When it comes to digital marketing, SEO is considered one of the most valuable tactics as well as one of the most complex.
During my time working as an SEO, I’ve had to navigate an ever-changing landscape filled with algorithm updates, shifting best practices, and constant innovations. This presents a series of unique opportunities that not only affect my day-to-day as an SEO, but can provide valuable lessons to any digital marketer. Here are some valuable strategies to tackle some of the most common SEO challenges today.
Challenge 1: Educating the Client
Whenever you are working with a client in the digital marketing space, and you plan on using SEO as one of your strategies, it’s essential to be both transparent, and actively educational, when informing the client on your approach.
Many professionals don’t know what SEO even is, and those who do often have an idea of SEO that is either outdated, incorrect, or potentially disastrous to their business efforts.
That’s why education is such an important part of SEO. While there are many factors that inform good SEO, providing a beginner’s guide to a client is a great way for them to know what tactics work, and why.
It’s one thing to promise “a boost in rankings” but it’s quite another to point out that content is the most important way to improve SEO, that backlinks can help (when they come from high-authority, relevant sites), and that technical fixes can help (but your site doesn’t have to be perfect to perform well).
As marketers, it can be hard to show the value of the services we provide, and what we accomplish. But the more our clients know about the marketing world, the more they can see the true value it entails.
Once your client knows what the elements are, they can be more confident that you are following them, and ask informed questions when determining the success of your campaigns. It makes your job easier as a marketer, and allows the client to have some agency.
Challenge 2: Proper Reporting (or the Danger of Vanity Metrics)
The education process never ends, which is why reporting is an essential aspect of every campaign, especially SEO work. That’s your way of letting a client hold you accountable for what you are delivering, while also tracking which tactics are working and which aren’t.
While SEO develops slower than many other digital marketing initiatives, its effect can still be very powerful. But many marketers and agencies can fall into an easy trap—focusing on positive-trending, but ultimately low-value data points, while downplaying other metrics that might better assess their true ROI.
They’re “vanity metrics”—data points that can have impact, but whose importance are often overemphasized to make a campaign look more successful than it actually is.
When you are tracking or reporting performance, it’s essential to avoid focusing on those vanity metrics, and instead look at what will actually lead to success for the client.
When implemented properly, SEO leads to a waterfall effect. If you rank for more keywords, those keywords bring in more traffic, and that traffic leads to more conversions. But at the end of the day, conversions matter more than traffic, keywords, or any other data point. If you bring in 1,000 page views, ranking for 10,000 keywords, and it leads to nine conversions, that’s less valuable than bringing in 100 page views from 30 keywords leading to ten conversions.
So while it’s useful to report traffic and keywords (and especially page one keywords, as any keyword outside of the first page of Google is unlikely to be clicked on), it’s important to emphasize conversions when you report to your client. That’s where they see what their investment is bringing, and where you show true accountability.
Challenge 3: Clients Who Want Quick Fixes
Another common challenge marketers face is dealing with clients who expect quick fixes or immediate results. Unlike paid search, organic results take time to show results. There are no quick solutions for quality SEO, these types of fixes have no real long term value.
I like to tell clients to think of paid search like investing in the stock market: you can move money quickly and see gains or losses in almost real-time. While SEO is like putting money in a mutual fund: slowly growing at a steady rate.
Or to use another metaphor, SEO is like having a giant house plant. You have to water it continuously, but if you do, it will always grow.
Keep in mind—the top three qualities search engines look for are age, size, and popularity. All of these aspects take time to build and recognize. Although building hundreds of pages of content in a short amount of time will increase your page count, it won’t add any long term value. You have to grow and maintain your site with an eye on SEO to make sure that months down the line, you’ll start seeing the fruits of your labor.
The biggest piece of advice for you is to educate your clients. Let them know there is an easy way to do things or the right way to do things. Rather than looking for an easy way to boost organic results, take time to build a quality SEO strategy built around content users would actually want to read.
Challenge 4: Increased Security Risks
As with many digital channels, increased security risks pose a threat to organic success. With more information being shared online every day, hackers have more incentive to get through security.
The easiest way to mitigate this is to make your site secure. While this used to be “suggested” by Google, it’s now pretty clear that you are unlikely to rank if you do not have a properly secured site. The good news is that securing your site is a relatively easy and inexpensive process.
While most new sites automatically have this security in place, if you have an older site (specifically one that begins with “http://” instead of “https://”) you will want to make sure to upgrade your security to avoid these risks (and help your SEO rank).
The first step is to purchase an SSL certificate. Next, all links within your site need to be updated to HTTPS.
Once all other settings are configured, browsers will recognize the SSL certificate that is linked to your domain and will label your site as secure. You should also complete a thorough check of your website to identify any weak points and devise a plan to take appropriate measures to reduce any security risks. Currently, non-secure sites are called out with a warning in the address bar, and the lack of a secure site can actively cause other, more secure, sites to rank higher than your page.
While there are literally hundreds of ranking factors that can impact SEO, and your site’s ability to properly market your business, security is one of the most important, and easiest ways to optimize your site.
Challenge 5: Keeping Up With Mobile
Just like with a desktop, load speed is important on a mobile device. Faster sites are likely to rank higher when it comes to mobile searches.
For a while, the best way to optimize your mobile experience was with the use of accelerated mobile pages, or AMP—mobile optimized pages of content. They provide a better user experience and load faster.AMP pages used to be given preferential treatment, but that is no longer the case.
The downside to AMP pages was that they required, essentially, making two completely different websites instead of just one. While having a fast mobile site is essential, there are now, thankfully, many ways you can optimize your mobile page speed without using AMP.
Mobile performance will always be important. Starting in 2018, Google began rolling out mobile-first indexing. This basically means Google ranks based on the mobile version of content, rather than the desktop version. While this could affect your SEO strategy, it’s also been a slow process—today many pages still haven’t switched to mobile-first indexing.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on optimizing your mobile performance. In fact, mobile will only continue to be more important than ever. In the 4th quarter of 2021, 54% of all internet usage occurred on a mobile device. In 2019, that number was just 47%, so it’s likely that this number will only go up, meaning more and more users will be solely using their phones to access your site. You’ll want to make sure that your mobile users have a positive experience, or they might not want to work on your site.
If your site has a responsive design you will likely not have to change a thing. If your site is configured differently for desktop and mobile, you may need to restructure your content to ensure content is optimized for mobile. Often, a user’s experience varies on desktop and mobile. First you need to understand what actions users are looking to take on specific devices and optimize towards that. But so long as you keep the mobile experience in mind, you’ll be adhering to best SEO practices.
Challenge 6: What to Do About Keywords?
In the past, keywords were a major factor when it came to ranking. Overloading your site with specific keywords was an easy tactic to rank for common search terms.
Today, it’s not so easy. Google algorithms are becoming more and more sophisticated and keywords are becoming less important. Rather than scanning for just a keyword, Google takes a topical approach to get an overall sense of the tone and scope of the content on your site. Rather than stuffing blog posts with one keyword, try using specific phrases and build your content around unique topics.
Keywords still have their place, of course. When used (properly, and naturally) in your headers and subheaders, it can signal to Google what your article is about. And as a general rule, anything you can do to make Google’s job easier is more likely to be rewarded than doing the opposite.
Of course, the reason why “keyword stuffing” has fallen out of practice is similar to why all of these challenges exist for current digital marketers and SEOs.
Your goal as an SEO should be to encourage sites and content built with the user in mind. If you make websites designed for people, instead of robots, you’ll be able to solve just about any SEO challenge that’s thrown your way. And in doing so, you can watch your site, and business, grow.