Search engine optimization analysts have suffered claims that “SEO is dead” ever since SEO was a thing. The power of paid search, the rise of social media and algorithm changes shake up the industry every few months — but SEO practices have always managed to adapt and overcome.
Ron Dod, CMO and co-founder of the ecommerce digital marketing agency Visiture, joins us on this episode of “The Commerce Marketer Podcast” to explain organic search’s recent evolution, but also to emphasize some principles that have remained the same.
Dod gives a brief explanation of the major changes affecting ecommerce marketers in the past several years. Because most marketers have become savvy to SEO fundamentals, just covering the basics isn’t enough to make a site competitive.
“SEO’s becoming more integrated with marketing, and I see a lot more companies having basically good SEO foundations done,” Dod said. “I think the competition out there is more fierce for online merchants.”
He also digs into some of the broader changes for Google, notably that the focus is on user experience and search intent. In the past, Google looked primarily at technical elements and on-page optimization to organize rankings — now, user behavior affects rankings.
“For online merchants and retailers, you can’t really fake being good anymore,” Dod said. “You can’t just have a bunch of backlinks and rank number one. If you deliver a poor experience to the user, they’re going to drop you.”
For ecommerce sites, that experience starts with page titles, descriptive URLs, and meta descriptions that all serve as calls-to-action.
“Really look at it through a user’s perspective,” Dod said. “How can we really deliver the best user experience and entice them to click on us?”
Dod emphasizes that Google’s ultimate goal is to give its users a positive experience, and how users behave once they get to a page matters. He describes the recent shift to behavior-based factors, how a page’s dwell time and bounce rate can move a site from the fourth search engine results page (SERP) to the first.
“If the listing below you has people staying on it for half a second more, Google’s going to use that as a factor that the listing is a better result for that keyword phrase,” Dod said. “If users stay on your page, add something to cart and click on other pages, Google’s going to see it did its job.”
Dod shares some tactics for increasing dwell time on product pages without loading them with walls of text, such as using new types of engaging media. He details the challenges and risks of trying new types of content, noting the impact of integrating how-to content with product content.
“It’s another way to get in front of customers — a lot of top of funnel customers in the research stage — to drive them into a customer,” he said. “That’s where I’ve seen a lot of the most growth for retailers.”
When it comes to types of content — long form vs. short form, video vs. written — Dod says it comes down to testing and user demand. But, he notes that the blog content that’s winning is relatively shorter than “power pages,” pages that are thousands of words and filled with graphics.
“It’s easier to find, easier to digest, and you get your information quicker,” Dod said. “We’ve seen a lot more shift from those ultimate how-to guides.”
That doesn’t mean rapidly generating short, shallow pieces — it still needs to be well-researched, thoughtful content of about a thousand words.
After spending more time listing how various SEO developments will impact ecommerce retailers (voice search, featured and rich snippets, social media, and more), a definite pattern emerges: Focus on providing the best experience for your customers with digestible content, and you’ll take the lead in organic search.
“You have to have a basic SEO foundation,” he said. “Create content, connect with your customers. That’s really what SEO and content marketing is doing, helping connecting brands with consumers who are searching for your product online.”