Look at digital marketing for what it really is - marketing

“Marketing your company professionally online is not a short term strategy if your end game is brand value and recognition in your market. It takes an investment mindset to be successful. Anything else in today’s online world is destined to melt away.”

Cool digital marketingThe title statement of this article has always provoked a mixed reaction in the companies I have worked for and with. Particularly where I say it should be considered an investment and not a cost. More though in the companies I have worked for and more often it’s not received well by the financial peeps, sending financial controllers scurrying for their calculators and gesticulating wildly at time sheets and billable hour numbers.

Of course, without our lovable accountants and controllers the more creative among us would probable lead us in to bankruptcy. We need a balance, so credit where credit’s due. Pun intended. But I digress.

Build your digital brand

To put the title in to perspective, consider the average small business’s view of today’s internet marketing landscape. From a traditional marketing standpoint, most are very familiar with investing time and money to establish their brand and presence; be that on the high street or in the minds of their industry’s prospects. Businesses have always valued building their brand awareness and industry reputation. Although it ‘costs’ money to do that, it was considered an investment in developing ‘brand equity.’

Doing that digitally, in an online world, provokes quite a different reaction, even now. Reactions more often center on problems understanding the value and impact of particular digital marketing strategies, such as social media and search engine optimisation, in developing that same brand equity.

While I could and probably will devote an entire article to the role of social media in this process, I’d like to focus on search engine optimisation, as this area has seem some dramatic changes over the last year or so. These changes are forcing the ‘practice’ to be viewed in a different light. From my perspective as a marketeer this is great news and here’s why.

A digital Marketing BazaarThe world of SEO has similarities to a grand bazaar: It’s a place chocked full of traders offering all manner of products designed to delight you in different ways, many of them are of questionable benefit and origin. For the savvy ‘tourist’ though, there are a few bargains to be had, provided you know where and how to look.

Similarly with SEO there have been countless schemes purporting to guarantee number one positions in search engines or to create an avalanche of traffic to your website. In a bazaar, you just know what you are looking at probably isn’t quite what’s being touted. With SEO though, most people just don’t have a clue how to determine what’s being promised is real or not. The old adage ‘If sounds to good to be true, it probably is and should be avoided,’ holds true.

Google Algorithm ChangesA Bad Day At The Google Zoo

Changes in Google’s the past few years, including the menagerie comprised of Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird and more recently major introductions such as Rankbrain, has put a spotlight on the activities of some ‘ bazaar like’ SEO companies, as their clients suffered badly, seeing ranking drop dramatically or disappear altogether. Affected companies who have sought my input don’t appear to have had any real SEO done on their sites at all, even more fundamental, technical SEO. Of course, the client paid handsomely for the service.

One company that came to our attention, a well known lighting company, had their ecommerce store rebuilt. After five months of supposed SEO work at a cost of £1000 per month, their return was a 75% ‘drop’ in traffic – potentially a terminal outcome for this business. Closer examination of the SEO company’s work, incidentally the same company that built the site, showed little sign of any significant SEO and certainly no regard for the lessons those older also changes taught us. It just goes to show that the people who build your site aren’t necessarily the right people to do your SEO.

Why did this happen?

Simple really. Some businesses fell for the idea that SEO could provide a quick magic route to top search engine rankings and pursued equally short term strategies. For some, it really worked and for continued, for some time to enjoy what seemed as ‘ill gotten gains.’ There time however, came! For many, it resulted in being forced in to ‘recovery mode,’ as they tried to uncover what the SEO company did to incur the penalty causing their losses in Google’s search results.

Enticed by the promise of ‘quick fixes’ and ‘quick returns,’ companies have been lured in to the shadier parts of the ‘bazaar.’

What’s the solution?

Reappraise SEO for what it actually is; part of a longer term investment in marketing. SEO today isn’t just about title, meta tags, on page technicalities and inbound links. Don’t get me wrong, some of that is still incredibly important, but rather than a specific feature of an SEO strategy, they should be considered as a standard part of any competent website. The value and acquisition of links has changed dramatically too, but are still important, with the focus on quality rather than quantity.

Simply paying somebody to create some poor quality content, spin it out to loads of other sites and point thousands of worthless links to them, isn’t going to work going forward. Doing things this way was relatively easy, because costs were quite clear – commoditized even, hence the attraction – like tourists to a bazaar.

Google looks at hundreds of different aspects of your ‘entire’ presence online. This means what is on your website is just part of what they consider, although an important part. Google looks at how you engage your market. This may be through social media or what people are saying about you online in public forums and review sites. Above all, Google is looking to see quality and trust permeating throughout your online presence. This all relies on having great content.

SEO today is a much wider and broader discipline, covering both inbound and outbound marketing thinking; and just like more traditional marketing, it requires an ‘investment’ mentality. Consider SEO as one part of a more ‘holistic’ digital marketing strategy designed to actively develop your brand online – your Digital Brand.

Search engine optimisation means ‘optimising your web assets’ so search engines ‘want’ to show what you offer. Note the choice of wording. Search engines like Google have a choice in what they show, their search algorithms are very sophisticated and getting smarter by the day.

If a piece of content on your site is well received it may very well have been picked up by others, rated, reviewed even and probably linked to – naturally. This is what Google is looking for – Authenticity through Shared Trust.

When a competent SEO company presents a strategy to you, it should read more like a marketing plan and less like a one page action list that provides no real insight in to how they are actually going to implement it. Your SEO strategy should read more like a marketing plan because it is a marketing plan, just very focused on digital assets.

And that’s where we come in.

Most companies understand that if they are in it for the long term marketing their brand has to be treated more as an investment rather than a cost. Digital marketing is no different. This is especially true because SEO should be viewed as an incremental long term strategy. It always has been, it’s just that the industry has been hijacked by cowboy practitioners promising quick results to the detriment of long term search results stability and viability.

So, invest in quality digital marketing from people who actually give a damn about your business – you know it makes sense!

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