2020 represented a year of change on all aspects—social, economic, behavioral, cultural and digital. One of the results of this change was the increasing demand for SEO services from brands. For many years SEO was an underappreciated channel, for many reasons, such as a lack of experts internally to follow this channel, failure to integrate it into objectives/KPIs and technical challenges.
The journey so far
SEO has evolved in a spectacular way in the last year. It is no longer just the traditional organic listing after paid ads results on Google, it is so much more than that. SEO has many assets. If we take Google as an example, SEO is present on all research aspects: graph knowledge, quick answer, map pack, people also ask, video carousel, mobile and image search. In addition, users have also changed their habits of searching, they no longer search per query only, they do much more. They search videos, they search by voice (asking questions), they search images. Therefore, brands need to optimise all their assets to ensure visibility on relevant searches to gain qualitative visibility and acquire new customers. Moreover, when we talk SEO, a lot of brands think of SEO on only the main search engines. However, the reality of the market is different. New big players such as Amazon have integrated SEO into their visibility and ranking factors.
The ecommerce factor
2020 accelerated ecommerce adoption (by three to five years depending on the region) and big ecommerce players became search engines themselves as a lot of queries (mainly related to products) switched from Google and other generic search engines to marketplaces. For example, Amazon leads searches on many products and according to many sources Amazon has more than a 60% of share of voice on this kind of query. Such demand created big competition on marketplaces for brands and SEO became an important element to optimise in order to be on top of mind. Many assets should be optimised to have good organic visibility; product titles, the buy box, photos and videos, bullet points, product descriptions and customer reviews. Customers like clean pages with precise descriptions, many reviews and clear images in order to spend time on the page and potentially convert.
Banking on content
Another important point about SEO is content. Due to competition on some paid media channels, content became an alternative for many brands to communicate with their audience and to acquire new customers. Content impacts rankings, user experience, brand awareness and discovery of a brand’s identity. All types of contents are to be taken into consideration: SEO-friendly onsite content, offsite content, social media content, partnerships with external publishers, press releases and more. A lot of brands ignored the power of optimised content for many years as the holy grail of search was on paid campaigns, however we are seeing a huge demand on this matter mainly because of the evidence that links content to performance. This performance is related to rankings on search results, time spent, number of new visitors and more.
Besides the elements mentioned above, technical health is important for SEO visibility. In 99% of cases marketers ignore SEO recommendations when building a website, as a result they have low organic visibility and accumulate technical errors. Having a website that you can navigate, does not mean that it is visible and crawlable by search engines. All brands must ensure web pages can be crawled and indexed properly based on business goals. Technical optimisations include structure, UX, schema, page speed and localisation to invest in long-term visibility. It is worth mentioning as well that Google updates its SEO algorithms by adding new ranking factors from time to time, so brands need to be aware of such updates and optimise accordingly.
Furthermore, a lot of tools now can link SEO directly to revenue, which is a huge plus for this channel. For a long time marketers ignored SEO because of revenue estimations, however this is no longer an issue as tools such as Brightedge allow brands to estimate revenue from SEO visibility and spot opportunities on missing keywords. This helps brands estimate incremental revenue attributable to SEO.
To sum up, 2020 helped brands to see the importance of SEO and the necessity of increasing organic visibility on all metasearches: Search engines, marketplaces and video platforms (mainly YouTube). Also, SEO has had a big impact on paid campaigns as it helps to boost spent time on landing pages, reduce bounce rate, increase the quality score for SEM campaigns and increase conversion rate.
Most of brands included SEO in their objectives in 2021, which is a good sign for the industry. It goes without saying that SEO is the largest owned and earned media, and optimising it is necessary for long-term visibility.
Zine Bitat is global search and performance director at Havas Singapore.