“How can you line up all marketing channels to influence organic search rankings positively?” It’s a big question – there are not so many solid theories out there. You have the perceived black-hole that is social media measurement on one hand, offline marketing on the other. All these channels require differing approaches and usually have a very different end goal.
You’ll hear SEO experts declare that social media plays no part in organic rankings, even Google’s spinmeister, Matt Cutts, says that there is no ‘direct’ correlation between their own social channel and the SERPs, Direct, being the stand out word in this case.
You’ll see QR codes plastered all over print in an attempt to bring offline and online together and create some kind of measurable output, but QR codes don’t rank you higher.
It’s a puzzle for sure.
I want to show you how I believe all the parts of the puzzle can finally lock together in perfect harmony.
I believe that all marketing channels can work in synergy, on and offline, for the benefit of your natural search rankings. And it’s stupidly simple, like all the most effective things are.
First though, some required background.
I have been in the SEO industry for the best part of 8 years, coming from a background of music technology (more algorithms) and web design. I entered the industry through affiliate marketing before evolving that into my own small agency, where I serviced a number of SME clients.
I now manage the Strategic SEO team at Stickyeyes, recently voted the Best Digital Agency in the UK.
When working with SMEs – you, more often than not, get full access to the website. You can amend and measure, adapt and adjust; it’s all on you – not a web development team in sight (sigh). That hands-on access can be invaluable; you get a real quantifiable feeling of what affects the SERPS. This breeds trust over time in your own hypotheses. You learn to trust your gut instinct.
In agency life, you can lose that hands-on access, but at Stickyeyes, we utilise proprietary data tool sets that give us an unrivalled level of insight into Google’s algorithm, perfect for assisting our clients, many of which are major brands. Our data gives me access to so much real-time and historic information that I can now hypothesise, and then look to evidence my theories with actual data. Win.
So, back to the post…
Brands – Google loves brands. Algorithm tweaks over the last few years, starting with the Vince update, have one way or another, sought to position brands at the top of the SERPS, whether Google eludes to that or not. Five years ago you could easily find SMEs trading blows with big brands for the coveted top spots for a wide range of big volume search terms, I know because I put a number of them there myself. Those days are, like it or not, all but gone.
So how does that play out in the Google algorithm, which is brand agnostic? Mathematical equations don’t have a favourite brand, so how do Google sort those SERPS? My hypothesis centralises round a three letter acronym – CTR, or Click Thru Ratio.
Consider the PPC channel, a little less mystical than the organic channel, yet invaluable when trying to unravel the methodology behind ranking placement.
Paid Search uses the Quality Score algorithm – the facets involved in that algorithm are pretty well documented. It looks at page relevancy, ad copy, and, the most important concept in this post, CTR – which forms a large percentage of Quality Score.
If your ad is irrelevant, your CTR will be lower, and your quality score will be reduced, making it more difficult (and expensive) to rank higher, makes sense really. Why reward irrelevance?
Albeit more complicated, I believe that that same metric, CTR, plays an equally important role in the sorting of organic rankings.
Assume that the average Google user is not very internet savvy. They aren’t aware of how to utilise the address bar in their browser (yes, these people really do exist in large numbers). When they want to visit a website, they go to Google, and search on the brand name.
Lo and behold, they find the brand they are looking for at the top of the SERPs and give it a click.
Just pause for a second there and imagine the CTR % of that search, it’s going to be high, really high. It’s not difficult for Google to consider that CTR, they would be insane not to right?
This is how I believe Google sorts out the ‘real’ brands from the rest. The larger the brand you are, the higher your CTR will be when your brand name is searched, not to mention the actual search volumes and visits; it all plays a part in the bigger picture, keyword rankings.
If you are receiving massive volumes of brand traffic, coupled with a huge CTR, then there can be no arguing that you are a brand, perhaps THE brand in the market. Surely then, you should have the right to rank for the keywords relevant to your brand, common sense no?
Assuming that everything else is equal, my theory is that your Brand Rank (you read it here first!) is the deciding factor in sorting the keyword SERPs. I believe I can evidence this by the continued prevalence of exact-match domain names, which STILL continue to have some kind of god-like effect on keyword SERPs, despite Google’s attempted dial-down of their impact. My guess is they can’t dial it down, as it is too fundamental to the way the algorithm works. They have tried with hy-phen-ated domains, and that makes sense, and adds even more weight to my theory. Big brands don’t use hyphens (much).
If you are still reading this and haven’t written me off as a lunatic, you will now possibly be thinking about things from a different angle. Think about it – if ten sites were somehow equal in keyword relevance and link profile, how would YOU sort them? I would use CTR and visitor volume data and rank them accordingly.
I first gave birth to this theory when driving to work one morning. I heard a radio ad for the New Volkswagen something or other. At the end of the ad, it didn’t give a web address; instead it told you to “Google Volkswagen”. In my mind, this was unintended genius, playing to people’s ignorance rather than an attempt to improve their brand rank.
Then it hit me.
Regardless of what all your marketing channels are saying, you can easily take steps to positively influence your brand rank.
From TV to radio, from print magazine to online newspaper, from infographic to billboard, you can add one extra line, that could help you rank higher in the organic SERPS.
By influencing people to Google for your brand, you are taking steps to positively increase your Brand Rank, your CTR, your brand visitor volume, and ultimately your keyword rankings.
I told you it was simple, didn’t I?