by Raleigh Kung, Digital Marketing Manager

SEO has been among the top marketing buzzwords since the early-2010s. From the emergence of search engines, the idea of deploying keywords on your website to improve your search rankings has been quickly adopted among marketing professionals.

But, while any marketer may say “of course I know SEO,” search engine optimization (and marketing) implementation may very much differ not only between companies, but even between professionals within the same organization. While professionals may follow a common set of best practices, the process to implement those practices, as well as the philosophy behind keyword selection, can differ greatly.

We interviewed our digital marketing manager, Raleigh Kung, about his specific SEO approach and how he’s turned it into a recipe for success.

What is your philosophy of approaching SEO to deliver results?

Commonly, we hear “let’s do SEO” as a request from clients. Typically, this means they want to be more visible online, but not necessarily with a specific goal in mind other than “rank for keywords and generate traffic.”

SEO is a much finer tool than this implies. SEO—specifically the optimization part of this discipline, is to efficiently market the company to a specific set of search terms which define their specialty. It’s not to rank for “all the keywords”—it’s to rank “for the right keywords.” And, to track the visits from organic sources, ensuring that they interact effectively with your website.

These are some of the common questions we ask when assessing if an SEO program is working:

  • Is the reach/volume of a company’s branded keywords’ (their company and/or product names) exceeding or on par with similar competitors? If not, why is this the case?
  • Is a company’s top non-branded keywords an exact representation of the products/services they offer? Conversely, are there products and services in their portfolio that are not represented, or underrepresented, by their keyword data?
  • Finally, are organic visitors interacting with the site’s content and/or are they converting? If there is a higher-than-average bounce rate from their organic visitors, why is this the case, and how can we adjust the on-page content to fix these issues?

(SEO is) not to rank for “all the keywords”—it’s to rank “for the right keywords”.

How do you adapt an SEO strategy to a brand/business/industry/niche?

For niche brands and industries, we begin constructing an SEO strategy by looking at competitors. We audit their competitor’s current online/content marketing strategies, the keywords they may already be ranking for as well as their branded keyword’s reach. This gives us the basic benchmarks for relative visibility within the space or industry.

From there, we construct a combination of a branded/non-branded campaigns based on this data, with the goal of exceeding the market benchmarks over the course of the campaign. Outside of attempting to rank for competitive keywords, we also utilize Google Trends for rising keywords, and create guest posts to increase places where a brand/company’s names can be found.

How should SEO incorporate with the overall marketing strategy?

An overall marketing strategy contains a company’s core selling points—products and services—as well as their key differentiators. The keywords an SEO campaign aims for should align with these exact selling points. For example, if a company is aiming for modern, high-end products, it should not aim for “discount/affordable” as keywords, even if these keywords have a larger search volume.

Above all else, establishing a high relevance between the company and the appropriate keywords they are aiming for, based on their marketing strategy, is vital to an SEO campaign’s success.

What are your most used tools and why?

We use a combination of Google Analytics, Search Console and Trends as our core common toolset, and SEMRush as our primary competitive analysis and keyword research tool. The Google apps provide website traffic, usability and straight-from-the-source keyword data. For SEMRush, this tool allows us to efficiently research competitor websites’ performance, the top keywords being used in the industry and audit the SEO efficiency of content on any page in a site.

How long will it be until we can expect to see results with SEO?

Results from SEO typically come in the form of a statistically significant increase in both absolute and relative volume of traffic from organic sources. While actual time differs between companies and industries, on average, a company can expect to see results between 2-3 months from initiating an SEO campaign.

The first month is dedicated for both research and implementation of keywords. This typically includes changes to on-page content and in some cases, changes to a company’s sitemap. After implementation, the second month is primarily on Google and other search engines to start recognizing the changes made on the site—a process that typically takes between two weeks to a month.

From here, we start to notice ranking changes as well as small organic traffic changes. Based on these results, we further adjust for any targets that are underperforming and conduct follow up content changes on the site. After another round of these edits, at the end of the three months, we perform a macro review of how the site’s traffic and rankings have changed for specific target keywords—and if this new traffic is valuable to the organization, based on user engagement and/or conversion.

How has SEO evolved over the last 5 years?

SEO has shifted to focus more on content relevancy than anything else. Google has introduced changes including geo-specific keyword rankings, among others. These types of updates, namely personalized search results, have changed the game yet again for search.

While search volume and rankings are still primary statistics, the relevancy of a company to the keywords they are ranking for are now more important than ever. This is typically measured by site engagement/conversion from organic sources. Since most people are getting more personalized search results based on their past searches and geographical location, it’s important to measure if these same users meaningfully interact with your website when they visit. And, just as important, if they don’t interact—finding out why and changing content and/or retargeting appropriately.

What role will backlinks play in campaign success?

Backlinks play two roles specifically.

One—they increase the reputation of a website. By having backlinks from reputable sources, such as other highly visible, highly visited websites, Google is more inclined to give your website higher rankings across the board—now seeing your content as “credible.”

Two—they increase the company’s brand reach. Having links in multiple sites not only increases the absolute referral traffic coming through from these sites, but also boosts the frequency of your brand name being mentioned online. As more instances of these appear, there is a correlation for eventual increases in branded search volume. Increases in branded search volume then translates to more organic traffic from branded keywords.