We’re going to talk about what a search for strategy is, to start. Of course, it’s all about creating and promoting high-quality content; we’re going to dig right in. We’re going to talk about how the evolution of search marketing has enabled a rethinking of how search fits into our broader marketing plans. Then, we’re going to dig into some key elements and implementation needs of search-first before we get to those key examples that I just talked about a minute ago. And then I’ll send you off with some questions to get you started and some resources to fill up your big brains, which I imagine you have.
So the transition from traditional marketing to digital marketing is obviously very old news, but search-first is what’s really bringing digital to what I think is sort of a post-COVID era landscape.
Obviously, search-first was happening before COVID, but it’s really been driven by the lack of some of those additional traditional things that were still happening before. So a search-first strategy is all about optimizing your brand’s online presence for search engines; content is the fuel. And ultimately, we’re strategizing to drive organic traffic, increase brand visibility, build authority, stay competitive, and generate revenue. And then, of course, making this a full feedback loop ensures that we’re consistently and constantly improving and optimizing to that end goal.
Now, I know everyone here is already prioritizing SEO and SEM, You’re literally here at a conference doing just that, but a search-first strategy takes the next step to foster a more cohesive and effective overall marketing strategy. So by fundamentally prioritizing search channels, you can better understand your target audience, or quickly adapt to their needs and maximize the potential of your online presence Ultimately, it’s more than just prioritizing it. It’s strategically putting it at the beginning.
One key aspect of a search-first strategy is aligning SEO and SEM activities to support and inform each other. So on the left here, we have organic search, and on the right, we have paid search, these are the two pillars that are in our control in a search-first world, where our prospects and our customers rely on the internet to find use, and these are our levers.
So while SEO and SEM each have their own unique features and functions, They also share some similarities, keyword research being a critical one at the beginning of both strategies to ensure that we’re aligned strategically with our target audience’s search intent. And from there, both require constant attention and optimization for continual improvement.
And beyond that, we have some specific tactics that are unique to the two strategies with, you know, in-depth content and link-building needs for SEO. Tactics around bidding, budget management, targeting on the side of SEM.
But while these two strategies do require distinct approaches, they complement each other very well. And their supporting content and optimization needs provide a strategic guiding light in marketing planning to make it easier for potential customers to discover your business and position you for long-term success in the digital marketing landscape and all that good stuff that we really want.
So when we take a look at the evolution of search marketing here, we really see this convergence of SEO and SEM complimenting each other. It’s easy to sometimes get caught up in the trend of the moment, but if we go back to the beginning, this all started several decades ago with SEO and SEM as fully distinct strategies. As search engines improved their algorithms in the mid-2000s, they began to prioritize user intent and the relevance of content. This shift prompted the mighty rise of content marketing, and marketing teams evolved to prioritize robust content planning to align with intent-driven keyword research. But SEO and SEM were still pretty siloed.
And then came social media and mobile search, and people started using multiple devices and platforms, highlighting the need for SEO and SEM to talk together. That unified approach was only validated more by Google introducing RankBrain, an AI-driven algorithm, and E-A-T guidelines, which emphasized the need for content quality, user intent, and the E-A-T factors of expertise, authority, trustworthiness, and now also experience. So now we know that it’s beneficial to have integrated SEO and SEM strategies that really talk to each other to create and optimize content so it will perform well in both organic and paid search results.
So, yes, it’s not always the same, but it must provide a seamless user experience and be good enough to be leveraged and repurposed across other marketing channels too. There’s just no more like a throwaway landing page which we used to see in the past. So by combining the strengths of both SEO and SEM, you can create a comprehensive strategy that addresses all of these aspects. We’re going to dive deeper into these key elements now and how they all work together in support of modern marketing that’s aligned with the needs of search engines.
To start, I want to briefly touch on each of these elements that make up that convergence of SEO and SEM, and we’ll discuss how they contribute to a successful search-first strategy. We’re not really going to discuss the other tactics mentioned at the top and bottom here. But they’re obviously they’re obviously critical to your marketing plan success as our other specific tactics of the rest of your supporting marketing channels.
So as I mentioned, keyword research is a critical component of both SEO and SEM. It helps you pinpoint the most relevant search terms that people use when looking for information that your helpful content provides. If keyword research is at the foundation, then search marketing strategies are the fuel for ongoing improvement to stay competitive. Your goal is to combine the top you know represents user interest for your customers with the specific words they’re using to demonstrate their search intent so you know where they’re at in their buying process. From there, you can use key data points like search volume and keyword difficulty to prioritize your content plans. And when it comes time to optimize, you’ll be leveraging competitive insights from what you see in the real search result pages to create your own experiments and build content plans to maximize those opportunities.
So let’s talk a little bit more about the importance of search intent and content relevance, whether it’s SEO or SEM. You have to align your strategy with your users. Search engines prioritize content that matches user intent and provides value. So this is a win-win and a critical part of your content strategy.
You can do your own competitive analysis by looking at the results directly in the service, which I actually highly recommend. But SEO tools also, of course, do a great job of highlighting the different types of search intent, which are primarily informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial.
You can also experiment with hybrid intent, which we often see even for really competitive search terms. It’s a great thing to do some testing with. But this approach will help you create content that resonates with your audience and gives them what you’re they’re looking for. And you’ll get that validation not just from organic our rankings, but also from seeing where you’re finding success on the paid side as well.
And now we can talk more about E-E-A-T. I think this is something that’s often not talked about. I don’t know about any of you, but I think these types of guidelines Google comes out with can feel like a pain a lot of the time. But the thing that E-A-T did, and when they added that second E there, it continued to highlight is that it’s not going away. Content quality is something that’s going to continue to be more and more important.
So we have E-E-A-T here to help strategically guide this search-first strategy, which is actually great because we want to be doing right by both our users and organic search rankings and paid search, and E-E-A-T is all about that. So to improve E-E-A-T factors, we focus on creating content that showcases expertise. We’re making sure we’re highlighting authors and their credibility, we’re building authority through high-quality backlinks and positive reviews. And we’re making sure that your website is secure and trustworthy and performs well. And by doing all of this, you improve your SEO and your SEM performance and you also provide a better user experience.
So it’s just win-win, really important to highlight. And these activities need to be prioritized. If your web marketing plan isn’t prioritizing, getting the site to adhere to the Eat guidelines and feels like this annoying thing, it hasn’t been aligned to a search for a strategy, and it needs to be done. All of this brings us to it all being about the content.
Right? High-quality content that’s engaging, informative, and relevant to your target audience can boost organic search rankings and power lead-gen efforts from paid search ads. So it’s critical to build out your content strategy based on the pillars of SEO and SEM. That means that a key piece of your marketing planning has to ensure that your content strategy and your plans are mapped to your search-first needs.
We don’t want to band-aid together a landing page for a PPC campaign or just randomly build out landing pages for search queries. Yes. We can and should be flexible and agile.
But ideally, what’s even better is for our content to be integrated meaningful into a strategic design that supports the surge first strategy because that will naturally mean that we have smart internal linking a clear understanding of who’s coming to what pages for what purposes. And so we have to plan to get to do that right. And then to get the most value from that content strategy, that’s where we apply what’s really classic in marketing planning. We repurpose. We promote our content using a mix of strategies like social media, email marketing, influencer outreach, guest blogging, we build authority by nationally generating backlinks, and we continue to drive success in our organic and paid channels.
Now, of course, making data driven decisions requires analytics and performance tracking and is key to making the most of your strategy in That’s not new.
I don’t wanna take for granted though that everyone really understands how critical it is to create effective targets. So keep an eye on your KPIs, but also make sure that you are really intentional when you created the targets for those KPIs.
Making data driven decisions will continue to improve your SEO and SEM, and we need to make it a habit to regularly evaluate your campaign’s performance. To identify areas for improvement, which we can’t do if we don’t know what those targets are. We don’t know what the targets mean behind those KPIs. So these types of things are keyword position and underperforming organic strategies, landing page conversions, and conversion rate trends, add performance, both positive and negative.
So we’re consistently analyzing what’s working and not working, and that’s the only way to get the value of this strategy. By focusing on all of these data driven optimizations, you can maximize the return on your investment and drive sustainable growth in your search first strategy. But not gonna be able to do that if you don’t have a baseline. If you haven’t really aligned with your team on what seems reasonable for all areas of growth, And I’m not gonna wax poetic right now on channel attribution, but don’t forget that you also have to make sure that your channel attribution is tight So you can also connect these improvements to incremental revenue growth.
That’s how we really understand the ROI of not just these channels, but of our efforts improving them.
So as we move forward, we have been talking about implementation of some of these key elements, but I wanna zoom back out into what’s really required to put it all together.
You might have people on your current team, maybe not with these exact titles, but people that do these things. And what’s really important is that it’s clear who owns what how which activities impact which KPIs and that everyone’s really aligned with how their individual efforts combine with the team for greater results. Because of the traditional ways that marketing teams have been set up, this can cause a lot of confusion in implementing a collaborative search first approach So it’s important to take a step back with the team and establish clear roles and responsibilities, foster an ego less environment and regularly align objectives and KPIs in order to ensure that the path is clear for continuous improvement and the analysis that comes with it.
If you have outsourced resources or marketing agencies for any of these areas, it’s important to get clear on how that broader team is working together. That cross functional collaboration is what’s gonna make that strategy cohesive to maximize its impact.
So if you if you are using, outsource resources, which is totally fine. It’s really important to make sure that you’re strategically investing enough to make sure that you’re not just getting tactics.
This is a really critical part, whether it’s just a single consultant or a local team or a bigger agency, like where I am, that That the provided skill set that you’re outsourcing needs to include a full strategy. Because if you’re just outsourcing tactics from SEO or SCM providers, you’re leaving all of the search first approach on the table. So you just need to make sure that whatever that person is, whatever that team looks like, you’re able to really dig into the strategy and make sure you can build this overall.
Now again, I work at Victorious, and I think a mix of internal and external collaboration actually results in a really powerful and successful search for a strategy, but you have to make sure that the ownership is clear and that everyone is invested in the overall strategy. Something that We see a lot when people come in the door. It’s just that they don’t realize how much that overall strategy is important as opposed to the specific tactics. So we just want to continue to go back over to the strategic approach Why are SEO and SEM important? Why is organic and paid at the center of marketing today? It’s a really critical piece of the marketing industry evolving. From digital marketing to search first marketing.
And once the team is established and everyone is invested in the strategy, you can build out your content plans.
Don’t try to do this before you have that strategic alignment, or you’re just gonna have to go back and do it again. So once you’re here, joint keyword research can connect the dots across the team and result in content that more effectively provides a unified message and a consistent user experience In addition to aligning SEO and SEM were applicable. We’re also big proponents of synergy in the Serps. You can capture more attention with multiple results So don’t be afraid to build experiments into your plan that might deliver you with win wins across areas that you can’t even plan for. We’ve already talked about the importance of consistent messaging and how it drives effectiveness and content repurposing. So you should be ready at this point to craft a content calendar that not only unifies SEO and SCM efforts, but also highlights where their contact needs are different and ensures that you’re prioritizing effectively between the different strategies.
And then whatever you do, stick to it. Content publishing velocity can be a key driver of search success. We’ll explore that in our second example here. And you’ll be able to easily reference this plan as you’re continuing to data drive and are looking for different levers to pull to keep optimizing and seeing what’s working.
So now let’s move on to talk a little bit more about leveraging tools and technology.
Integrating your SEO and SEM data is course going to help you gain insights and improve decision making, and you may need to do some real work on your part. We talked earlier about having a data analyst as part of your team and having someone focused on blending these data points together can be invaluable to the rest of your team members. So they can focus on analyzing the data as opposed to getting stuck in the weeds of pulling it across different data source Of course, we’re looking at paid and organic traffic trends and how their overall conversion rate and campaign specific conversion rates are improving.
But we also want to be doing a better job contextualizing information like CPC and RoAS and ROI along with organic keyword rankings at the same time. So yes, leverage tools and then make sure you’re focused on bringing the information together and then reevaluate the effectiveness of the tools and all of your reports as often as you need. Make sure that when you’re reviewing data, it feels meaningful. There’s nothing worse than a team that needs to review the data and everyone has glassy eyes.
Make sure you’re keeping reports meaningful and everyone knows where they can individually drive impact to improve those metrics.
Now, we’re not quite done talking about data because measuring your campaign performance never sleeps. But if you’ve been following along through this process and made it through the implementation phase and you have your tools and reports all set up. It’s time to put them to work and see where they’ve helped you grow and what you can continue to optimize.
If you have established those clear targets, now it’s easy to see what’s working and learn from what’s not. You can build new strategies to prepare and implement and get yourself on the wheel of continuous improvement. So following this process ensures that you’re staying aligned with the business, you’re continuously aligning and prioritizing tactics with broader marketing goals, and you’re focusing on the right things at the right times. Something we do at Victorious is we look at key metrics in different regular cadences, depending on what those metrics are, That’s not rocket science or anything, but I’ve found that it’s not as obvious as you might think.
Which metrics are really helpful to look at weekly to be observing ongoing trends versus monthly or quarterly. There’s lots that we assume we should be looking at monthly that are actually really helpful to check-in on every week. So just giving yourself the space to evaluate the effectiveness of your continuous improvement is itself part of that strategy. When we’re reviewing data, am I taking action, is the team taking action who’s getting that glassy eye?
Like what might that mean in terms of what they need that they’re not seeing, to get invested, but also to add critical insights? What what are they missing? So we don’t wanna view performance insights as coming at the end. We wanna view them as informing continuous improvement and creating this nice ongoing feedback loop.
So we’re regularly analyzing the data. We’re looking at these trends that might help us start to investigate something before we see some big impact that now we’re having to be really reactive to. So the goal here is to stay with a proactive mindset, to not get caught flat footed and need to suddenly turn reactive. And this will become habitual with the team implementing updates and making data informed decisions around whether changes were actually improvements and we can continuously refined our keyword targeting, content quality, ad creatives, bidding strategies, other elements that will continuously need refinement.
Our competitors make their own updates as Google make changes to their own algorithms, branding strategies, for example. So we just gotta stay ahead of the competition ensure sustainable growth by continuing to make adjustments and keep that momentum going.
So now we’re ready to keep moving forward and get into some of own experiences.
These are real life stories that demonstrate successful implementation of search first marketing and I wanna talk about the unique challenges how we approach strategy and the results of those efforts. The invitation here is to use these examples as inspiration to think creatively about how you can start to apply a search first mindset to your marketing channels and your business needs. So the first example is from my previous role running the marketing program at a company called Parasoft, which is a software testing company, And then we’ll talk about some of what we’ve been up to at Victorious actually in the past couple years. So let’s dig in. So this first example revolves around a product launch.
I was leading the marketing team who was responsible for that successful launch. And as we started to strategize positioning statements and build plans, it became really clear to me that I didn’t know how to lead the team with a search first approach, which is what I had been leaning on throughout my entire career because I was stumped.
The reality of the situation was that the new product was very similar to an existing product. And based on the information we were getting from the product marketing team, We simply didn’t know how to apply SEO and SEM to drive demand to the product without risking cannibalization or reduced performance to the existing product. So we had the new product and we had the old existing product and we couldn’t figure out how to carve out that space for the new one.
Now this is also a story of humility because I ended up finding Victorious, and we worked together to build strategy. So I brought the problem statement, which was actually twofold. Right? The first problem was How do you optimize around a new product? If it’s such a unique innovation, no one knows to search for it. And the second problem is how do you optimize around distinct products on a single website. That solve the same problem and aren’t different enough to target different keywords.
We actually came up with a great strategy that I think could work for anyone in a situation like this where you have two things that are too similar and you’re having a hard time figuring out how to target them. In this case, It was a software testing tool, but it could really truly be anything. So what Victorious helped me realize was that I was just thinking too small, essentially. The strategy to find our target audience was to look at the problem statement itself.
No one knew about this new innovation yet and no one was aware of what made these two very similar products distinct. So we just needed to build educational content that told them all about it. We had been stuck following the regular path trying to find new commercial in tent search terms such as weren’t there when the strategy was right in front of our eyes, which was to target informational intent. So we ended up building a few articles, but the highest value one was a piece of content that educated the market on these different types of tools in the first place, right?
It targeted key high volume search queries and we published it along with some very intentional additional on page optimizations for both of the product pages themselves. This move was actually aimed at enhancing visibility for both products and not just the one that was launching. And the great thing was that it worked. So the article ranked number one, and we landed, a featured snippet that also drove additional visibility and we succeeded in our mission to support the productive, launch with long term growth instead of a bell curve.
And I moved on to come work at Victorious. So that brings us to our next example.
When I joined Wictorious, it was to build a marketing team from the ground up. The SEO company had been so successful growing using SEO just on its own that they hadn’t needed a team and this marked investing in the future. So when I joined, that meant even though the website had been delivering the sales team plenty of leads. Now I needed to really show my worth.
Right? So as we built out the marketing team and I started to invest in a robust content marketing team and and program, I started digging into the data of our own CO and found an additional two-fold problem statement. The first one was that, although the website was very well optimized from a technical perspective, there were some gaping holes in the content strategy, which, of course, is part of why I was hired in the first place. And two, being an SEO company, Victorious operates in a highly competitive niche, where if you stay stagnant, you just lose very quickly.
So the competition was really, really fierce.
And the solution here was to do what ironically or perhaps what fate would have told me to do the very thing that the company specializes which, of course, is long-term SEO.
We took the existing blog, which was small and more promotional and began building it into a library of deep diving high quality educational content that was optimized to rank for top of funnel SEO content. We built the blog to cover a wide defined range of topics and connected them all directly with internal links to our service offerings. As we started claiming more of the top spots and search for the long tail keywords, all we had to do was then increase the velocity of posting to the blog to become a compounding growth engine for organic traffic.
And to drive that velocity, we started a vertical build in the blog. So we continue to build out topic clusters and take took that content for each category deeper. Begin to execute a full funnel content approach with blog posts optimized for queries all along the customer journey.
And that’s where we’re at today. We’ve been doing that. We continue to do that. We have a robust system that’s knit together with internal linking to signal the relationship between the services we offer and the education between them. This also win win fits our company value of transparency. I love these win wins.
And the results are still growing, but the solution has, already helped us build a sustainable pipeline of organic traffic, and it’s not just traffic for traffic sake. It’s converting leads that are translating into almost twice as many sales qualified leads for our account executives year over year. So Pretty big win for us over here and anyone could adapt this classic search first strategy to tackle your own competitive environment following the same long term strategy applied to content topics that are just relevant to your service or your product lines. You just need a team of really organized patient and quality focused content marketers that pay a lot of attention to the detail in their linking.
And so all we have to do is wrap up. I’d like to highlight some key takeaways and next steps. We talked about the value of a search first marketing strategy and how it integrates both SEO and SEM synergistically for maximum impact. And we talked about the importance of a collaborative team and how to bring those team members together around content planning, performance monitoring, and optimizing for continuous improvement.
And I just gave some examples of what this can look like in practice.
And I know we’ve covered a lot in this session, so I wanna make sure you know how to take action and start to apply these concepts to your business. These types of questions are great starting points to get you thinking creatively and highlight any gaps that might exist in your team due to a more traditional digital marketing infrastructure where strategic silos really can exist.
And of course, I wouldn’t leave you without a curated selection of valuable resources that my team has put together for you as you embark on your search first marketing journey. Whether you’ve been on this road for some time or you’re just beginning. This is a combination of content downloads and, blog posts that I wrote as you just learned they all contain plenty of other great links to additional sources of helpful content.
And if you were inspired by either of my examples, that last one that last resource there contains a bunch more examples from customers of Victorious and how they came to us and what we did to help them.
So that’s all I have for you. I’m so search first. You don’t even have any of my own socials here, but you can see what we’re up to at Victorious by following the handles there. And if you’re interested in talking to me about search first growth strategies, my email is right there, and you can also find me on LinkedIn. So I hope you have a great time at SMS.
And have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you so much.