Marketing decision makers at large companies habitually make a huge mistake: They view organic search as a direct sales channel. Doing so limits the potential of SEO to drive massive business outcomes throughout the entire organization.
We wanted to know why.
So, Terakeet commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey 266 SEO decision makers about their thoughts on organic search as part of their business strategy and as a tool for online reputation management.
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Through this survey, we found that executive leadership does in fact see the value of SEO to improve brand perception. However, most admit they need to do more to improve measurement and build a mature SEO strategy.
After completing the initial brand survey, we asked other CEOs and executives within the SEO community to weigh. Did they agree with our findings?
There was overwhelming consensus that brands struggle to implement the necessary strategies to see the long term value of SEO. This is largely due to the general lack of understanding around organic search and the longevity of its process. Because of that, some companies only layer on SEO as an afterthought, missing the bigger opportunity.
This narrow approach clearly illustrated three prominent SEO struggles faced across the board: lack of knowledge, scarce resources, and failure to manage negative reviews.
Let’s dig deeper into each of these issues.
“Google is merely a mirror of your audience’s perception of you.”
Jason Barnard, CEO, Kalicube
The Challenge: Lack of SEO Knowledge
The consensus is that a cohesive SEO plan could be beneficial for large companies. However, a lack of subject knowledge holds decision makers back from more broadly implementing organic search in their marketing strategy.
This shortcoming appears to be a common theme.
“There seems to be a general lack of clarity about the right strategy and tactics to employ in SEO.”
-Barry Adams, founder and SEO consultant, Polemic Digital
Perhaps we can attribute this shortcoming to the intangible nature of organic search. Unlike paid campaigns, it is difficult to gauge the success of an SEO campaign without fully understanding the smaller pieces necessary to build the bigger picture.
Samuel Lavoie, SEO Consultant, touched on the importance of companies measuring their reputation digitally, saying, “Real-life situations are much more regulated while the search results can be a cesspool. Companies need to be more mature in their capabilities to measure and act on their digital activities.”
Measuring organic search efforts through keyword performance, web traffic, and link tracking as separate entities are only small pieces of the puzzle. To quantify the full scope of your efforts you must connect each individual piece together.
Understanding SEO is only half the battle.
“With understanding comes appropriate commitment and resource, which leaves the brand in the best position to yield positive results.”
Chloe Smith, SEO Executive, Blue Array
The rewards are worth the time, effort, and budget it takes to put a cohesive SEO marketing strategy into motion. Those who make organic search marketing a priority are likely benefiting from:
There is a lot to understand when it comes to effectively implementing a long-lasting SEO campaign. Marketing Consultant, Monica Wright agrees, “SEO is a long-term strategy that impacts brands more than just as another channel.” To reap the benefits organic search can offer, start by looking at SEO as an internal commitment to quality rather than a small fraction of an entire marketing plan.
“SEO is often approached on a campaign basis, rather than as a cultural commitment to quality, so it inevitably fails to gain enough traction to be impactful (at least, when compared to the controlled immediacy of paid channels).”
Jono Alderson, Yoast
Combating this mindset will require more than hiring an in-house SEO expert or even a small team. You need to invest both financial and emotional capital to be successful. “There are a plethora of quality agencies and firms that can supplement a lack of internal SEO staff to help businesses achieve their goals,” according to Andrew Dennis from Page One Power.
When it comes to implementing SEO and building online reputation, Matt Janaway, CEO Marketing Labs says, “Having the expert knowledge internally can drive consistency.” We completely agree with him. Internal SEO teams shouldn’t fear outside SEO companies as competition for their job security. In fact, internal teams are vital to the success of an SEO partnership because they know which levers to pull in order to push through critical recommendations.
In other words, internal teams grease the wheels and manage deliverables while external teams provide the expertise and firepower.
Be aware that bringing in an expert in any capacity will only work if all internal departments are willing to keep an open mind and work together to ensure recommendations are implemented.
The Challenge: Scarce Resources
The lack of understanding around SEO’s impact on brand perception proves an additional problem: not allocating the proper resources, whether it’s people, tools or budget.
“SEO used to be much more straightforward a decade or so ago. But, since the rise of social media platforms and the plethora of online content that brands and businesses generate for said platforms, SEO has gotten more complex on the one hand yet easier on the other hand.”
Mari Smith, CEO of Mari Smith International, Inc.
Without the proper resources, SEO can quickly become too overwhelming to manage effectively and is subsequently put on the backburner.
Since organic search isn’t as easy to measure as paid marketing, it can be difficult to justify dedicating the time, people, and money necessary to move the needle. Not to mention, organic search is a longer play than paid search. This means that not only are these resources necessary for success, but there is a level of long-term commitment required from the get-go for optimal results.
Patrick Stox, Senior Product Advisor at Ahrefs agrees that a lack of resources never just pertains to one thing. “It might be lack of expertise, lack of buy-in, lack of a strategy, lack of resources, or any number of other things” when it comes to obstacles companies face.
Ironically, it is usually larger brands and Fortune 500 companies that face the biggest SEO obstacles due to the fact there are more hoops to jump through, more channels to seek approval, and more people to educate.
“SEO requires being fast and agile. The larger the company, and more hoops it takes to get approval, the more difficult it is for them to see value from SEO/Online reputation efforts.”
Nick LeRoy, Founder and Lead SEO Nick LeRoy Consulting LLC
Companies often experience SEO struggles when they view organic search as just a project-based tactic. Realistically, to yield the most results for your efforts, SEO should really be an ongoing effort, and having the proper resources is key.
Getting to that point may require a deeper understanding of how to properly distribute a budget for SEO while also making the extra effort to educate decision makers on the importance of implementing a solid strategy, especially for larger companies. Having an SEO representative be a part of all decision making conversations should be your goal. Once you iron out the root of this problem, it’s easier to assign the right amount of resources.
For enterprise companies, organic search is an inevitable challenge given the legacy and growth of their brands. Mark Traphagen from SEOClarity told us that integrated SEO platforms are indispensable to his enterprise users.
Traphagen shared, “What produces success is the result of a complex interplay of many factors working together. Using individual single-purpose tools may be cheaper, but they leave it up to the time, ability, and expertise of the SEO to integrate their data. A comprehensive SEO platform does that for them, providing insights that bring together not only all their own data points, but also those garnered from a wide range of platform users.”
The Challenge: Failure to Manage Negative Reviews
Reputation management has proven to be the most unused strategy according to SEO decision makers. But, it’s arguably one of the most important aspects of any marketing strategy. Including reputation management strategies preemptively will mitigate online backlash should your company experience brand turmoil, poor online reviews, or a negative press cycle. Ian Lurie, CEO of Ian Lurie LLC, is right when he said, “Spiraling negative reviews on major review sites can be very hard to control after the fact.”
In addition to managing online reviews, it’s believed that Google favors particular review-based sites which are usually pay-to-play platforms.
“The biggest obstacle companies face when it comes to SEO and online reputation is other sites and reviews that Google tends to give preference to.”
John Doherty, Founder & CEO, Credo
Experiencing any negativity towards your brand is one of the biggest setbacks for a company. If the problem is worse enough to surface in your top search results, the risk of losing customers is at stake.
Here are just a few staggering statistics about online reputation:
Negative reviews or brand-damaging articles can happen to any company at any time for any reason. Dipti Parmar, CEO of 99stairs described Google as, “The new Newspaper, Industry Journal, and Niche Publication rolled into one.” When thinking about the newspaper or your favorite media outlet, controversy always appears on the front page. That’s how Google operates.
Unfortunately, the internet doesn’t have a delete button for unwanted content. Instead, pushing down negative results dramatically reduces the chance of anyone discovering that content. But, this approach isn’t as easy as it sounds. It requires a deep understanding of all aspects of SEO as well as continuous monitoring to bury unfavorable search results.
For smaller companies with budget constraints, “SEO might not be the right avenue” said Alexandra Tachalova, Founder of Digital Olympus. “Why? Because sometimes, companies are outgunned in the fierce competition for SERPs; and at other times, other channels are more suitable and productive for certain business models.”
As it relates to uncontrollable negative news cycles or reviews, leveraging other PR tactics to repair your reputation may be better suited for quick results when a crisis hits. However, don’t overlook the protection SEO provides against future issues.
So, what’s the best solution to combat negative search results? Integrate reputation management tactics within your SEO strategy as soon as possible. Review management isn’t something that should be approached from a DIY viewpoint because of the expertise and time commitment that is required to monitor and address all moving parts.
Of course there are other obstacles companies face. But, the ones outlined above are the most disruptive.
As we head into 2021, we should ask ourselves, “how can we better improve our SEO game and what’s the missing puzzle piece to take us to brand victory?”
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