need to stop doing to avoid making your company website look like it was created in the 90s.
Before we dig in…are you skeptical about the importance of SEO in 2021?
We understand – you might be wondering what all this SEO hype is about and why you and your marketing team need to spend this much time and effort on improving your search visibility. After the COVID pandemic, having a proper online presence and seamless digital interactions have climbed up the ladder of factors that contribute to the success of your business. The reasons are obvious…consumers, whether individuals or businesses, are no longer able to practice their regular offline purchasing journey. Evaluating options, negotiating with suppliers, and even making the actual purchase have all become matters of the online world. What’s more concerning is that 30% of consumers believe that shopping experiences will never go back to the way they were pre-COVID.
If you’re in the B2B business, look at how many buyers are now identifying new suppliers using “remote” or “digital self-serve” methods.
If you do business in the UK, look at how consumer behaviour is shifting due to the pandemic:
5 Practices for CEOs who want to do SEO like its 2021
1. Have an SEO strategy and someone responsible for it
When we speak of Search Engine Optimization, we’re referring to a set of practices that aim at improving the quality and quantity of visitors to your website by ranking within the top searches for relevant queries. Unfortunately, there is no magic spell to achieve that, and the algorithms that search engines use to select the best results for every search are complicated and not very much explicit. Also, it is important to know that SEO is not one task that can be performed and that will immediately bring about a cause-effect type of result. Instead, it includes several areas that need to be focused on such as on-site SEO, off-site SEO, and technical SEO. Each of these areas has its own set of recommendations that need to be practiced for a period of time and then re-assessed to sieve out inefficient tactics and improve ones that proved efficient.
Let’s give an example here: One of the elements of on-site optimization includes ensuring your web pages have the right structure. This is done by attributing certain pieces of code to specific elements on your webpage. Titles are given one type of tag, images are given another, descriptions have their own as well… you get the point. If you are doing this for new pages, this shouldn’t be a very time-consuming task. But if your website is already online and you have 100 pages that are poorly coded, your SEO expert will spend a good amount of time optimizing every image, title, description, header, and element on each of these pages. And remember, this is just one task in one of the several areas that SEO is concerned with.
This is to say that SEO requires time, effort, and dedication. It is not a side task that you can throw on top of a stretched marketing team. There has to be a person (or even a team) who is responsible for creating an SEO strategy, executing it, monitoring performance and reporting results. As with all other business objectives, you don’t want to hit randomly and hope that your search visibility improves. What you want to do is have a defined strategy that is born out of specific requirements related to your website structure, team size and competence, SEO budget, and your industry.
2. Have a budget dedicated for SEO…and this is why
I know what you’re thinking…SEO is famous for being a FREE method for getting your company’s website to rank high on a search engine…now we need a BUDGET? Well, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. On the upside, the value you get from SEO, if done properly of course, far outweighs the investment required.
Organic (unpaid) search results make up 53.3% of all website traffic, meaning more than half of your website visitors can come from being visible in search results. When we speak of visibility, we are most often referring to appearing on the first page of results on your search engine. On Google, only 0.78% of searchers click on results from the 2nd page so you probably won’t be getting a lot of traffic from ranking from the second page onwards.
So, where exactly will you have to invest in order to get to that magical first page on Google or any other search engine?
First, you’ll have to find out how competent your marketing team is with SEO. While many marketing professionals are building sharp SEO skills day after day, not every person on your marketing team is inherently an SEO expert. Talking to your team and figuring out how comfortable they are with SEO is a good place to start. You might need to invest in some professional training that will help your team learn how to create a successful SEO strategy.
Of course, learning how to do something and being able to generate results are two different things. We’ve also discussed above how much time and dedication SEO requires from your internal marketing experts. This is where it would be wise to invest in outsourcing the SEO function to a professional who is experienced in different SEO strategies and is up to date with the constant changes of search engine algorithms. But before you go out and hire the first agency or consultant that promises you page 1 rankings for only a hundred pounds, you must know that there is a parallel world called “black-hat SEO”. People who use this technique are attracted by the quick gains they see in rankings and trick clients into believing that they are getting real value (and ROI) through this investment. The ugly truth is, using black hat techniques will hurt your website in the long run and might get it penalized by search engines (your website will get banned from appearing in search results). To avoid falling into the trap, you need to hire a trustworthy SEO agency or consultant. Get quotes from several sources and ask your internal marketing team to help evaluate the offers and strategies these people claim to use.
As mentioned, you have a choice of how much you’re willing to spend on SEO. If your marketing team has a knack for SEO but is overwhelmed with other tasks, outsourcing only the execution of the SEO strategy can be helpful and minimizes your investment. If your company has a small marketing team that is handling digital marketing, events, and PR all at the same time, you might want to relieve them from all SEO related tasks. In that case, your investment will be a bit larger but you’ll be getting a tailored service from a consultant that has worked with several industries and can provide you with a proven strategy, execute it, and be held accountable for it.
3. Learn the jargon your SEO experts speak…or else
No matter who you’ve decided needs to be responsible for the precious task of Search Engine Optimization, and no matter how much you trust them, you have to ask for monthly reports on performance. Reports don’t have to be a 20 pager that drags you into the technicalities. All you need to see to ensure that your business is on the right track are a few important and meaningful metrics.
To de-code these metrics, need to be familiar with terms such as “Organic Traffic”, “Organic CTR”, “Search Volume”, “Long-tail keywords”, “Bounce Rate”, “Time on Page”, “Backlinks” and “Events”.
Understanding these terms helps you read beyond the reported metrics and safeguards you against being misled with reports that show increasing numbers but no real ROI. For example, let’s say you sell wholesale furniture in the UK and want to rank for the keyword “wholesale furniture providers”. You get a report at the end of the month from your SEO team showing that your rankings have improved on this keyword, and after a few months, you’re within the top 4 results on Google. Amazing, isn’t it?! This is exactly what you’ve been dreaming of! Your website is finally being seen by people searching for “wholesale furniture providers”. Well, before you go and hand out a bonus to the SEO team, let’s scratch the surface a little bit. Imagine a user runs this quick Google search from the UK on our keyword “wholesale furniture providers”. Take a look at the top 4 results below.
None of these companies are actually IN the UK. They all sell online and ship their furniture from abroad, which is not what our user was looking for. Will she click on any of these search results? Probably not – and if she does, it might be out of curiosity and this will not lead to any form of return for these businesses.
The takeaway here is that some metrics might look good on the surface, but once you dive into the actual return, they will no longer look as good. This is where understanding the jargon SEO gurus use fluently can help you assess their performance with more insight and conception.
4. Avoid common mistakes that make your website look ancient
First things first…MOBILE. This is not just our own priority list, but it’s Google’s. In 2018, they rolled out what they called “mobile-first indexing” and in 2020 they announced that they will start using it on the whole web. This means that Google is evaluating the mobile version of your website when deciding which result to show to searchers. If your mobile website is not deemed “good enough” by Google’s algorithm, it won’t be shown in the results even if your desktop site is the best on the internet. This decision was taken due to the increasing popularity of mobile searches.
Many CEOs don’t notice that their website has a separate mobile version when in reality it does. Your website visitors don’t have to, and should not, see the same things when they visit from mobile as when they do from desktop. Mobile screens are smaller, and there isn’t enough room to include the same amount of desktop-site content on your mobile website. Elements like pop-ups were pinpointed by Google as “intrusive” and “make content less accessible to a user” on a mobile site.
Another defect in modern websites is speed. Many webpages are loaded with photos and videos which might seem like interesting media to include until they start taking forever to load. This upsets both Google and the user, the former leading to lower chances of appearing in search results, and the latter to frustrated users who will probably then exit the webpage.
A third element that can define the success of your website in 2021 is content. Is your website providing valuable, unique, and up-to-date content to users? This content usually manifests in the form of a blog and can bring about very positive results if executed strategically. It keeps users coming back to your website to consume the content you’re feeding them and signals to Google that you have content worthy of being put on a search engine.
5. Use customer-centricity as an anchor for all decisions
Search engine algorithms are complicated. Google’s algorithm uses more than 200 factors to rank your website. While SEO professionals are meant to create websites that technically satisfy the requirements of a search engine, CEOs often don’t have time to study search engine algorithms and evaluate their company websites accordingly.
If we were to compress Google’s algorithm down into only one ranking factor, it would be customer-centricity. If your website visitors are YOUR customers, Google has searchers as its customers. Google aims to show its customers, the searchers, the best possible result that matches the entered search query. In recent years, the algorithm which determines whether your website is shown in the results started prioritizing “Quality”. In this context, “quality” refers to the type of experience your website offers. If it’s a high-quality experience where users browse a trustworthy website that offers in-depth content about a topic, your website will be rewarded with high rankings. If, on the other hand, your website is full of spelling errors, asks users to enter payment information without a secure connection, takes time to load, or has an excessive amount of ads, you can’t expect your website to appear in search results.
When taking any decision on your website, think like a user. Would it be a pleasant experience clicking on a title in a search result that appears to answer your question, only to be surprised that you were misled into a page trying to sell you that company’s product? Of course not! Your immediate response would be to exit that web page. This signals to Google that the website was not able to answer your question, and responds by demoting that website’s ranking on the search page.
Becoming an SEO mastermind is rarely the interest of a CEO. However, the success of any business today is very much tied to its ability to maintain a powerful online presence. Ignoring the chunk of prospective customers who are active on search engines will in no way be to your benefit. Remember, if your website is not there on that first page of Google, your competitors’ websites are and they’re stealing away your chance of being seen.
A few takeaways:
- Your website is one of your most important assets. Make sure you put it in the hands of an SEO expert or team you trust.
- Remember that search visibility is only a means to an end, and not an end by itself. You want to rank high but only on searches that are relevant to your business or on topics you can be trusted on.
- You don’t want SEO reports to look like gibberish to you. Acquire basic knowledge about SEO and the important metrics that you will regularly see.
- Some changes, like putting mobile-first, are now necessary for websites that want to be in the game.
- Keep the customer experience in mind with every decision you take on your website. It comes hand in hand with good SEO practices.