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Yes, I Belong In This Meeting: The Broad Scope Of In-House SEO
As an in-house SEO, where does the legitimate scope of your activities end, and those of somebody else begin? Are you being a useful and valid contributor, or simply poking your nose in where it doesn’t belong? What is rightfully within your scope may surprise you. Successful search engine marketing requires you to collaborate with individuals in diverse roles, and embracing these collaborative opportunities enables you to contribute in numerous ways to the success of your company’s web-based initiatives.
At a fundamental level, you need to engage with a wide variety of people to ensure that a website’s operations, architecture, navigation, design, content and promotion support your search marketing efforts. At another level, those varied interactions, in conjunction with your search expertise, can help improve general website performance, sales and more. As the examples below show, search considerations can make an impact well beyond the requirements of SEO itself.
Search engines value well-structured websites with sensible and consistent navigation schemes. As websites, sections or individual web pages are planned, you will need to work with your information architecture and design teams to ensure what’s produced will support organic search rankings. Internal linking structure, folder and file naming conventions, and page-level architecture all impact your chances of SEO success.
These SEO requirements may, in turn, help improve the general user experience. A site with an inconsistent navigation structure will confuse a human visitor every bit as much – if not more – than it will confuse search crawlers. Just as a search engine robot will reach an indexing impasse when it encounters an orphan page (a page without links to a parent page), a user is also more likely to leave a site when you have pulled up all the ladders. Make sure you have the opportunity to weigh in on these issues.
One perspective you will be able to bring consistently to design considerations is how a site works for lateral traffic. To a surprising degree, much site planning is predicated on top-down navigation, which assumes a user will enter a conversion pathway via the home (or another) page and obediently follow the required click-path. In search, one hopes to return the most relevant page for a query in the search engines results, increasing the chances of a click-through and preventing attrition by requiring multiple clicks. Does this page stand on its own, or does it require an upper-level page for context? Are the calls-to-action sensible if this page is accessed directly? Simply posing these questions can help improve usability.
Even in the absence of paid search traffic, there will always be intersections between SEO and specific marketing campaigns. When a marketing campaign will be rolling out that includes television, radio or print advertising components, you need to be a part of the planning to ensure that there is a target landing page that is optimized and indexed for search terms related to that campaign’s name or primary concepts.
As with most search-related issues, early involvement in marketing campaigns is key, even at the conceptual level. If, for example, your company is promoting a contest in TV or in print, throngs of users will ignore the call-to-action URL and search for the contest by name, brand, key concepts, or a combination of the above. A campaign concept that works well for search should be short, memorable and unique – which are obviously general attributes of successful promotions as well.
At the very earliest stage in campaign planning, keyword research can help provide ideas about words that might resonate with your target audience for a particular promotion. Whether from existing search traffic to your website or from keyword research related to your company’s field, search provides a unfiltered window on how users perceive your brand and the commercial space it occupies. Do not hesitate to share these insights to improve more “traditional” marketing activities.
Landing pages are usually tied to marketing campaigns and, like the campaigns they are associated with, you need to be aware of their existence and their performance, even if they were not designed with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising in mind. Indeed, one of the first questions to ask is if any given landing page could serve as a search advertising target, even if that was not its intended purpose.
For exclusive web-based campaigns – say a promotion limited to visits from a partner site – you need to control the how target pages are indexed or excluded from indexing. It will be a little less exclusive of a campaign if the target landing page begins appearing in the organic search results for relevant keywords.
For campaigns that include indexed pages, what is its lifespan? When will the promotion expire? When it does, what will be done with those landing pages? In another example of top-down navigation bias, it is remarkable how many people believe that removing a link to a page ends its existence: a defunct landing page should be redirected in order to preserve the value of links to that page. If you are unaware of its existence, or blindly rely on others to handle a promotion life cycle correctly, the page could simply end up deleted, and your link equity will evaporate.
Stay on top of landing page performance too, even in the absence of a paid search component. Knowing what works and what doesn’t for landing pages will be invaluable in designing your own (just as banner campaign metrics may aid in paid keyword selection). You may even discover (and this happens more frequently than it should) that those running these campaigns may not be collecting the proper metrics, are not availing themselves of opportunities for testing, or have overlooked some other critical aspect of campaign delivery or measurement. On these occasions you can help improve the general effectiveness of marketing efforts in your organization by weighing in with your experience and expertise.
What can search marketing contribute to merchandising? Isn’t it the job of a search marketer to ensure that users can find your company’s goods and services once they’ve already been selected and put in a (virtual) store window? This last example might seem well beyond the realm of SEO, but again the usefulness of keyword research can extend past pure search-related activities.
Keyword research can provide valuable information on trends relevant to your company. What sort of product-related queries are on the rise? What sort of searches are you seeing fall off, even though your rankings for those queries remains high? Keyword data can help merchandisers get a jump on emerging consumer interests, as well as signaling where interest is faltering. Something as simple as Google Insights for Search and your own search logs can help augment financial metrics and market research for those making merchandising decisions.
Are you even calling your products the right thing? Of course you will have a much easier time optimizing pages for keywords that actually appear there, but at a broader level – you’ll also have better sales success if your products are semantically framed in a way that users understand and expect. A potential customer might hit the back button when confronted with a tub of crushed groundnut, but actually pull out the credit card for a jar of peanut butter.
Merchandising, along with the other areas discussed above, are just examples of the type of web activities in which an in-house SEO should get involved. However regimented or compartmentalized a company’s structure, your SEO efforts will bear the most fruit if you take an expansive view of where you should get involved. And more often than not your involvement will reap benefits that extend past the limited goals of search engine optimization.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.