As we begin 2017, the fusion of the search and content marketing disciplines has become increasingly more evident. A full 89 percent of B2B marketers (PDF) say that they use content marketing, as do 86 percent of B2C marketers, according to the Content Marketing Institute.
Additionally, over 70 percent of marketers in both groups plan on producing more content in the new year than they did in 2016. However, content only has real value if it is found and optimized, and if it converts with effective search marketing.
Research from BrightEdge (my company) found that 51 percent of traffic to websites comes from organic search. Additionally, another 10 percent comes from paid. This means that over 60 percent of the traffic on your site arrives from the search engine results pages (SERPs) alone.
While organic search is the primary driver of website traffic, the role of ads cannot be overlooked. Google has recently been taking initiatives to increase their prominence on the display page.
In early 2016, they eliminated the ads that once appeared along the sides of the SERP. Now, up to four ads may appear on the top of the page before the organic results. For some queries, this pushes the organic results below the fold.
More changes may be ahead for PPC. There has been discussion about the prospect of Google introducing a paid result to the local 3-pack, leaving PPC to play an even larger role in local search. It has become nearly impossible to build an effective strategy for a strong presence on the SERP without coordinating with paid search.
Customers have also become increasingly channel-agnostic. They interact with brands on several different devices via multiple channels, and they are interested in a variety of types of content.
Brands that succeed in 2017 will need to coordinate organic and paid search marketing disciplines and understand how they can work together to build the relationship with customers.
It is important to recognize, as we move into 2017, that the modern customer journey has fragmented. In years past, marketers were able to clearly identify a linear path that people followed as they moved from their first realization that they had a problem that needed to be solved to making a purchase.
The increasing prevalence of digital technology in modern life, however, has shattered this journey into a series of micro touch points — high-intent moments that Google has termed micro-moments.
We are likely all familiar now with the four main categories of micro-moments:
These micro-moments can appear in any order at any point in the buyer’s journey, and they all present opportunities for brands to build relationships with their prospects. The SERP has changed in order to better reflect these micro-moments. Google tries to understand the intent behind a particular query, the micro-moment that fits it best, and the type of content most likely to answer the need of the user.
This is why certain queries are answered by images, others by videos, rich displays or local business listings. For brands to effectively optimize for the modern buyer’s journey, they must also be able to understand the intent that customers have behind their queries and be able to optimize different types of content to meet the needs of consumers throughout this fragmented path.
On the modern customer journey, content, local, and mobile have all converged. Customers’ expectations of content changes from moment to moment, and brands must be prepared to meet their needs. Evangelizing search success and its pivotal position in content, social, mobile and local markets will set you up for personal and professional success in 2017.
To successfully grow the role of organic search within your organization, you must evangelize the practice to others, both cross-departmentally and to those in the C-suite or on your board. To drive further organic search success in 2017, you will need buy-in from those higher in the organization.
It is also critical that people in other departments start understanding the language of SEO so they can incorporate the principles into their work. This is the only way you will be able to develop mature, organization-wide optimization practices. Below I leave you with a few tips for achieving this.
1. Focus on your largest channel — organic search
Use concrete numbers to show your progress and results. Organic search remains the largest channel for most B2B and B2C websites, so focus your efforts here to begin to build a strong case for the value of optimization.
Organic search does not have direct media costs, but it has the potential for high returns while also driving brand awareness in addition to revenue, making it a great starting point for your conversations with others.
As you build your organic channel, use data as your source for the strategy to guide your efforts. Then use the numbers to demonstrate your progress and success to the rest of the organization.
2. Invest in your talent
As the different channels within marketing become more connected with search in the age of the micro-moment and the new customer journey, the value of strong marketers who understand the different channels becomes even more evident.
Your investment should be in both existing employees and new ones. For existing employees, look for both internal and external training opportunities to teach them how the different channels work. Encourage cross-departmental communication and cooperation to provide people with opportunities to grow their skills.
3. Understand the priorities of those in the C-suite
To properly engage the leaders of your organization, you need to align your data and arguments with what the C-suite leaders want to see.
Key data points that interest leaders tend to be the position of your brand against competitors, the value of your marketing efforts, the efficiency of organic search optimization and your ROI.
4. Secure executive sponsorship
Business leaders want to map their strategy to their projected outcomes to allocate budget appropriately. By following the above steps and being able to demonstrate your success, you will build a strong case to secure more budget for your initiatives moving forward.
Use these resources to begin the process of scaling your efforts and further integrating organic search throughout different marketing channels and departments.
5. Focus on overarching digital growth
Succeeding in SEO in 2017 will require brands to put SEO at the core of their organization and Digital Centers of Excellence.
Rather than acting as a standalone department, SEO needs to be integrated with the rest of the brand marketing functions, from PR to SEM. Brands need to recognize the changing customer journey and how those changes impact the strategies used by the organization.
Digital disruption has shifted how customers interact with brands, where they go to seek answers, and how they build relationships with companies. The brands that succeed in moving forward will be the ones that understand the different intent signals of various types of queries. They will know how to optimize all of the content they produce, from videos and images to social posts, to be present for these customers and address their needs during the micro-moment.
The mature organization is one that understands the value of SEO integration: breaking down silos and functioning as a single promotional unit, rather than having it handled by several separate departments. Once brands accomplish this change in mindset, they will be in a position to establish themselves as leaders within their industry and build a strong sales funnel for the modern digital consumer in 2017.
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