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Google search provides a unique look at customer behavior and the end-to-end customer journey, so it is critical for brands to invest in SEO – not just to boost their own search results, but as an integrated marketing tool. This is especially important now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted behaviors for both workers and consumers, with implications for how you run your business and how people respond to it.
Organic search can provide critical insight into customers’ behavior and desires.
While Google keeps much of its actual data frustratingly under wraps, you can still glean a ton of insight from what it does show you. The search engine provides a trove of user insight simply in the way it presents search results. Examining the content and types of results for terms within your industry can show you what users are looking for, the questions they’re asking and what sort of content is resonating with them.
Google also provides a unique view of the end-to-end customer journey because people turn to search engines at every stage. Understanding the searches people are performing and why they’re searching can give critical insight to where you are or aren’t meeting your customers. It also can give you an avenue to fill in gaps as well as provide a more complete and cohesive experience across your different marketing channels.
Organic search can align your digital marketing efforts, making them more cohesive, efficient and effective. Here’s how:
Marketing: Create search-focused content that can rank but has omnichannel assets attached, which can fan out across other marketing channels. This requires significant alignment between many different teams.
Public relations: Optimize your PR language to align with relevant search terms and trending searches can help give it staying power in organic search.
Product: For e-commerce businesses that sell a lot of products, search trends and keyword volume can shape your product marketing focus. Note: A spike in interest in a particular product might also help you better plan for your inventory needs.
Advertising: Beyond the obvious — SEM, which is directly tied to search behavior — search trends and behavioral insights can help you tailor ads on other platforms and make better decisions about how to allocate your budget.
User experience: Because of Google’s focus on user experience in its search results (including using certain UX elements as ranking factors), good UX and high quality SEO usually align. Most SEO recommendations have UX implications; if you’re doing it right, optimizing for search engines should result in improved user experience.
Brand: Don’t neglect how your brand is appearing in search and make sure your unique selling points and brand story are represented when people search for you. People increasingly are making purchasing decisions based on specific brand attributes (more on this below) so controlling how you appear in search is essential.
Why this matters now
There are two big reasons why this is especially important now: changes to consumer behavior and the challenges of a remote workforce.
1. Holiday shopping and COVID-19
COVID-19 has caused dramatic and likely permanent changes to consumer behavior. Notably, e-commerce sales have risen dramatically, while in-store sales are down, even in places where brick-and-mortar stores are open. Furthermore, as the pandemic drags on, people are more conscious both of their spending in general and of the impact that their dollars can have, and making deliberate choices about where and how they choose to spend money. For example, a report from Rakuten suggests that fully half of global shoppers plan to shop locally this holiday season.
Many consumers also are placing a greater emphasis on supporting minority-owned small businesses and giving their money to brands whose ethics and values they agree with. This obviously isn’t a new trend, but as with many things, COVID-19 seems to have hastened it.
A good thing to ask yourself is, what makes you different from Amazon (or any other big player in your space)? If you can compete on price, wonderful. But if you can’t, what other things make you stand out? How can you reach customers in innovative ways that resonate?
My favorite example of this is bookshop.org, an e-commerce platform for book sales that’s explicitly positioned as an alternative to Amazon, where every sale directly supports an indie bookseller of the customer’s choice.
Finding and emphasizing the things that make you different and making sure they’re reflected in search will be crucial to building a loyal customer base as consumers become more intentional in their purchasing decisions.
2. Remote workforce
A remote workforce brings new communication challenges, meaning that anything that enhances alignment is more important than ever.
Search can help break down silos between teams that don’t traditionally work particularly closely with one another. For example, are your content and product teams communicating effectively? Is your editorial calendar aligned with your product marketing campaigns? What about your social media team and inventory?
Using organic search as a framework to help guide your priorities can provide a unifying factor that helps keep teams operating in as close to lockstep as possible.
As we all reorient ourselves in our new reality, some businesses are thriving and some are in a fight for survival. Regardless of which situation you find yourself in, organic search can provide invaluable help as you navigate uncertain waters. If you aren’t yet using it to enhance your marketing strategy, the time to start is now.
Corey Mallonee is product marketing manager at Terakeet, a leading search and digital marketing firm, where he leads the product communications strategy for customers and internal stakeholders. He previously served as director of creative and director of content.