From scaling the search engine rankings to optimizing your content, we tackle the key areas for businesses looking to up their online game. Get ready to get digital.
The virtual world is a noisy one. Brands and businesses are competing for customers’ attention like never before, and they’re up against the rest of the internet to do it. Being heard isn’t easy and it’s tough at the top, but it is achievable.
Google: so good it’s a verb
No digital discussion can be had without mentioning it first. Google is the gatekeeper we all must pay; it accounts for 92.86% of all online searches, tailed by Bing (2.41%) and Yahoo! (1.82%). Since the success of a brand’s online presence largely depends on whether it’s visible to potential future clients who don’t yet know them, climbing the search engine rankings is crucial. Do you even exist if Google doesn’t know you?
If any business is to reach new digital heights, understanding search engine logic should be its priority. Search engines have one mission; display the most relevant content to their users based on search queries. Content is ranked on elements like usefulness, ease of access, display and design, and is displayed to users accordingly. This is one of the main reasons Google has achieved dominance – it’s ever so useful to each of us every single day, and most of us now default to ‘Googling’ our problems, our wants, needs… you get the idea.
It follows, then, that the ability to understand how content is displayed based on users’ online searches is key. We know that 60% of these searches are performed on a mobile or a tablet, for example, which gives insight into how long, when, where and in what format content should be delivered.
The discipline responsible for determining best practice is known as SEO – Search Engine Optimization. Involving a careful balance of content and techy bits, at its heart SEO is mainly about keywords. Choosing them, competing for them, crying over them… for a digital marketer, keywords are life. Considering which keywords a brand needs to rally around based on its product, positioning and audience is at the center of most SEO strategies, followed by capitalizing on them to increase content impressions or views, then analyzing the results and refocusing accordingly.
Despite SEO’s somewhat geeky reputation, it’s not a purely technical issue. In fact, traditional ‘qualitative’ marketing pillars are still essential: identifying a need, defining a target audience, positioning the brand and differentiating it from its competitors have never been more important.
That said, there are some technical, tactical, and ‘quantitative’ factors at play. Remember search engines’ ‘usefulness’ mission? This is where we see it in action. In a nutshell, online supply and demand is presided over by a structured bidding system: this system allocates market share based on the perceived relevance of a service or product to a user’s search. The tricky bit is ensuring that the mix of qualitative and quantitative is just right.
From billboards to banners
The switch from physical to online marketing is what gave rise to Google et al.’s main source of income – Search Engine Advertising (SEA). Different to SEO in that businesses pay for their content to be displayed in a more prominent position by search engines rather than earning their spot organically, it’s a sort of fast-track to the top. It’s also known as paid search, and you will definitely pay for the privilege.
The aforementioned bidding system comes into its own with SEA. Powered by a very technical set of parameters, paid search functions as a constant compare-and-contrast system of adverts. Slightly different variations of the same advert are shown to users, with the most successful advert eventually winning out. Kind of like gladiators, but for ads.
This real-time performance monitoring is based on predefined criteria, such as impressions, clicks or conversions, depending on what the campaign’s goal was to begin with. Unfortunately for traditional media, it just can’t compete with the level of customer targeting made possible by SEA.
Getting down with digital
2017 was the year TV died. It was then that, for the very first time in history, brands spent more on online advertising than traditional media. Total spend on digital reached $208bn worldwide (41% of all advertising spend), while TV accounted for just 35% of the total at $178bn. Just one year later, more than 50% of all digital spend went towards paid search.
The trend towards virtual advertising is only accelerating, and businesses know it. However, not all brands have reached digital maturity, and the success of digital marketing varies widely from business to business. SEO and SEA are all well and good, but without content to power them, the search engine rankings will remain unclimbed.
Content’s time to shine
There are two unbreakable tenets in website design:
- Thou shall have a bot- and user-friendly architecture
- Thou shall provide quality information that is appreciated by users
The first, also known as readability, means the site layout must be easily readable by the search engine. It will then be awarded a ‘score’ for readability. To maximize the site’s chances of getting a good score, the content on each page must be structured around primary and secondary keywords, as well as around a specific information hierarchy (SEO title, meta-description, primary and secondary headers).
The second, quality, is a little more complex. The main factors of this tenet are user behavior and user feedback on the brand’s site, as well as the quality of links to other sites on the web which already have a good score for usefulness.
Stepping back for a big picture view makes one thing clear – hosting content that search engines deem useful to users is the not-so-secret weapon to increase traffic to a site and strengthen brand visibility. If they want to earn a place on their audience’s screen, businesses and brands must now become publishers and media channels with a strong editorial strategy.
Deciding what kind of content to publish is a big part of a digital strategy, but it should always be directed by user expectations. Analyzing bounce rates, user demographics and user journeys can reveal data that marketers of yore could only dream of; what customers actually want. Continuous improvement based on metrics such as these ensures constant alignment with an audience, and that’s what keeps them coming back for more.
Getting personal with AI (kind of)
If it all seems a bit out of reach, fear not. Advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) means that digital marketing tasks are becoming increasingly automated. Today, AI is being used to better understand customer behavior, analyze their habits, the sites they visit most often, etc. This enables businesses to make sense of the massive volume of data produced by users’ internet browsing and harnessed by cookies.
The immediately obvious application of this data is the optimization of customer touchpoints – conveying the right message at the right time on the right channel is a powerful ability. For instance, a customer planning a wedding could be sent mobile push notifications on venue availability or dress suggestions. This highly personalized experience can be automated thanks to machine learning algorithms.
AI allows businesses to combine the marketing twins of content and measurable impact, but the Peter Parker principle must be respected: with great power comes great responsibility. Interrupting, irritating or otherwise inconveniencing customers by using their data in the wrong way will ensure they won’t visit you again. Use your digital marketing strategy for good, dear business, and the rewards will all be worth it.
 Magna’s annual report (the research arm of media buying group IPG Mediabrands)
 2019 data from gstatcounter
 2018 study conducted by digital engagement platform BrightEdge