How to get serious about search

First, the most important thing to keep in mind:

Search is something humans do

In the heyday of 1980s sophisti-pop, Martin Fry, leader of the band ABC, explained the reason behind the band’s name in an interview: “We wanted our records to be in first position in the record shops’ racks”. 30 years down the line nothing has changed: brands (and bands) still want to be on 1st row to be found by their consumers or fans. Only the ways they search got way more sophisticated than simply via alphabetical order.

Search is not a digital activity. It is a fundamental human behavior: we navigate the world through search. Only the tools change. It used to be through phone books and maps, it is now through search engines on mobile phones.

In 2015, if people cannot find your brand in search engine results, it simply does not exist. Worse, 90% of them won’t go beyond page 1 of the results. it’s a page-one-or-die game and everyone is playing it, starting with your competitors.

Today we will focus on how to build always-on visibility for your brand across the year, through organic search (i.e non-paid search). There is no single recipe to do it: search optimization is a 360 degrees exercise where every little helps and builds up over time.

How can you do better at this complex exercise? Two things:

  • By identifying the key elements with a simple tool: the Search 360 wheel
  • By evaluating how your brand is performing thanks to this wheel
Key elements of search optimization: the Search 360 wheel

Here’s a simple diagram to give you an overview of the most important elements that will influence your organic search performance. They are a combination of structural and contents-related elements.

1. Search optimization of your website (starting with mobile search)
Is your website easily searchable? Was it built with the right tags and keywords? Is it transparent to search engine ‘spiders’ (those robots that crawl the websphere to index pages)? And most importantly, is it mobile optimized? Since the beginning of 2015, Google de-ranks websites that are not mobile-friendly.

2. Keywords
The most important thing to take care of: use the right keywords, the real words people use to search for your category. You will soon find out that your marketing department is probably talking about your products in a jargon that has nothing to do with normal human being talk. The result is that none of your contents will show up in search. I remember from my past experience some marketing text trying to get you into a machine that “enables you to select your favorite coffee beverage”. Can you tell me who searches for “coffee beverages”? People just want a good cappuccino. Get real.

3. Link building
This has had a bad reputation in the past since, in order for their websites to rank better on Google, some companies tended to create artificial links back to their platform (Google knows how to defeat this now). But it is still true that the more trustworthy sites point to your website, the better you’re ranked.That has a simple implication: the more you manage to get referrals from other websites, the better it is. For example, if you make your PR releases search friendly, using the right keywords and mentioning a URL, chances are media will use these elements in their articles, which will in turn positively influence your ranking.

4. Image search
There are a lot of situations where people search through images. Think about the fashion industry or interior design for example. How are you dealing with image search? How do you label your image files before uploading them to your website? How do you meta-tag them? Did you format them to be best viewed on an image search result page?

5. Video search
Youtube is the 2nd most used search engine after Google. People search for ‘how-to’ there as much as inspiring videos. How do you handle video search? How do you write the video titles? How do you tag them? Do you link back from the videos to your website (that’ll help your ranking again, besides driving traffic to your own pages)?

6. Shopper search
Amazon is more than an e-commerce platform. It’s where the world goes for product reviews. It’s the #1 search engine for shopping. Think of all the elements you can improve on your product pages: from the product title to its description (does it use search friendly keywords, is it complete?), the rich media content (pictures, product videos), the feature descriptions which should be written through a consumer benefit angle. And this magic tool: the comparison table, which can help you drive traffic from a high volume/low margin product to a lower volume/high margin one.

How good is your brand doing?

Now that we’ve covered the main elements, measure yourself.

Here’s a simple exercise to evaluate how good your brand is in search. Grab a coffee with your digital leader and use the Search 360 wheel as a visualizer for your performance on all dimensions.

Keep it simple: for each KPI, color code green if you meet or beat the market benchmark, yellow if you’re just on benchmark +/- 10% and red if you’re performing below. In the example above, the brand is doing very well on keywords but some of its structural components require improvement, and its search performance on shopping platforms is lagging behind.

Such a simple tool will give you at a glance the areas you need your digital marketing team to focus on and improve. As always, easier said than done but fixing the problem starts with making it visible. Print it out A3-size, put it on your wall and review it with your digital team on a monthly basis.

Welcome to the Search 360 world.

TODAY//HOW TO is a collection of mobile-friendly thought pieces demystifying Digital Marketing for Board-level Executives. Views my own.
This article was initially published on LinkedIn Pulse.