SEO does not change, but the landscape is changing dramatically. The SERP (Search Engine Results Page) of today cannot be compared to that of 10 years ago. Yet many companies pursue an SEO strategy that is virtually unchanged. Everyone involved in SEO wants to be number one on top terms and preferably that one important term. However, the number one position for such an important term is not a guarantee for success. In fact, I think you are pursuing the wrong thing. In a previous article I have already listed what changes in the SERP and that this has consequences for your SEO results. A short overview:
- There is so much above SEO and especially on top terms, think of ads, Google Shopping, Google Maps, booking modules etc;
- This leads to the CTR on the number 1 position on non-branded search terms dropping to 20% in 2019;
- More and more searches no longer lead to a click, Google no longer sends the user to another website. By 2020, according to Rand Fishkin, this will be 66%.
Yet we all keep on doing the same things
Yet we all keep doing the same thing and want to achieve the same thing. We keep on doing keyword research for important top terms, we keep on doing on-site optimisations and link building on important pages with nice anchor texts and we keep on monitoring rankings (“Am I already at number 1?”). But what if the goal of ranking as high as possible in Google no longer makes sense? Do we really need to want to remain number one for top terms? And can you, as a smaller player, still participate? I see nothing else than that the SERP is always dominated by the same large parties; Wehkamp, Zalando, Omoda, Hunkemöller, Bol, Coolblue, Hornbach. In any industry, you can easily name 3-5 players who always take the top positions. I am therefore almost certain: as a small party, you can no longer do traditional SEO in which you want to rank as high as possible. You will have to follow a different SEO strategy if you really want to achieve results with SEO in the future.
“But what if the goal of ranking as high as possible in Google is no longer a valid one?”
The end of vertical SEO, horizontal SEO as the strategy of the future
I do not believe in the old traditional form of SEO, which I myself call vertical SEO. I am firmly convinced of the usefulness and necessity of horizontal SEO. This involves ranking as widely as possible on all kinds of different search terms throughout the customer journey. This is also where the term ‘horizontal’ comes from: horizontally in the customer journey and broadly on relevant terms. I don’t keep track of rankings; I map out the search assignments I want to rank for. I never spend more than a few minutes in the Google Keyword Planner and then often just to quickly check a few things. A free keyword tool will never help you get inspired and if you do get inspired, remember that everyone gets the same input from that tool. So you will continue to compete with parties who have the same starting points and want to achieve the same as you. I don’t monitor rankings either; I’m not interested in top terms and positions. And what I do care about is not monitoring; with one page you can rank on so many different search terms that you will never be able to keep up.
Why horizontal SEO works
For years I have tackled SEO differently. The first thing I say when I start working for a client or company is: “I am not going to bring you to number 1 on your most important keyword, I am going to get more organic traffic for you”. The game of horizontal SEO is in fact open, precisely because everyone is engaged in the traditional form of SEO. If everyone focuses on top terms because everyone believes that this is the saviour, this also means that there is a forgotten area in Google. And that is where the opportunities lie in SEO. Now and in the future. That is where I have been able to achieve a lot of traffic and revenue growth in recent years. That is also where the future opportunities lie. Advertisers are not very keen on that because advertising is expensive and so they want to generate turnover quickly. All search terms that are in the do-phase will at some point be claimed by advertisers, including the search terms within the horizontal strategy. But there is more than just the do phase. The think-phase can be extremely interesting for SEO, as long as you define the role of SEO differently.
A new role for SEO
If you see SEO as a stand-alone channel with the sole purpose of ranking as high as possible, this approach is not for you. But if you know the channel mix and how it fits within the customer journey, then you know that each channel plays a role. It is then time to look at the new role of SEO where at some point other KPIs will apply. Because I haven’t believed in rankings for years, but there will come a time when turnover from SEO will also come under pressure. Not yet, but certainly not after 2020 when the online market will have exploded. In the past year, you probably achieved record revenues with SEO and that is precisely the danger; if you are blinded by success, you do not see the dark clouds in the distance. Because as far as I’m concerned, those dark clouds are definitely there. The demand is huge at the moment, maybe twice as big as at the beginning of 2020, and so you have a lot more turnover. Nothing wrong with that, you might think. But are you taking as much from the SEO market as you would have done at the beginning of last year or are you leaking traffic and sales somewhere? Have you been in a number one position for years but are you attracting less and less traffic with it? How much direct turnover does SEO bring in and how much supporting turnover? And how has this developed in recent years? These are signals that you should be alert to!
A new approach to SEO
A new strategy requires a different approach because how are you going to convince your board, management, stakeholders or customers that they do not need to be in the number 1 position? How are you going to tell them that you don’t want to monitor rankings anymore? And what are you going to do when you are no longer doing keyword research, when you are no longer constantly working on that one keyword and link building for that one keyword? A horizontal SEO strategy requires a different approach to the work. All the pillars of SEO remain in place, but the way in which you go about it will change dramatically!