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Subbuteo PlayerPrepare 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.

Karl Havard

Published 13 May, 2009 by Karl Havard

Karl Havard is a trainer and contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect via LinkedIn.

21 more posts from this author

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Anonymous

This post has helped me to see the carrot at the end of the tunnel. Most SEO is a wild herring chase. I don't see how Google will help Millwall beat Leeds tonight at all.

over 7 years ago

Jonathan Moody

Jonathan Moody, Freelance at Language4Communications

Another interesting post, Karl. You're absolutely right that 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 question is why an increasing number of people are searching on social networks, Twitter, specialist forums or leading blogs before buying a car, taking out a mortgage or booking a holiday?

They want to hear what fellow consumers think about a product or service before making the purchase decision. Car buyers can visit the brand website or even read a car magazine review waxing lyrical about car X’s beautiful lines or superb handling. But what about those annoying problems that sometimes emerge a couple of months after taking delivery of the vehicle – doors that jam, uneven steering or a deficient servicing network? Search social media and find out about these and other issues from people who already own the car. You might also discover that the brand in question has taken the trouble to address these issues in a transparent and honest way. It might even have leveraged the positive comments (which normally outweight the negative ones) to add credibility to their message.

The brand that has the most interesting and helpful information will usually end up the winner. That's why the rest of Barcelona were essential to Messi & Co's goalfest against Athletic Bilbao last night. Whether they will do the same against Man U in two weeks time will be subject to much debate elsewhere!

over 7 years ago

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Sophie Guellard

A very insightful article, but if SEO is the "goal-hanger", then what does that make PPC - a vastly over-paid, one trick pony?!

I agree completely that SEO should no longer simply be about improving web rankings and that digital marketers need to look to the bigger picture. Too many "business blogs" are pointless in their own right and are easily identifiable as being overly keyword-spammy. In fact, SEO has definitely spawned its own literary-style (and genre, even) for digital copywriters and "news feed" generators.

The sheer popularity of social media does seem to point to the fact that digital marketers will need to implement some sort of [hopefully thoughtful] cross channel integration for success in the future. However, in a results driven environment (and especially given the current economic climate) there will no doubt be those individuals and agencies who go for the "quick wins" at the expense of all else.

Twitter, for example, is already suffering at the hands of affiliate spammers who are exploiting and hijacking the trending topics to drive traffic to their sites.

So, what does this mean for the rest of us? As this particular problem is relatively new, it's difficult to tell, but one thing is for sure: Twitter is not going to sit back and let this threaten its user base.

The likely outcome is that using Twitter (and other social media tools) for commercial and marketing purposes becomes harder. However, a joined-up and thoughtful approach to this - albeit time consuming - is a recipe for success, whatever the obstacles. Which takes me full circle to the crucial point that Karl has made - i.e. "the brand that has the most interesting and helpful information will usually end up the winner."

over 7 years ago

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Andy Xhignesse

I enjoy reading your insight Karl, you are keenly aware of how the online communication universe is evolving and expanding and what challenges we face. 

Interesting that we are going back to an observation made recently regarding a 'wholistic' approach, one I hope and trust will remain the more successful means by which 'voices' will gain traction in their respective markets.  I would also humbly offer that, dependant on the scale of an operation and available resources, it may be that SEO is the simplest and most cost effective route to...scoring a goal.  Within the SME space, this can often be the case in my view.  However, I certainly hope that if it is in fact the current situation for a given enterprise, that they are planning to reinvest intelligently to achieve the best outcomes that will ultimatley return handsomely with a comprehensive approach to the development of their presence.  There are many quality companies with excellent products/services, I hope they will receive appropriate guidance and support in their development, the internet can be a great tool to help achieve this.

Here's a question: What ideas do we have that might aid in ensuring these kinds of outcomes?  What actions can be implemented to help the internet 'stay cool'?

Again, thank you for your insight, I look forward to your next contribution.

We're at the edge of the future! 

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Small Business Guest AccessSmall Business Multi-user

Excuse some of my grammar above. It's been a long day.

over 7 years ago

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Anonymous

I obviously misunderstood the analogy. We won and we're going to Wembley - bad luck Leeds, thanks Google. Would you consider crafting your next article around a coming-into-lotsof-money-unexpectedly analogy so I don't have to read SEO blogs any more? If not, a simile or some other rhetorical device would do.

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Small Business Guest AccessSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Andrew, even though you say the post misses, I think we are in fact agreeing. That sounds a bit odd doesn't it?! Keywords are topics of conversation; they're phrases which your radio station uses in a clever way. What you have done is influenced the searcher to use those keywords and by creating your website pages and your presence in social media around these topics of conversation, you've achieved good results. Sounds like some excellent "link" up play. (Can you see what I did there.)

over 7 years ago

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Marketing Influence - Community Builder Blueprint

Nice article and analogy Karl. I agree that Keywords will always be an "important part of any digital marketing strategy". As for page ranking in SEO. It is important to do some good keyword research to really know what are the right keyword phrase to use for your articles.

over 7 years ago

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Creative Box

Yes, SEO is the goal hanger but we all need someone to stick the ball in the back of the net. On the playground, SEO would be picked first followed by content and link builder. Internet Marketing, the attacking midfielder, has a propensity for 'taking his ball home'.

Looser analogies are available.

over 7 years ago

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Dinis Guarda

SEO is not the 'goal hanger' of net marketing, but the most important key distributing midfielder. Actually thinking better I would even say that SEO is not a 'goal hanger' of SEM, it is the most important key distributing player in the game. Let us be honest. It defends, distributes, serves the game and scores and a lot if you do it right! (keeping the football analogy and I am not a football expert, by far...)

With the evolution of the Internet and its challenges SEO is becoming TWO - Total Web Optimisation. The fact is that with the velocity of the Internet and everything related to its processes SEO is no longer just Search Engine Optimisation, it is much more than just about improving rankings for the target keywords for a given website. Whether people realise it or not the bigger picture it is out there, as you say Karl. SEO is more and more complex and it is more about the sum of the Total Web Optimisation processes that any web strategy and effective web presence needs to score. SEO = TWO must now be considered the effective web, search and social media engagement total localised strategy. SEO = TWO must be in sync with all other web and marketing channels, and with its IT, content, localisation and web development complexity and focused on the key topics of conversation and search keyword volumes integrated in effective marketing message (content) in an usability friendly web development  landscape that can deliver great results. Then and because of its relevance, and technical superiority it will get great links, credibility and ultimately business and ROI. And this is something that needs to be done by someone who is much more than a mere "goal hanger". Without any prejudice against goal hangers :)

In your own post you mention precisely all of this. I just think the metaphor is terrible and creates more of a feeling of SEO being the poor parent of SEM, when in fact is more and more the root and the construction that supports the tree, talking about metaphors :)

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Small Business Guest AccessSmall Business Multi-user

Denis, sorry you didn't like the analogy, but I'm pleased the post stimulated a comment from you. I agree about great content and relevance in order to become visible for the associated search terms. The same is true for any content outside of the website, which may reside in the social web. If the content is interesting, fun, of value, it will naturally be referred to (links)by others. However, without the creation of such content (and as you say, created in a technically superior way) the search engines won't rank it. The striker gets no service and can't score.

over 7 years ago

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ser

Great collections

over 7 years ago

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Orchid Box

SEO is Gary Lineker. Sometimes caught offside, but generally an effective goal hanger.

PPC is most definitely Robinho. Hit and miss, it'll cost you whatever. And in the dark cold winters it struggles to make an impression.

Spam is Emile Heskey - everyone has heard of him, seems to get around a bit too much for anyone's liking, and as useless and annoying as anything!

over 7 years ago

Karl Havard

Karl Havard, Chief Strategy Officer at Econsultancy Small Business Guest AccessSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Andrew, thanks for your comments. I've read your article on the Marketing website and I do agree with your "5 year no claims" scenario. i.e. the searcher is far more specific about their needs than just "car insurance" and may have a stronger intent to purchase when presented with the most relevant results.

However, I think there is an assumption that the search engine will present the relevant page on the insurance provider's website, which has be constructed specifically for this search term and this is what will attract the searcher. My personal opinion (and therefore may be different to others) is that the aim of organisations should be to have additional results appear in the search engines, which will be away from their own site. Other content which offers helpful information, tapping into their consumers (ideally advocates) from social media and review sites will help encourage the searcher to explore further and begin to associate a stronger feeling of trust with the insurance provider's brand. Search being the conduit to these various sources of info'.

Then, when they feel comfortable and have made their mind up, the will typically (but not always) go back to search and find the provider's website and purchase. On a last click wins basis, "search" bags the recognition in analytics in the same way Lineker did at Leicester...even though Steve Lynex and Ali Mauchlen (who?!) did most of the graft and craft in midfield. That said Lynex and Mauchlin occasionally bagged themselves...and analytics should show such referrals increasing also.

An interesting point, is the econsultancy site. For me and what we are doing here is conversation and hence social media. Referrals from econsultancy to the Somatica site have increased (as they have to the various blogs)...but interestingly enough, the terms used in natural search also reflect the content of these posts. Keywords and conversation topics are the same thing. People articulating their own thoughts.

about 7 years ago

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chris

about 7 years ago

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