With more than 90% of B2B and high-value consumer product purchasing decisions now starting with online research, online visibility is crucial. Companies that seem to be “everywhere” online for specific search phrases, with relevant content, stand an outsized chance of winning the business.
Maximizing online visibility isn’t just a matter of search engine optimization (SEO), though that plays a key role. As prospective buyers look to influential third-party information sources as well as peer reviews in addition to vendor content, disciplines that have traditionally operated in silos (SEO, online advertising, social media, PR) need to work together in a coordinated fashion.
Content that is not coordinated between different functions (e.g., marketing emphasizes customer service while PR talks about new features) is confusing to prospective customers. Content that is re-created independently by different functions rather than created once and then repurposed is a waste of money. And, content that isn’t cross-linked for search optimization purposes is a missed opportunity.
But, as author Lee Odden points out in Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing, “For many companies, it can be very difficult and complex to implement a holistic content marketing and search optimization program.”
How did we get here?
Before talking about the path forward, here’s a quick look back:
Two highly significant but little remarked upon events occurred back in 2008: Internet search surpassed the print Yellow Pages for the first time as the most-used source of information about local businesses, and online sources surpassed print newspapers as the leading source for news. In other words, while the Web was certainly important before that time, 2008 was arguably the year that it became more important than everything else was.
Key developments since then:
- Search engine results pages have evolved from simply 10 blue links to now include images, social results, video and other content.
- Search engine algorithms have also evolved, today placing more value on social and other “earned” links, and less on directories and links from unrelated websites.
- Five of the top 10 most-visited Web properties are search engines, and two others (Facebook and YouTube) incorporate search as a significant element.
- Offline marketing activities have continued to decline: Trade show attendance is down due to high travel costs, and direct mail is less popular because of high postage costs and environmental concerns.
Where we’re evolving to next
Given these developments, online is arguably no longer a component of the marketing mix; itis the marketing mix, and has to be managed as such — in a coordinated manner. Traditional siloed approaches by PR, SEM, advertising, social and other groups in terms of their tools, metrics and activities lead to duplicated or inconsistent efforts and suboptimal results.
The Web presence optimization (WPO) framework (illustrated below) provides an overarching structure for getting professionals in these different specialties on the same page, working in a coordinated manner.
The WPO framework coordinates the efforts of marketing and PR specialists to optimize an organization’s Web presence.
A WPO strategy starts at the base of the diagram with research into:
- the types of information different audiences need,
- how your competitors are approaching the market,
- where your prospects hang out online (e.g., specific LinkedIn groups, industry forums, influential blogs, etc.),
- what terms customers and prospects use when discussing your products or services (keywords), and
- what journalists in your industry are writing about.
Armed with this information, an organization can develop a content strategy in terms of both topics and formats (e.g., whitepapers, video, blog posts, bylined articles, news releases, infographics, etc.).
Once created and optimized, content can be:
- distributed (e.g., sent out over an online wire service, sent directly to journalists or industry analysts, published on a blog, posted to a social network);
- cross-linked (e.g., a whitepaper is linked from a blog post, news release and online ad; the news release also links to the blog post; the blog post includes an embedded YouTube video from the company channel; the YouTube channel points back to the company website, where the whitepaper is featured on the homepage);
- promoted (e.g., highlighted in a blog post, shared on social networks, linked on social bookmarking sites, sent directly to industry influencers, etc.); and finally
- repurposed (for cost efficiency—as an example, a research-based whitepaper could provide content for a couple of blog posts, a literature release, a presentation that could also be uploaded to SlideShare, an infographic, and a bylined article in a trade publication).
Content quality, choice of distribution channels and the extent of promotion (by customers, external brand advocates, key influencers and others outside the company, as well as PR professionals and internal marketing staff) all affect the organization’s level of visibility or “presence” in the press (trade, local and business media), social media, website (organic search), industry (trade association and analyst sites) and paid (online advertising) areas.
Closing the loop with metrics
Nothing can be optimized if it can’t be measured. The Web presence results of these integrated and coordinated activities must be tracked, measured and analyzed in order to optimize.
For example, in the press presence area, one metric that would be monitored indicates an organization’s share-of-Web-presence vis-à-vis its competitors for news coverage on a specific keyword phrase or topic. Then, presence trend metrics show whether this coverage is increasing or decreasing over time. Finally, performance metrics show the quality of website traffic driven from news websites.
These Web presence metrics then feed back as input to strategic and tactical planning processes, helping the various professionals involved make decisions regarding new content topics, format, distribution and promotion.
The end result is optimized Web visibility — making the company as ubiquitous as possible when prospective customers are searching for information about the kinds of products and/or services it and its competitors offer, wherever they are looking online, with relevant and compelling content that ultimately generates leads and sales. Web presence optimization is a framework that can guide a whole team to work in unison to achieve this.