Michael Stricker on the Present and Future of SEO Strategy

March 9, 2016

Content is the engine that drives modern marketing. SEO is the fuel that makes the engine run. When optimized properly, content can drive high-octane results—and without SEO, even the shiniest content can sit idle.

As vital as SEO is to content marketing strategy, it’s a complex, ever-changing practice that can be hard to wrap your brain around. For this installment of the Ask the Expert series, we enlisted Lead Consultant at the eponymous MSDesign and former U.S. Marketing Director at SEMrush Michael Stricker to lay it out for us.

Read on for Michael’s thoughts on the ROI of SEO, current SEO opportunities marketers should capitalize on, and more.

LinkedIn: There's no shortage of marketers who devalue SEO because they believe the competition is too steep to warrant a return on their investment. What do you tell these folks?

Michael Stricker: SEO too expensive? Wait until you’re paying $644 per click for your AdWords keywords, then talk to me about competition. CPC advertising’s an auction model, made to solicit the highest payment from bidders like you. The cards are stacked against you. So what is it that drives the cost of SEO so high?

  1. Ineffectual SEO. Some of the great side-effects of better SEO are proof of value, keener analytics, more accurate attribution, a better-focused funnel and Conversion Rate Optimization.
  2. Missteps. Things that must be done over, because they weren’t done right in the first place. Some of the largest enterprises make technical SEO mistakes that proliferate and cost them millions of dollars in lost market share and revenue opportunity. This includes things that almost any SEO worth their salt could have prevented.
  3. Laziness. Is it really so difficult to walk around with a semantic core keyword set in your head? If you can’t visualize this, then you may be missing opportunities to communicate it to others in your company, such as:

a) Public Relations, who can earn exposures for the right traffic;

b) Social Media, whose community conversations can focus on key issues and drive motivated traffic while demonstrating trust;

c) Outside Agencies, Paid Ad Teams and Outbound Marketers whose expensive efforts benefit from many ‘touches’ and message reinforcement that results from consistency in key messaging. That’s the kind of consistency that results from sharing a solid keyword set.

LinkedIn: What current SEO opportunities will content marketers be glad they acted upon two years from now?

Michael Stricker: Three SEO undertakings are likely to provide lasting value.

  1. Audits with follow-up action drive value. Important technical issue correction often improves crawlability and indexation. Defined analytics improvements materially inform asset allocation due to better attribution of traffic referral sources, plus guided optimizations of goal flows, reduction of drop-offs and CRO. Content audits tied to social sharing, keywords driving search traffic and conversion define the vein of gold running through your content (or the base alloy that is a natural result of experimentation or lack of well-defined segments and buyer personas).
  2. Content with longevity and legs under it harvests traffic. Skyscraper, evergreen content with continual refreshes and updates and repurpose-ful abstractions and visualizations. These will get content marketers off the QUANTITY merry-go-round, attract links and welcome traffic for a long time to come.
  3. “Sending the elevator back down” is another practice that pays long-term dividends. Find rising stars that your market likes, trusts and is activated by. Court them to become co-promotional partners. This may require an investment in their training and careers, but they may never forget. Doing this, helping those who are “bootstrapping” wins influence. The resulting influence may be a smaller sphere, but it may also come with more genuine gusto. That is in addition to the feel-good factor, and the reflected aura of trust and respect that it can bring to your brand.  

LinkedIn: You're a big proponent of using a S.W.O.T. methodology for SEO. In your experience, what is the biggest eye-opener when marketers perform this exercise for the first time?

Michael Stricker: Several jaw-dropping moments come to mind.

Scale. Shock and awe may set in when businesspeople see how many keywords are deemed relevant for their competitors’ websites by Google or Bing. Wide-eyed wonder results when webmasters learn how much traffic is driven to competitors by search engines. Dismay and denial are often the reaction of AdWords managers seeing their foes’ estimated monthly budgets (though the clever ones co-opt the numbers to pry more budget out of their own masters).

Noise. Stunned silence among SEOs who grasp the enormity of SERP traffic distracted by irrelevant SERP keyword competitors. It is not logical, not business competitors, so much as a semantic trap, that searchers are forced to pick through SERPs full of unrelated firms that share initials or acronyms, or well-intentioned non-profits that are siphoning off good search clicks.

Unmotivated. How much traffic is seeking information with no real commercial intent? Instructions, recipes, how-tos. How much of that rather useless traffic does your site get? Have you no strategy to grasp the intent of searchers, put the righteous on the path to purchase and pass on the others? Do you lack long-tail semantic phrased keyword content? Does your PPC lack definitive negative keywords?

Threats. Angry protests usually erupt when business owners see how many competitors build comparative content or ads using that business’s keywords and especially, that business’s BRAND. The resistance to the necessity to pay to advertise one’s own brand keywords can be very difficult to overcome. The financial arguments about value and share lost to competitors can be quite persuasive.

Strategy. When digging deep into Local SEO keywords, citations, place names, Mobile SEO speed, audits, keywords and devices, Ad headlines, text and offers, Google Shopping keywords and prices, clients and boss’s eyes may pop. A big dose of clever tactics should persuade action and propel plans and investment. It can be astonishing how easy it is to reduce risk and ramp up to better profitability more rapidly when countering or stealing a working approach. And that, after all, is the measure of competitive intelligence. It will take some information to detect what’s being done, some knowledge to determine whether it is working and how well, and some wisdom to craft the best plan, whether to oppose, end-run, or adapt the revealed strategy. What you don't know can hurt you.

Thanks to Michael for sharing his thoughts with us. For more content from Michael and the SEMrush team, check out the SEMrush blog, and follow Michael on Twitter @radioMS.

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