What benefits can SEO bring to your business?

September 16, 2020
SCMP Insights
What is SEO and what does it mean to brands?
In short, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), enables search engines to consider your content as “highly relevant to users’ questions”, so that it will select your content as one of the answers for users’ searches.

Search Engine refers to a program that searches for items or a particular website on the internet according to keywords specified by the user. Google, Yahoo, Bing and Baidu are some of the popular global search engines. The search results provided by search engines bring visitors (traffic) to your website.

Optimisation may refer to the continued efforts to improve the quality and volume of visitor traffic redirected from the search engines. These efforts can be generally categorised into two main types: technical SEO, which refers to the set-up and structure of your website; and content SEO, where you design content to fit into the site structure.

Together, the content and structure create relevant exposure on search engines and bring organic visits to your website.

To simplify things, imagine that "technical SEO” refers to nice plates and “content SEO” to the food that is placed on the plates. Together, they create desirable dishes, which are listed on the menu (search engine) for your potential customers to choose, based on their appetites.

Theoretically, if you can control the search results (e.g. increase the number of times your brand shows up as top results) then you can gain more visitor traffic to your website. It is “theoretical” because SEO is not something you can directly control through media budget.

It is the continuous optimisation that helps you “convince” the search engine that your content is relevant, and how you can maximise your organic search opportunities.

If you want to be in control and get quick results by increasing your exposure on search engines, you should consider using paid search or search engine marketing.

SEO requires time and effort, but once you get it right, it will be the channel where you can get free exposure, gain awareness, build trust and drive conversions – regardless of your media budget.

Why is SEO so important for brands and where does it fit into the audience funnel?
The audience funnel – a system that helps to track the different decision-making stages of customers – is not something new to marketers. We plan initiatives across the funnel with various metrics and key performance indicators to evaluate our marketing investments and measure the ROI.

There are clear channel marketing allocations across the audience funnel –branding and awareness initiatives take place in the upper funnel, whereas digital and performance campaigns focus on the mid/lower funnel to capture conversion and drive sales. We have been using this approach for years, if not decades: we rely on the measurable channels specific to the audience funnel to evaluate our success and investment ROIs.

For brand marketers, we invest in brand initiatives to maximise our reach and awareness. Through brand lift studies, brand surveys and focus groups, we measure the changes in brand/ad recall, awareness and purchase intent to evaluate our investments as we promote our brand’s messages and product features in front of our targeted customers.

For performance-driven marketers, we plan omnichannel initiatives and strategically design tracking parameters to measure the impressions, clicks, engagements and conversions, based on the channels that we have invested in.

Yet what about the channel that is across the funnel, with limited tracking and uncertain ROI? Should we consider this in our channel mix? Well, SEO fits perfectly in this scenario.

Organic traffic has very limited tracking, except those defined by your website analytics. Because it is not directly related to paid media, and search engines keep their algorithms a trade secret, there is little in the way of documentation or examples of SEO playbooks, beyond a technical SEO set-up, to explain the science and art of SEO. 

In addition, because it's very user-oriented and highly dependent on search engine algorithms, there is no guaranteed result or industry benchmark to predict your ROI on SEO. Because it is difficult to estimate the ROI, SEO is a channel that often is treated as less important in marketing strategies.

However, the truth is that SEO is an untapped territory. This channel is fair to everyone, regardless of your media budget. SEO is a long-term investment that could benefit your brand across the audience funnel, give you awareness, build trust, generate conversion and drive sales – as long as you are prepared to devote  enough  time and effort and carry out consistent optimisation.

For marketers, the key to SEO success is to invest in relevant content – from the viewpoint of the users. Brands are very good at creating brand messages, but to excel in SEO, they must produce content based on customers’ needs and perspective, which is tailored to the different stages of the audience funnel.