How To Win A US Search Award: The Approach That Helped Us Increase Search Exposure And Win Best In Retail

Columnist Thomas Stern discusses the unique digital struggles retail brands face and how to overcome them with award-winning SEO.

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Last month, the third annual US Search Awards acknowledged the top digital campaigns from agencies and individuals across the search engine marketing industry.

Recognizing Retail Success

Of the 22 award categories honoring top SEM and SEO campaigns and marketers, ZOG Digital (my employer) took home the US Search Award for “Best Use Of Search — Retail” for its SEO campaign with Barefoot Wine. In this column, I’ll explain the approach that allowed us to achieve that success.

Our goal in this campaign was to increase organic traffic and improve search rankings, and, to do this, we leveraged a combination of on-page keyword optimization, off-page link building, social optimization, content development and cross-agency support. With these techniques, we sought to integrate SEO best practices and improve search visibility across all content channels.

Since the campaign launched in 2014, Barefoot Wine’s organic traffic has doubled and achieved the highest volume of organic search traffic in website history. Individual product pages saw more than 100 percent growth over a six-month period, and in some cases grew from being unlisted to ranking on the first page of search results.

To achieve similar success in the digital search landscape, retail brands must first understand their obstacles and opportunities before developing a plan that strategically leverages cross-channel industry gaps. Within retail, it is especially important that brands target content strategies to increase user awareness during key points in the research process, whether the person is in-store or online.

Challenges In Retail SEO

SEO, like any other marketing campaign, should not be deployed unless it solves a problem. Retail brands present a unique challenge to search marketers: they must get consumers to stores and still earn purchases online.

In this way, the consumer journey is actually twofold, and marketers must find a way to approach both problems with smart websites, powerful content and influential links.

If you’re incorporating e-commerce into your digital marketing strategy, you need to have landing pages for each product that offer enough information to stand alone when discovered through results pages but are diverse enough to give a boost to SEO. Duplicate pages, especially for product pages, work against your rankings.

For brick-and-mortar stores, the game changes completely. You must lead customers to the stores by including actions that influence their purchase journey, such as in-store availability and store directions and embedded click-to-call links. Additionally, content optimized for discovery and research can increase trust and help users make decisions in-store by providing key information and reviews.

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s important to know how often search will affect purchases. According to RJ Metrics, November and December bring 30 percent more e-commerce revenue than any other month. More importantly, 78 percent of holiday shoppers will go online to either purchase a gift or research a future purchase in a store.

At its core, having a two-pronged strategy is a necessity for retail SEO success. Tackling both ends with one comprehensive plan is one of the most important factors to an award-winning SEO strategy for retail brands.

Shopping For The Right Retail Solutions

According to Marketing Sherpa, 47 percent of consumers surveyed said they preferred using a search engine to discover new products. This means that SEO must be prioritized to find new customers, especially for brands with an established and expansive reach.

It’s no surprise that ranking high in Google has a positive influence on in-store sales and online orders. A query is more than the search results — it’s a clear indicator that someone is interested in your product and wants more information. Failing to provide users with the right information in the right channel may result in missed opportunities and sales lost to competitors.

Here are the three most effective retail SEO strategies:

  1. Optimizing on-page elements around user intent
  2. Building links with relevant publishers to increase site authority
  3. Developing compelling content that’s focused around targeted keywords and directs users through the customer lifecycle

Each approach requires a deep understanding of industry keyword opportunities and user behavior to be successful. Selecting keywords for page title and body copy should be based on forecasted value and search volume. This way, each page captures important queries that bolster the discovery of your website and earn more clicks.

Marketers should leverage tools and keyword forecasting to identify revenue opportunities through search exposure and focused content. By learning what keyword territory your competitors have yet to tackle, you can discover unique ways to attract customers seeking retail products before your competition.

Keywords do more than just capture search volume — they can tell marketers a lot about user expectations and objectives. When intention is captured in the click, ensure your user experience is streamlined with information relevant to intent and optimized to drive engagement from any device.

Because many retail consumers are searching on the go, responsive design should be used to adjust content to the user’s screen, offering an ideal experience from every device. As of now, only 73 percent of marketers feel their website is mobile-optimized. When 38 percent of consumers say they will not return to a retailer’s website if it’s not mobile-optimized, marketers must prioritize responsive design during design and development in order to keep from losing customers.

Including forecasted keywords during this same process positions each page on a website to grab a valuable new customer. It allows users to research before a purchase from any location, including inside your store. Keep that in mind as you develop your user journey and website content: include concise and informative direction that can close a sale.

Link building is an equally important factor for garnering influence amongst users and search engines. When Google sees that your site is important enough to link on top industry blogs and localized news sites, it gains a lift in search rankings for sales-focused keywords optimized within the post.

If it’s done correctly, your content will be discovered first by consumers ready to buy. Even if users don’t make a purchase online, exposure from search can keep brands top-of-mind for users looking to purchase later.

Connecting Content Media

Select content media based on what an audience responds to best. What works for shampoo brands does not have the same application for the book industry, yet both need to make sales online and in stores.

For example, video tutorials are great for makeup brands to show people interested in beauty just how to use the product best. While video is important for the gaming industry as well, it takes on a different keyword. “Let’s play” videos showcase a person experiencing the game authentically, with webcam reactions included. Understand how users want to interact with your brand, and craft content to meet expectations and drive engagement.

Effective strategies must leverage a cross-channel approach that optimizes content to target specific keywords and provoke engagement based on user behavior in respective channels. A combination of on-page optimization, link building and smart content development allows brands to position their marketing efforts to capture specific audience segments that competitors have overlooked.

Powerful content developed around user behavior can influence action, keeping brands top-of-mind during research and purchase phases and helping consumers search for related products.

Tie your digital engagement to sales to monitor the true ROI of your SEO strategy, and identify industry obstacles and opportunities. While your SEO strategy requires many streamlined components to generate a sale, it is crucial to evaluate each part individually to make adjustments for retail-specific barriers, such as the influence of digital content on in-store sales. Continue to research and analyze consumer behavior to increase relevancy for new and returning customers and to provide content optimized for award-winning exposure and ROI.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Thomas Stern
Thomas Stern oversees the architecture and evolution of our services lines as Chief Innovation Officer at ZOG Digital. He has over 10 years of digital marketing experience through a range of industries like retail, insurance and travel/hospitality. He has been featured in numerous digital marketing publications, has received graduate level internet marketing education and is a board member of Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) Arizona. Follow us on Twitter @ZOGDigital.

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