Websites should never be built purely to appeal to search engines, but SEO should always be factored in from the very start of planning a new site. While this may seem obvious to some, it rarely happens for one simple reason - Search Engine Optimisation sits in the marketing department and not with IT. As a result, the SEO team is often notified about a new website when marketing plans are started for it, rather than when the site design and architecture planning take place.
The SEO strategy to promote the website then has to change, and the website goes from a beautiful lesson in SEO best practice, into a firefighting exercise. Rather than mapping out the perfect website structure to prevent duplication and give a website the best possible chance of succeeding, consultants have to resort to blocking parts of the new site from search engines and forcing SEO elements into a rigid structure.
As an example; back in 2009, we were asked to oversee the SEO task of migrating the UK's largest insurer to a new domain and brand name. All was going well; we had even gained a double listing at the top of the lucrative [car insurance] search result on Google, until Googlebot realised that the sites were the same. The client was delighted, but our happiness was muted by an essential SEO failing - the client had used two different domains for their corporate and marketing site.
It meant that all of the authoritative links from the London Stock Exchange, global news sites and insurance industry publications, pointed to the .com domain, while all of the revenue generating insurance products sat on a .co.uk domain. Any SEO consultant worth one's salt would be yelling at them to use one domain, and place the UK marketing site in a subfolder under the .com domain, but it was too late at pitch stage to really do what needed to be done, let alone by the time the contracts were signed weeks later.
The value of a link to your website can be calculated by the average time it takes to persuade another site to link to you or to write content for that site, multiplied by the cost of that link acquirer's time and the authority of the linking website. The value of the links into the insurer's .com website would reach into seven figures, and the .co.uk website was relying mostly on the old redirected brand domains to rank in Google.
What's more, the .com website competed against the .co.uk website for brand keyword searches, sending potential insurance customers to the investment and Corporate Social Responsibility content instead. All of this could have been prevented, with cost savings made, by introducing SEO at the start of the conversation and not near the end of the project.
Therefore, there's a strong argument for SEO to be split into two separate and yet symbiotic services - Technical SEO and Competitive SEO.
Technical SEO would sit within the IT team and implement best practice recommendations to the website structure and code - as well as involve themselves in any major website changes from the very start. Their KPIs would focus on the indexability and findability of the client's website.
Competitive SEO would sit within the marketing team, who would be tasked with driving more authority and traffic into the website. It would have more traditional KPIs focussing on organic search referrals, sales and the cost per conversion.
For those of you who have attended a search or digital marketing conference recently, you may feel that the speaker presentations no longer offer the same in depth technical analysis needed to generate insight over the last few years. SEO is no less innovative, fresh or technical than it has been in the past. What’s happened is that SEO marketers with a marketing background are expected to tackle very technical topics. Their skillset lies with the promotional and competitive areas of SEO rather than in technical implementation and understanding.
If you can't understand and adapt the source code of a CMS, manage a web server without a manual, write an HTML page in just a text editor without prompts or use complex regular expressions, you shouldn't be expected to work in or talk about Technical SEO. In the same light, if you ask a Technical SEO how to get a thousand new links for a website, they'll most likely look for an automated way to do it which Google would eventually penalise, rather than create an innovative marketing campaign that brings those links in organically.
By splitting up these responsibilities with independent KPIs and points of contact within a company, SEO can be influential at every stage of a website's life cycle. In return, the client's website will see the maximum possible exposure, visibility and fully benefit from one of the cheapest and highest converting traffic sources available. So next time you put your SEO campaign out to tender, look for an agency offering both a marketing and a technical genius on your account and give them different points of contact within your company, based on their individual skills.
By Rob Kerry, chief strategy officer at Ayima
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