Everyone wants their website to rank well within the search engines. Yet, not everyone knows how to launch an effective program targeting the users within search engines. Maybe this is why so many marketers jump to invest the bulk of their budgets into paid search campaigns without considering additional options for organic placement. This is not to say that paid search efforts are not a necessary component within an effective marketing plan – because they typically are – instead it’s simply to say that organic efforts are often neglected because they are deemed too hard to control and the results are not immediate. While there are certainly guidelines and ‘best practices’ employed within all balanced search engine marketing programs, there are no magic tricks or secret recipes to ensure that your website ranks well. However, every business is different. Managing SEO is an evolving process that can take even the best marketers a few weeks (if not months) to perfect a strategy based on your goals and budget. So why chase an ever-evolving goal of targeting traffic through organic results? Because organic results typically have longer lasting impact than paid media and drive more click-thrus. Conversely, paid media efforts are more focused on achieving short-term goals. For instance, within a day it’s possible to have a paid search campaign launched and your ad showcased within the top 1 or 2 spots. That being said, your ads will only remain viewable by your audience as long as you keep paying for the campaign. Once stopped, the campaign is shut down and you have nothing to show. Clearly this can be an expensive undertaking to continuously budget for paid media. Again, while it is often necessary, we typically recommend coupling paid media efforts with organic opportunities. Generally, we at D4 use paid media to provide an immediate impact in your search placements; but look to (over-time) rely on organic efforts to provide lasting impact. We consider increasing paid media spends on primary areas in which your site is not ranking well and decreasing where you have greater market saturation. While we certainly feel we are fully-capable experts within search, there are a few things that you can do today to ensure that your business or organization is on the right path for optimizing within search engines: 1. Develop a quantifiable plan for SEO: Simply driving more traffic to your homepage may not be the most effective strategy. Focus on the end-goal. Is it to sell more of your products online? Is it to drive more leads to provide you with their contact information? How are you segmenting your traffic that comes to the site? Do they receive different information within a landing page? Having a definitive plan seems like the most obvious strategy, but for many it’s often overlooked or ignored when implementing search tactics. If you don’t know how to succeed, it’s impossible to have expectations on how your team (or your agency) can succeed working for you. 2. Align other business units with your plans for search engine optimization: Too often a lack of alignment ends up undoing the efforts performed by an Agency. For example: Do your copywriters have an understanding of SEO? Make sure they are optimizing the website content with the terms you wish to “own.” Have them leverage free tools such as Google Keyword Planner when they are developing/optimizing content. Make sure content is optimized for humans and not for search engine bots (software). Too often individuals attempt to optimize for search engines in place of people. The result of this is content that is not shared or interacted with (likes, comments, etc.), along with high bounce rates from pages. Bottom line; provide value to your audience. Do you have a social media team? How about a PR company? Ensure they are capitalizing on particular keyword-rich terms and driving back to particular pages within your website. Ensure they are tracking referring in-bound links to your website using analytic tools to monitor performance. Make sure they are delivering your message to your online communities. Does your President or your CEO have a blog? Make sure he/she is focusing on posts using relevant keyword-rich terms, and is consistent in responding to comments (or assign someone who will). Focus on cross-linking with locations inside your website, when appropriate. Do you have an on-site developer? Make sure they understand principles of optimizing your website’s architecture, so they are not in effect hindering the website when updates are made. Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools to make sure there are no broken links, or orphaned pages. Make sure that page data can be crawled and contains appropriate META data. Ensure that the site’s HTML markup is valid and contains the appropriate tags. Integrate all site pages within web analytics applications. Even though Google is making it more challenging to determine the keywords that drive organic traffic, there are plenty of other metrics to follow to determine the success of a program. 3. Focus internal efforts on content marketing and link building: Developing captivating content is not a ‘once-and-done’ affair. It is a continual process. Like most link building efforts, the goal is to ultimately drive users back to your site to perform a task. The important caveat to this is not so much focusing on quantity of links that point back into your site, but rather the quality of these links. When developing content for your audience to view, consider leveraging the following: a. Create a local business listing such as: Google Maps and Yelp b. Leverage social media channels: For example: Develop a Google+ Business page, as content within Google+ ranks higher within Google than other social media channels c. Post a video within YouTube, and link it back to your site within the description d. Post a presentation within Slideshare with link-backs to your site e. Post articles/whitepapers, surveys/polls f. Distribute press releases g. And other locations online that align with your strategy… As search engines (particularly Google) continue to roll out many changes in their ranking algorithms, it will become essential for all stakeholders of a website to play a role in ensuring the success of their site. If you feel overwhelmed by this, challenge your current agency to come up with an actionable plan for optimizing for organic placement within search engines.