Digital Marketing has been the mainstream marketing method for a long time now. But Digital or Internet Marketing means different things to different people. Social media marketing, banner advertising, pay-per-click ads, email newsletters, direct email marketing, affiliate marketing, electronic press releases, etc., all fit in the digital marketing bucket. Any and all of these may be an important part of your optimal online marketing mix, depending upon the specifics of your business and resources. However, there is one online marketing method that nearly EVERYONE should be pursuing. Yes, even technology companies, are not effectively utilizing this marketing method. Yet even today, I find that too many technology companies are not, and oftentimes the reason is a lack of basic understanding by tech CEOs and senior CXOs. The marketing method that I’m referring to is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO is the practice of modifying a website to ensure that the Search Engines find it when someone enters a keyword search that is highly relevant to your site. It involves the content and technical infrastructure of your website, as well as obtaining incoming links from other websites. This just doesn’t happen automatically—unfortunately. The biggest problem I find is the lack of understanding of the importance of this marketing method in the executive suite of tech companies. This is especially problematic when the inhabitants of the executive suite came up through the ranks prior to digital marketing becoming the mainstream promotional method. It’s surprisingly true even among younger senior execs. When the executive suite doesn’t understand or value an activity, it is very easy for resource allocation, and ultimately results, to be far below optimal.
Offline Marketing Analogies to SEO
Even if not a digital marketing expert, a non-technical senior executive is familiar with the old offline world of press releases and print advertising as “staples” of marketing. Of the two, Press Releases are the “free” and more credible method of publicizing your products or services. There is no guarantee that a press release or a story derived from it will actually be published, but if it is published, the credibility is very high with the reader. The expense may have been very low to garner this fantastic exposure. Print advertising on the other hand guarantees exposure. But it is much more expensive and somewhat less credible with the reader than PR on the same topic.
I like to use an analogy from this old offline marketing to explain the importance and relative position of SEO in your modern marketing mix. In the online world, you can think of SEO as the PR of the Internet. Digital advertising such as Google Adwords is analogous to the print advertising of the old offline media world. SEO-driven results appear in the “Organic” listing when doing a search in an engine like Google or Bing, conveying credibility. Tremendous amounts of targeted potential customers can be driven to your site via Search Engines Organic results at little direct cost. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is heavy competition for these search results. I guarantee that your savvy competitors are investing heavily in this area.
Websites and Retail Stores
As long as I’m using analogies, here’s another way of looking at this topic. Would you spend huge amounts of money to build a beautiful retail store, then put it out in the middle of a cornfield, 50 miles from the nearest consumer? And not even listed on a map? I hope that any business person reading this would answer “No”! Even if you advertised heavily to drive traffic to this store, generally it would make little sense. Yet, this is the analogy of building a website and then failing to pay attention to SEO. Even today I still find many senior executives in tech companies are oblivious to this. Or, at least don’t sufficiently understand the strategic importance of having a website highly optimized for Search.
This SEO optimization is the Internet equivalent of “Location, Location, Location” in the retail business world. Many executives however will spend a lot of time and money on creating websites that are built by Graphics Designers who put great effort into a beautiful “look and feel” and “branding” of the website (the beautiful retail store). But little or NO effort into enabling someone to find the site through search engines (building it in a cornfield). In fact, excessive website “design” can significantly slow the loading of a website, which negatively affects the website’s SEO.
Shoot to Appear Above the Fold
In search engine land, its key is to appear among the first six sites (“above the fold”) on the very first page in the results of a search. This can lead to enormous amounts of traffic to your site for certain keywords. For searches containing the important keywords specific to your business, getting your website to appear in the top six sites of the results should be an important goal. If you are able to accomplish this, visibility among your target customer will increase substantially and possibly exponentially. If your competitors are there and you are not–you lose.
I don’t want to pretend that maximizing search results is easy. But at least the initial steps that you should take are not that hard. I believe that this important topic doesn’t get the play it should in executive suites because of a “fear factor.” SEO in many circles is viewed as a highly technical field, understandable only to the “geeks.” A lot of times, people just don’t know where to start. But once you delve into it, most of the required steps are pretty straightforward.
So what are the specifics on how should you go about enhancing SEO on your website? Should you optimize it internally or hire outside experts? Just like many other things in technology marketing, it depends upon several things. It’s important to consider the skills within your company, the competitiveness of your marketplace, and the company’s financial resources.
Search Engine Optimization – It’s Important
To return to our examples from the offline marketing world, remember that how companies conduct their press relations varies widely. Companies with large financial resources and those in fast-moving, competitive markets often hire external PR firms to spearhead their campaigns. This can include expenses in the form of retainers of $10-15K/month or more. For these companies, having outside experts focus on this important activity is considered critical and isn’t given a second thought. Other companies feel more comfortable hiring an in-house PR person, both from a productivity and budgetary perspective. Smaller companies may not be able to hire dedicated PR expertise at all. But they know they need press coverage, so they still find a way to write press releases and promote them on their own. Because they realize that it’s IMPORTANT.
Your methodology for attacking SEO should be evaluated exactly the same way. If you are in a highly competitive market and are flush with money, it may make sense to hire one of the hundreds of agencies focused specifically on search engine marketing to optimize your site. But be careful here, many of these agencies cut corners in SEO and can actually do more harm than good. Other companies may have a webmaster or marketer in-house that has the skills and interest to take on the task. But even if there is no in-house expertise and no budget to hire anyone, by all means, do it in-house. Buy an SEO book or one of the modestly priced SEO analytics software packages available to walk you through it. Do it because it’s IMPORTANT.
What NOT to do in Search Engine Optimization
The one thing I DON’T recommend is to just “throw one-time money at it” and walk away. SEO is an ongoing, critical activity that needs to be managed over the long haul. It is important that someone at a senior level in-house gain enough knowledge about what is important to be able to manage it. Otherwise, you risk really going off the rails, regardless of how you decide to handle the implementation. In particular, avoid the tendency to simply “outsource” activities that management doesn’t understand or isn’t comfortable with.
As I mentioned above, there are a number of “quick fix” artists in digital marketing (especially SEO-focused agencies), who claim to bring you a lot of traffic fast. They use questionable practices (known as “Black Hat”) that can get you in serious trouble with Search Engines. In the long run, this will have the opposite effect from what you are seeking. If you don’t have a senior manager that understands the implications of what’s being done to your website, you can get burned badly.
SEO Recommendations for the Tech CEO
So let’s say that you’re a CEO or other CXO and you’ve decided to “do it in-house”. Or at least have decided to gain a basic understanding of the SEO process. Where to start?
Here’s what I recommend:
- Start BEFORE you put up your initial or refreshed website if at all possible. SEO starts with good, fast infrastructure so that the Search Engines can efficiently find and crawl your great content. If you wait until after the website is up, you’re already behind the 8-ball. It’s much easier to do it right from the beginning.
- Buy and read a popular Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing book. Or take an overview class to become conversant.
- Purchase one of the Search Engine Optimization Software Packages which are available for a few hundred dollars.
- Hire digital marketing or “White Hat” SEO consultants to advise you.
- Have a strategy for continuously new or refreshed content. There are a number of ways to do this, but I often recommend an onsite Blog with educational content that shows off the company’s expertise.
Basic SEO Details
Once you’ve become familiar, here are the important basic steps that you’ll want to make sure to understand:
- Select keywords that are important to your potential clients and your business. Do this by examining your own website and other marketing materials, looking at competitor’s sites, and using tools like the Google Ads Keyword tools. This is a critical part of the process. It is important to select keywords that are both relevant to your business and not so competitive that you aren’t able to appear in the top 6 listings when they are searched.
- Ensure that your Page titles and Page URLs are rich with the selected keywords. This is important and is why new websites should be optimized for search when they are initially built. This often doesn’t happen, unfortunately.
- Make sure to label all images with keyword-rich text.
- Make your main body text “relatively’ keyword-rich. SEO-optimized copy is usually more text-intensive than your graphics-oriented web designers would like. Even though the designers (and senior executives) may think it’s ugly, search engines love text. And in general, only understand (image search notwithstanding) text. Some search engines will completely ignore pages with only small amounts of text. If your pages appear too “clean and pretty”, there’s a fair chance they will be ignored by the search engine bots when they do their indexing. That’s because the search engine is trying to present the most “informative” page and your page may be perceived as lacking information. So you may need to make some compromises between SEO and graphical look and feel.
- Start a “never-ending” campaign to get external websites to create links and generally push traffic to your site. This is critical. Search engines use this as a measure of how “important” your site is relative to your competitors. The more relevant and popular the inbound linking site the website has, the better. Social Media is a great place these days to place articles and drive traffic.
- Make sure you don’t use “Black Hat” methods here (such as buying links) as these can get you completely banned in the search results.
SEO is actually a very complex field with lots of important but mundane technical details. Much more must be done past the basic process I’ve outlined above to optimize your site. But these are the basics and a good starting point. If you run through this process as a senior executive you will be much better prepared. This is important whether the decision is to buy external SEO services or hire experts for your internal staff.
In the Internet age, a Software or Hardware CEO cannot afford to be ignorant about SEO! Leave a comment with your own thoughts or best practices on managing SEO at your tech company.
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