Prepare yourself for a very loose football analogy... apologies in advance. If natural search (SEO) were a football player, I bet it would be the guy who hangs around the 6 yard box tapping in the goals.
The goal hanger may not be contributing much to the build up play, yet is happy to take all the plaudits for scoring; happy to receive the player of the month awards and can be seen regularly signing autographs.
Why am I saying this? It's no fault of the player. In fact, without him the team would not achieve the same results and he is absolutely instrumental to achieving the overall success. But what about all the craft and skill of the build up play? The hard tackling and running off the ball to help win back possession? A lot of this usually goes unnoticed.
I'm no longer convinced the SEO goal hanger should be the player to receive all the glory and recognition. I believe this is a short coming of the way the industry measures the success of digital marketing channels as a whole. If the last click gets the credit, then natural search (predominantly Google) will win more often than not. But what about all the other clever stuff that influenced the behaviour of the searcher? It maybe, due to the way online channels are measured, that some key business investments may be out of kilter with what really works. Consider this....
Search Engine Optimisation, the ability to be visible in the natural search results for the relevant keywords for your business has been, still is and most probably will always be an important part of any digital marketing strategy.
However, all search engines do in the simplest of terms, is present the searcher with what they feel are the most relevant, credible and trustworthy places associated with their keyword or phrase. BUT, what is it that makes the searcher firstly look for something; and secondly, enter the keyword or phrase that they feel closely matches what they are looking to find?
There will be a number of sources that will have had an influence ranging from advertising (online and offline) through email, to conversations with friends. The latter probably having the strongest influence as information is coming from trusted sources as opposed to marketing messaging from the brand.
Expanding upon the conversational aspect and applying this to the social web and considering consumer research behaviour, a lot more can now be achieved to help the SEO goal hanger bang a few more goals in. If you have a social media engagement strategy which offers valuable information, in sync with your brand personality and creates awareness and interest in your organisation; you should be able to achieve additional results in the natural search rankings for the various keywords and phrases. After all a keyword or phrase (search term) is really conversational content.
By creating and contributing to blogs in a genuine and meaningful way (and not just posting links in comments... you know who you are!); likewise in forums, Twitter, Digg, Friendfeed etc. the ability to now hold all 10 natural search results on page one of Google, for your targeted key terms can become a reality. SEO is no longer just about improving your rankings for you website, or it shouldn't be. The bigger picture should now be considered and an effective social media engagement strategy, in sync with your other marketing channels, focused on the key topics of conversation and search volumes can deliver great results.
Consumer behaviour, and I would take a chance and say we've all done this, is to research a topic of interest through search engines. The research journey will include review sites, social media sites, competitor sites, and we'll probably go back to the search engine several times in this journey. The brand that has the most interesting and helpful information will usually end up the winner.
Our final port of call will be to find the brand's website and typically achieve this through natural search. Of course, measurement will show natural search is achieving great results, even better than before, hence the value of the SEO goal hanger increases. However, look at the number of crosses coming into the box and who is providing them; this then maybe a way to place a tangible value on social media.