Changes in Search Marketing...from the Head of Sales point of view

So SEO is changing. We are all pretty aware of that. Just look at the increase in the term Inbound Marketing and the way the recent algorithm updates have been shaping the industry and it’s pretty clear we are in the midst of some serious SEO evolution.

As Head of Sales at Distilled for over 3 years, I have seen a lot of change in what clients are asking for, what projects go well, and what is considered SEO success. When I first started at Distilled it was all about introducing companies to the possibilities SEO had to offer. For the past few years, there has been a shift to more companies looking for smart and creative (not to mention whitehat) linkbuilding. Recently I’ve been seeing a few new trends emerge and I think it’s a very clear sign of the times and the direction search marketing is moving into.

Here are the top 3 new trends I’m seeing in search based on client requests.

1) Can you help me clean up my act?

Clean up your SEO profile

Since the whole JC Penny debacle in February 2011 (seems like so long ago now), a number of sites have seen the impacts from the various black and white animal based algorithm updates. While we have had the occasional ‘URGENT FIX ME NOW’ request from clients, most of the work we have been doing for companies as a result of the updates has been preventative, rather than reactive. New potential clients are coming to us more aware that the previous methods for building links or trying to ‘trick’ Google no long work and they are keen to focus ongoing efforts on sustainable search strategies that mean they won’t get caught out by penalties in the future.

Chris Warren from our New York office recently posted some top tips on SEOmoz for learning from these updates and putting in place stronger and more sustainable search marketing tactics.

For Distilled this is wonderful. It means we get more informed clients, asking us for projects that are more suited to our approach to search. While it can be challenging to change well established habits (sustainable linkbuilding takes longer and can cost more) it is great to see a larger awareness of how important quality is to search.

2) Building brands instead of building links

Build relationships not links

This is the newest trend and something that we are all very excited about. A number of our clients are starting to appreciate that while creative content and outreach are great for building links, they are also fantastic for building brand awareness and sending traffic to their website. A number of our clients’ creative link building projects are also getting a large amount of social shares and sending relevant traffic to the site. This creative content also provides an opportunity for brands to have more of a personality online, giving users a chance to get to know the culture behind the company and building real relationships.

Now the importance of social isn’t that new or innovative. Matt Cutts talked about the importance of Social Media in an SEO strategy over a year ago (March 2011) and in a recent post on their blog, Bing talks about the importance of online marketing strategy diversification when trying to drive traffic to your website.

What is interesting for Distilled is that we are starting to see great results for clients on creative projects where links only make up a portion of the total value gained. Traffic and increased conversions have been the major wins, which allow us to really see great ROI for our clients on the work we have been doing.

Which leads on to my last trend…

3) Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion Rate Optimization

big bag of money anyone?

While Distilled are reasonably new to the pure CRO consulting space, we have been doing integrated campaigns for a while as a part of our SEO and PPC campaigns. We have always looked for opportunities to improve conversions on a client’s site when possible, but recently we have started doing a lot more stand alone CRO projects where we work with and internal SEO or PPC team to help grow results from the site.

To us this feels like a natural part of what an online marketing agency should be offering as it fits so perfectly with a larger and more comprehnsive search campaign. Its not enough to just think about rankings and traffic, with out an increase in conversions search and social media marketing and can quickly turn from a business tactic to a popularity contest. We love the fact that we now get to work with client on the final part of the equation - bringing in the money!

Again CRO isn’t easy, it usually requires a number of technical changes, testing, time, and patience. But the overall reward can be huge.

So what does this all mean...

I think what is most interesting to me is how all three of these trends are positively impacting our relationships with clients. We are working in house as consultants more than ever before and our internal language for the past year has been focused on communication and effecting change. It’s not enough any more for us just to give recommendations; clients coming to us now need help making the change we recommend actually happen.

Search is evolving and agencies/consultants need to be ready for the changes. Client are demanding more, project scopes are expanding, and showing value for the work being done has never been more important. The leaders of the search industry have always been a fast to adapt and agile industry and it will be interesting to see how different agencies change as we start to push our work beyond just the search rankings and further into the marketing mix.