Long Term SEO Strategy: Do we ever finish optimising a site?

As we approach the end of a tumultuous year it’s likely that, after reviewing performance, attention will turn to where marketing budgets should be allocated for 2021 or the 2021/22 financial year.

For many businesses the ongoing situation has resulted in financial performance diverging significantly from forecast at the start of the year. It’s therefore likely that decision making this time round may be more drastic than usual with the need to either reduce costs or the opportunity to build upon previously unanticipated rapid growth.

One of the channels which may come under review is that of organic search – influenced through practices which may be grouped under the banned of “SEO”.

For many sites organic represents their largest source of traffic and revenue and, if rankings are currently strong and budgets tight, it may be tempting to see this as “free” traffic which will be there forever and does not require any ongoing investment.

Sure, unlike biddable, with earned channels such as organic search performance is unlikely to drop off a cliff the moment you divert attention but without conscious efforts to maintain standards sessions will stagnate and then slowly decay over time as sites which are actively optimising in the space pull ahead.

In this article we look to answer – do we ever finish optimising a website? And, what happens if I stop focusing on SEO?

Measuring SEO Performance

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What would represent a “fully optimised site”?

True SEO performance can only be measured in terms of the tangible results it drives for a business. Everything else is vanity. Primarily this will be through e-commerce transaction metrics and goal completions which successfully make their way through your conversion funnel. Whilst your exact products, pricing and go to market approach may change the fundamental bottom line of how success will be measured will not.

Many SEO tools will spit out scores reporting on aspects of your optimisation efforts. Does a 10/10 score for my article’s keyword optimisation represent the perfect content and guarantee my web page will rank for target searches? Of course not. Even with the smartest of tools these are arbitrary metrics regardless of whether “target scores” are predefined limits or generated from an analysis of successful websites in a space.

Holistic SEO

Considering individual elements of SEO in isolation from others and even your site’s overall performance across other channels may lead to the “completion” of certain tactics but not of SEO.

A checkbox mindset focusing on individual tactics as opposed to an SEO strategy tends to lead to naive optimisation choices, unnecessary work and short-term decision making by chasing the latest trend rather than considering the experience your site and brand actually offer your targeted audiences.

Whilst each tactic undertaken as part of an SEO campaign should have a goal, with measurable KPIs wherever possible, it is not possible to ever complete a strategy. Sure you can reach 0 broken links, have perfect hreflang attributes and have optimised all your title tags but in isolation each of these mean very little for your organic performance.

SEO is such a broad discipline with an enormous number of factors that contribute to your ranking for any given query, user, location and time combination. Optimising against target scores produced by the latest popular tool or plugin might produce a pretty graph but is unlikely to result in long term success.

Change happens.

The fundamental reason why SEO can never be “completed” is that change happens.

We can’t control Google, our competition or consumer needs and can do very little to directly influence their desires.

SEO Strategy must evolve to the landscape in which you operate and not on a predefined list of tactics. If you aren’t convinced ask yourself the following questions:

Is your audience today the same as it was 5 years ago?

I don’t know about you but I’m not currently spending my time and money in exactly the same ways I was five years ago. Your audience almost certainly aren’t either.

How have expectations changed?

As connection speeds have increased so have demands on them! 

Where we once had product pages with a few thumbnail images and bullet point list of features users now expect detailed photos, details of how they can use the product and the opportunity to ask questions and read product reviews to inform their purchasing decisions.

How has search behaviour changed?

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Your audience’s search behaviour adapts to reflect their changing needs. There is a place for evergreen content but even this must be audited to ensure it is still meeting user needs. If your content is never refreshed it will be outshone by a third-party, either tomorrow or next year.

Opportunities to improve your content can be identified using data provided by tools such as Google Search Console analysing changes in search demand and of course any developments in the market since then.

How has technology changed?

Google’s rendering of JavaScript has improved significantly over recent years resulting in some previously inaccessible content becoming visible.

The devices used to access your website are also continually evolving from Mobilegeddon and the introduction of voice search to mobile first indexing to the capabilities of the latest hot smartphone.

Google is still 10 blue links, right?

Google is no longer 10 blue links. An ever expanding array of SERP features now exist such as People Also Ask and Featured Snippets/Position Zero which both represent threats to organic traffic and opportunities which can be leveraged. Industry specific features also exist and new features are regularly tested.

Clearly creating content to target these features may not be the most exciting tasks for your copywriting or content marketing teams but if you aren’t targeting these elements you are losing out on the opportunity to your competition.

To get a full idea of the real landscape in which a site operates we built a tool we call SERP real estate measures just that – the SERP feature opportunities that exist in your market and the current share of these held by each player.

Do all your competitors stand still?

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One of your competitors could launch their new website tomorrow – transforming their digital marketing performance literally overnight. New competitors also come on board such as in the financial space which has been disrupted by new entrants including challenger banks and fintech startups.

Are all your site releases perfect?

Whilst this one is more tactical than strategic the fact is things break.  

Despite the best efforts of everyone on your marketing, product and development teams a lot can, and unfortunately occasionally does, go wrong which can affect UX and performance. As SEOs we focus intently on sites and are always monitoring performance which means that often we find we’re the first to identify and raise these issues before performance is affected.

Even Google breaks sometimes. A recent bug with regards to how the search engine handles canonicalisation resulted in certain content types dropping out of the index for one of our clients with a noticeable drop in performance.

SEO Strategy Reviews

The above are just a few of the many reasons why undertaking periodical SEO strategy reviews is essential to your long term organic success. Reviewing your long term SEO strategy and refining tactics helps ensure that resources are effectively deployed to drive performance and adapt to the changing landscape in which you compete.