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10 reasons why SEO is about more than keywords

“We’re no longer number one on Google!”

It’s a statement I hear on a daily basis. I also regularly hear phrases such as, ‘we’ve been hit with a Google penalty’ or ‘we lost search engine visibility after our website design’.

At SCL, people come to see me for a variety of reasons but there is usually one thing they want to talk about, and that’s keywords.

If you want to be found on the internet keywords are important but, in reality, they are a means to an end.  To run an effective marketing campaign that increases search engine ranking, there are actually several elements that you should take into consideration.

Here are 10 key factors any effective marketer needs to address if they want to enjoy success with Google, or any other search engine:

1)      Objectives

Being clear on your objectives is the most important thing. This may seem obvious but when most marketers start the conversation by focusing on keywords, it’s worth remembering that a good ranking is only worthwhile if it serves your objective.

Some marketers have very specific targets which vary from industry to industry. A travel company may be looking to increase revenue from a certain destination by 25%, or a college may want to see course registrations rise by 10%. Those objectives have to be the primary focus of any campaign. They often result in a broader range of keywords being targeted – rather than generic keywords which can take longer to influence.

2)      Audience

To drive relevant website traffic and reduce window shoppers, content needs to be targeted to the right audience. A travel brand trying to rent its villas to the over 60s market, will need a different approach to one focused on the 18-30s market.

Marketers need to think about the specific needs of the customer. A manufacturer, for example, may need lots of content to answer support specific queries around the use of their products.

Considering the target audience is also important off-site, as it will determine the bloggers, publishers and social networks with which you engage.

3)      Measurement

A key factor in running a successful SEO/digital marketing campaign is to measure all interactions which are happening on your website. Key performance indicators (KPIs) will need to be set up and aligned with your marketing objectives - otherwise you will have no idea what success looks like.

As well as defining KPIs, the integrity of the data needs to be validated. This will ensure that your PPC traffic is not being attributed to the SEO channel. If the user journey spans multiple sub-domains, you’ll also want to make sure all pages in that journey are tagged up. This will allow you to build out a user profile and understand the visitors using your website.

4)      Data driven strategy                                          

Digital analytics is vital for any marketing campaign, and offers crucial insights into the customer journey. Smart analysis will tell you what type of visitor is driving the most engagement on your website – it may be men over 50 years of age or women under 30. You can also see what is driving their behaviour – it may be natural search or display advertising.

From an SEO perspective, the data provided will determine which keywords to target, what content to produce and when. Ultimately, it will help to drive your strategy.

5)      Planning

Working to a schedule is vital, especially if your business has a seasonal element such as selling summer wear or Christmas gifts. You can, of course, put relevant content on your site at any time of the year and it will have value, but this is only part one of your strategy. Part two, the off-site promotional work, which is likely to generate the inbound links you desire, needs to be done in a timely manner.

As a side note, from a technical perspective, it would be best to keep these seasonal pages live all year. Websites which produce a new seasonal page each year are missing a trick as they lose the page history and link equity previously generated.

6)      Technical elements

If you are not set up technically, you are set up to fail. Having the best content in the world offers no guarantee of success if the website is failing. One of the first things I do with a client is an SEO audit. This is like an MOT for your website. It removes barriers - everything is tagged up properly which ensures that everything is visible.

A technical inspection also examines other aspects such as the mobile experience. If mobile pages are not fast or smooth running they will impact on the likelihood that links will be shared naturally.

7)      Content

If you are not producing enough great content, you risk being left behind by competitors. Google’s whole ethos is about making content easily available, and it wants to provide end users with the best possible results.

Marketers also need to produce different types of content to ensure it is visible to customers at every stage of the buying cycle. A good rule of thumb - if your customers like your content, Google will like your content.

8)      Influential relationships

SEO is no longer just about the quantity of links, it’s about the quality of the links. In that respect it has become really important to build relationships and engage with relevant influencers who can provide those links.

Whether they provide ‘follow’ links, which offer direct SEO value, or ‘no-follow’ links, which have no direct SEO value, these relationship are still important. This is because when influential people talk about your brand, it provides lots of social signals - as people share or retweet what they are saying.

9)      Integration

Modern SEO is about generating links naturally rather than artificially, and that means intertwining marketing channels. Organisations often have different agencies managing and supplying their social media activities, content and PR. This means that someone has to act as the glue that holds everything together – this is often the central marketing team.

Left alone, each agency can have an impact on SEO but when they collaborate the impact will be greater than their individual contributions.

10)   Long term approach

Organisations will always be tempted to go for quick wins. They will pay for editorial content and links to appear, but this is a very grey area. If you sponsor a link this should be declared under UK law. If you rely on particular tactics to build ‘follow’ links, and Google classifies them as being ‘unnatural’, you run a high risk of incurring a penalty - which can be devastating from an SEO as well as a brand perspective.

When links are attracted at an accelerated rate Google will expect to see a corresponding uplift in social signals and press activity. These different signals combined tell Google that the links are natural and that this has been a result of an effective marketing campaign. So it is better to do things properly from the start, and think of the long term goals rather than short term gains.


Ranking for generic keywords will undoubtedly help increase visibility on search engines but, if SEO is to result in success, marketers need to address several other contributory elements.

Every bit plays its part. You can’t just focus on the content and forget about the technical side – if your content is to be easily accessible you need to have a well-structured website. Measurement is also essential but you can’t concentrate on this and neglect those influential relationships which are going to help you build up online authority.

It’s not about one thing, it’s about everything!