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How to Fit SEO Into Your Marketing Strategy



How to Fit SEO Into Your Marketing Strategy

As digital marketing specialists, it’s easy to “have the blinkers on” and focus solely on the channel or channels nearest to your heart.

In my case, this is SEO. Having worked with several businesses and top brands over the past few years, I’ve learned that some specialists and marketing generalists are:

  • Cannibalizing efforts between channels.
  • Undervaluing organic search as a channel.
  • Failing to align SEO with other disciplines effectively.

In this guide, I’ll explain why you should include SEO in your marketing strategy. I’ll also explain how you can align SEO with other disciplines—from PPC to brand building.

How SEO helps you achieve strategic marketing objectives

Getting the “buy-in” for SEO investment can be tricky. In some businesses, this can lead to SEO being underutilized through a lack of investment and implementation. Here are four reasons why SEO should receive the focus it deserves.

You don’t have to pay per click

SEO is seen by many as an “always on” channel. It can take substantial investment to get going and some patience to see a return. However, once you build up your rankings, you’ll receive traffic essentially for “free” (no additional cost per click).

With SEO, a drop in spending won’t lead to losing all your traffic overnight. Paid advertising, on the other hand, is seen as a tap because you can switch the spending (and subsequently the traffic you receive) on and off.

Organic traffic is relatively sustainable

In SEO, you have to be in it for the long game. Unless you hold the brand authority of Wikipedia or Amazon, it’s hard to gain quality traffic overnight. 

Once you build up your rankings through a solid SEO strategy, the rewards are often here to stay without the need for continuous spending and reinvestment. This makes SEO more like a waterfall than a tap.

Organic traffic is continuous like a waterfall; traffic acquired via PPC can be turned on and off like a water tap

Building a sustainable stream of high-quality organic traffic to your website could be the difference between your business surviving or not surviving economic uncertainties. In challenging financial periods such as recessions, marketing budgets often get slashed, leaving channels like PPC stranded. With solid SEO foundations, however, you’ll continue to acquire users organically, even if you decide to tighten your budget for a short while.

That said, I don’t recommend making cuts to SEO budgets. Continuing your SEO efforts will ensure you are in the best position to steal an edge over your competitors.

SEO is targeted

Results served via organic search are inherently relevant to the query that is searched for by the user. This means you are serving your users a piece of content they want to see through organic search. The algorithm isn’t always 100% perfect, but it’s fair to say that Google does a great job ranking relevant organic search results.

The keyword also tells us a lot of information about what the user is looking to find. This allows us to target potential customers looking for our product or service.

Let’s say, for example, you run an online shop selling discounted football kits. Among several other search terms, you’ll be very interested in attracting potential customers searching for “cheap football kits.”

From this search term alone, we know that the users who search for this keyword want what we sell. Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we can also see that the keyword “cheap football kits” attracts 6,300 searches per month (globally).

Overview of "cheap football kits," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Alternative channels, on the other hand, are a lot less straightforward. In paid search, there are instances where Google may place your result for unwanted search terms.

From 2018, targeting paid keywords via “exact match” means you will appear for other search terms that Google decides have the “same meaning” as the targeted term. Therefore, “exact match” targeting isn’t really an exact match anymore. And it gets worse with broader targeting options.

Ability to target users at various stages in the funnel

In SEO, you’re not just limited to targeting users at one stage of the marketing funnel. The ability to target potential customers through informational blog content and transactional product/service-focused landing pages is what makes SEO both exciting and lucrative.

People use Google regularly to search for:

  • Answers to questions (informational search).
  • Solutions to problems (informational or transactional search).
  • Products or services (transactional search).
  • A specific website (navigational search).

SEOs can target all of the above by creating different types of content to suit the users’ needs determined by the keywords they are searching for.

Let’s say, for example, I run an online store selling kayaks. Here’s how we can target customers at various funnel stages through different types of content. 

Target keywords across the marketing funnel (stages include awareness, research, service or product, and brand)

For keywords such as “how to store a kayak” and “what size kayak do I need,” we are best suited to rank for these queries by providing dedicated informational content. 

Sure, the user may not be in a position to purchase a kayak right away. But now that we’ve helped them out, they may come back to us when they are ready to make a purchase.

For users searching “kayaks for sale,” we know from the search term that they are potentially looking to make a purchase right away. In this case, a product page best suits their needs, allowing users to make a swift purchase. 

Don’t fall into the trap of assuming the type of content based on the query alone, though. Remember that Google is a bot, and your idea of a page that meets the users’ needs and Google’s idea could be completely different.

This is why you should always manually check Google’s search results to confirm the best page type (or page template) that Google likes to serve for your targeted keyword.

Using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, simply enter your keyword and scroll down to the “SERP overview” to see what kind of pages are ranking. This method is great for seeing the search results alongside useful backlink and keyword data. 

SERP overview for the keyword "kayaks for sale," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Aligning SEO with other disciplines

Specialists can be guilty of becoming isolated from other channels. Often, you’ll hear debates about one discipline versus another, such as SEO vs. PPC. The reality is that having multiple strong-performing channels is vital for business success, and there’s often more opportunity to align than most specialists realize.

SEO and brand building/traditional advertising

Traditional advertising, such as TV, radio, and billboard advertising, can create a lot of search demand. How often within a TV advert are we prompted to “search” for a brand name or a product? 

The SEO team can ensure you are maximizing “SERP real estate” by being an entity in the Knowledge Graph and targeting search features such as People Also Ask. Furthermore, the SEO team can ensure all applicable content is up to date and well optimized.

Another area where the SEO department can help out traditional marketers is by using organic search to assist in market share calculations. Calculating market share is tricky, and the SEO team can help you calculate it through a metric called “share of search.”

At the EffWorks Global 2020 event hosted by IPA (a U.K. trade body), effectiveness guru Les Binet shared how he was experimenting with “share of search” to predict market share “sometimes up to a year ahead.” Les described the metric as a fast and predictive measure for short- and long-term ad effects. 

This metric looks specifically at branded, organic search volume data. To calculate your “share of search,” you divide the total search volume of your brand against the total search volume of all brands in your niche (including your own).

Equation of Les Binet's "share of search"

For example, I’ve taken five popular U.S. donut brands and put them into Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Respective search volumes of five major U.S. donut brands, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

We can see that Dunkin Donuts is by far and away the most popular, with a 69% market share across these five brands (8.3 million/12 million).

Of course, there are more than five big donut brands in the U.S. The more expansive you go with your list, the more accurate your calculation will be.

SEO and paid search

Both SEO and paid search teams work with keywords a lot. This provides the perfect opportunity for sharing resources, particularly those keyword research files that often take hours to compile. But it’s not just about the keyword data. Sharing analytics data between teams is also useful, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and other metrics.

As highlighted earlier in this article, PPC is instant, whereas SEO requires more of a “runway” to achieve results. This is the exact reason that these two teams should align on strategy. 

Let’s say you have identified some top new keywords to target and want to gain traffic via these keywords right away. While you wait for your optimized content to be crawled by Google, to mature, and to subsequently rank, the PPC team can immediately acquire traffic for these keywords.

Acquire traffic instantly via PPC during the "SEO runway" period

Once you are through the “SEO runway” and generating organic traffic for these keywords, the PPC team may then consider moving the spending to alternative keywords to generate organic traffic.

A common question is, “Should PPC target keywords that already perform well in SEO?” There is no right or wrong answer to this question, as all approaches have pros and cons.

By targeting the same keywords through SEO and PPC, you are holding two results competing against each other. Many believe this is a good thing, as it leads to more SERP “real estate,” which ultimately leads to more clicks overall. 

That said, you will inevitably be paying for some clicks you would have already received for free through the organic result. This leads to a drop in organic traffic for the respective keywords.

Jamie’s verdict

I always review this on a case-by-case basis. More often than not, my recommendation is not to target the same keywords through both SEO and PPC. It’s impossible to rank in position #1 organically for all relevant keywords to your business. So I find it more effective to avoid the overlap and ensure PPC teams are using their budget to target keywords that are yet to rank or are underperforming in SEO. 

That said, if certain keywords are critical to a business, then there is certainly a business case to go for “SERP dominance” and target through both SEO and PPC.

Successful PPC campaigns can also indirectly have a positive impact on SEO. Backlinks are a key ranking factor in SEO. The more visibility your content receives, the more likely people are to link to your site. In the video below, Ahrefs’ Sam Oh explains how PPC advertising can help build those all-important links.

SEO and UX

SEOs and user experience teams have been prone to the odd fallout over strategy. In modern SEO, however, the two teams should be more aligned than ever.

Shady tactics that game the algorithm and offer a poor experience no longer work in SEO. Google’s algorithm is now much more advanced and looks to reward high-quality websites that provide a good experience to their users.

There are several user experience factors that influence SEO. Mobile optimization is one of the more prominent examples.

Most web users now use a mobile device instead of a desktop or tablet. This is reflected in Google’s algorithm, with mobile usability being an important ranking factor. Google will also predominantly crawl the mobile version of your website.

Another UX optimization, which is also a ranking signal in SEO, is page speed.

Page speed, albeit more of a minor ranking signal, is used in the algorithm and is more important than ever in SEO following the introduction of Core Web Vitals as a ranking factor in 2021. Core Web Vitals focus on three key metrics that have a big impact on the experience of the user. Largest Contentful Paint (loading), First Input Delay (interactivity), and Cumulative Layout Shift (visual stability).

Both Core Web Vitals and mobile friendliness fall under Google’s “Page Experience” set of ranking signals. This also includes site security via SSL certification (HTTPS over HTTP) and not displaying intrusive interstitials (pop-ups).

Google's search signals for Page Experience

A third key optimization used in both UX and SEO is site structure. Ensuring your content is organized and internally linked helps users and bots discover your content.

Keen to hear more about the importance of site structure for both UX and SEO? Be sure to check out our Michal Pecánek’s guide to website structure.

Bonus tip

Breadcrumbs are great for user experience. They allow users (and bots) to navigate through the site’s structure easily.

Breadcrumb linking is an aspect of internal linking that is undervalued. Breadcrumb links are highly effective at passing PageRank due to their prominent on-page location.

SEO and PR

Public relations (PR) can have a significant influence on SEO performance. So much so that SEOs have formed digital PR (DPR or sometimes “SEO PR”), a spin-off of traditional PR designed to focus on the areas that benefit SEO the most. 

While similar to traditional PR, DPR is more focused on building backlinks and growing brand awareness through online publications.

Pie chart showing differences and overlapping aspect of traditional PR and digital PR

Link building is one of three key pillars in SEO. What sets DPR link building apart from the rest is that you build links from authoritative publications in a natural, “white hat,” and high-quality way.

SEOs, PRs, or DPRs can align with traditional PR teams by sharing media lists (often journalist contacts) and data. This allows for more efficiency as they work toward their respective goals.

Bonus tip

Be aware that PR experts can be territorial when it comes to outreach, but this is perfectly understandable. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes. They won’t want us to dive in and ruin relationships they have spent a lot of time building.

So how can we go about this? My colleague, Charlotte Crowther, who is the digital PR manager at Kaizen, shares her top three tips to ease this situation:

  1. Remind traditional PRs of the shared interests Although we may have slightly different KPIs, we are working toward the same goal: getting the best coverage for our business.
  2. Give them more of an understanding of our process – Being transparent about processes can help ease concerns. Despite having PR in the name, DPRs approach things quite differently from traditional PRs.
  3. Set out the rules from the very beginning Starting the relationship with strong communication from the very beginning will help create any required workarounds, avoiding potential bumps in the road at every turn caused by a lack of communication.

Here’s an example of how you can build natural, high-quality backlinks through exciting digital PR campaigns.

At Kaizen, we worked with the folks at the startup, DirectlyApply. They tasked us with a link building campaign amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enter Susan, the future of the remote worker. Susan is a shocking 3D model of a remote worker’s appearance after staying at home for 25 years.

Visualization of Susan, the future remote worker alongside examples of media coverage

Susan was the talk of the U.K., with several media outlets talking about the physical impacts of working from home. The campaign resulted in over 200 backlinks and over 400 pieces of coverage.

Graph showing backlinks built following email outreach; initial spike in backlinks acquired is followed by a stable increase
Image from the Overview report, via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Not only did this campaign generate those all-important backlinks, but it also drove huge traction on social media. Susan generated over 60,000 shares, raising brand awareness even further.

SEO and social media

You might assume that SEO and social media teams have little in common. But there are tons of ways these teams should work together.

Social media is a great way to get eyes on your site, whether it be traditional social media sites (such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) or video marketing sites (such as YouTube and TikTok). Similarly to all channels, the more people we have reading our content, the more likely we will naturally build relevant backlinks.

Social media is great for generating that initial “buzz” around new content and directing traffic to our pages. Rand Fishkin calls this the “spike of hope.” After a short while, however, this excitement wanes and clicks dry up, leading to the “flatline of nope.”

The initial spike in traffic is followed by an immediate drop-off

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s how social media marketing works. You focus on one piece of content and move on to the next exciting piece of content quickly.

That’s precisely why these two channels should be working together to avoid the “spike of hope, flatline of nope” scenario. The social media team is on hand to deliver that instant boost in traffic for new content. Then the SEO team is on hand to provide consistent traffic.

Initial spike in traffic is followed by a consistent stream of traffic that's acquired organically

Not all content intended for SEO will instantly be guaranteed success on socials. Campaigns led by DPRs, however, are often exciting, engaging, and shareable. Keeping DPRs involved in this relationship is beneficial for social media teams, as they can boost these campaigns through social media and reformat future content for social channels.

Looking to acquire traffic through Google Discover? In Michal’s blog on this topic, he discusses the correlation between posts that get traction on social media and those that perform well on Google Discover.

In a quirky social media test, JR Oakes encouraged his followers to engage in a low-quality post, receiving over 100 retweets, 50+ likes, and many replies. The result? JR’s article indeed landed in Google Discover.

Correlation does not equal causation, of course. That said, there’s no harm in giving your SEO content that extra boost through social media.

Final thoughts

We’ve seen how SEO can interact and work with other marketing channels and how important strong alignment is in today’s omnichannel marketing world.

It’s important to remember that all channels are working toward driving growth for your business. So working together well will bring out the best in each channel for optimal growth.

Key takeaways:

  • Align your SEO efforts with your strategic objectives
  • Use “share of search” as a predictive metric to calculate market share
  • Lean on PPC and social media to generate traffic during the “SEO runway” period
  • SEO and UX teams have a lot more in common in modern times
  • Ensure traditional PR and DPR teams are on the same page

Have any questions? Ping me on Twitter and let me know.

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results




Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary




Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.

Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve



How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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