Category Archives: SEO

SEO – Search Experience Optimisation

Digital marketing innovation with Google Voice Search

©Marcel de Grijs via 123RF

SEO – Search Experience Optimisation

So what is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)? SEO is the art of creating an unrivalled website experience that consumers love to explore, as well as providing users with what they are looking for, while simultaneously reaching the brand’s goals. I believe that SEO is an evolving digital art; a means of developing a website, improving its usability, optimising its content and spreading the word on the Internet. When I refer to optimising, it means to create content that offers clarity to the user in a South African and global context.

Google is the Gateway to the Internet

An easy way to understand how Google and SEO work is via a simile: Google is like an extremely vast library, where the books are replaced with websites; when a South African user searches for something on their search engine, Google’s librarian or algorithm will select a range of websites for which it thinks you would find applicable. Google is the entry point to the Internet for many people. SEO revolves around getting your website not only selected by Google’s algorithm via the appropriate words or phrases, but also to feature very prominently in this selection or search results page.
SEO from a South African point of view requires research and testing, not to mention a lot of patience to achieve the desired goals of the brand. When kick-starting an SEO strategy, we ask ourselves: “Does the brand want to drive sales or raise its online awareness? Are the brand’s products or services associated with relevant search words or phrases? Do the brand’s values shine through their website content?”
When it comes to SEO, you will often read or hear about ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Keywords and key phrases are the words or phrases for which you want consumers to find your brand’s website via search engines – your brand would like to be synonymous with these words or phrases. SEO is often misunderstood; good SEO is not about jamming the copy or text on your website full of keywords. Rather, a well-executed SEO strategy revolves around clear website architecture, a well-researched keyword and content strategy and tweaking the website copy, making sure it’s relevant, original and of high quality.

What Can SEO do for your South African Brand?

A high visibility in Google’s search results equates to an increase in brand recognition to a large degree. A high ranking website is most likely seen as a sign of authority and credibility in your brand’s South African marketplace.

Google searches are driven by a goal; South African users use a search engine to find information about a product or service they either want or need. Well-executed SEO will drive relevant traffic to your website, which should significantly increase your website’s conversion rate (the rate at which South African users take a desired action). Such a desired action could be completing a Contact Us form, making a purchase or requesting a quote.

Google provides brands with access to each stage of the consumer’s buying cycle. In brief, consumers will search out information at each stage of the buying cycle. So, by targeting different keywords associated with each stage of the buying cycle, you can effectively access these consumers.

The Mechanics of a Search Engine in South Africa is Google South Africa‘s local search engine which most South African’s use. Google selects the best possible websites to appear in their result pages for their South African users’ queries. To quote Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google: “We believed we could build a better search. We had a simple idea, that not all pages are created equal. Some are more important.”
Your content must match what your target market wants or needs; in other words, your content strategy should be centred on relevance to the South African user and the brand. When your audience is searching via Google for the service or product your brand offers, don’t let a competing brand take that potential lead; effectively executed SEO will significantly reduce the chances of this happening.

Digital-lead Marketing

Brands spend a great deal of money on above-the-line or traditional advertising that often displays the brand’s website address/URL, or just promotes the website, this could be a TV ad, billboard or print ad, which displays a link to the brand’s website. In today’s digital world, I feel brands should be spending more on digital advertising, especially SEO. While the above-the-line advertising can and does help drive organic traffic, the website must be streamlined for the highest potential ROI.

Google allows consumers to ‘pull’ marketing messages, which are usually ‘pushed’ onto consumers via traditional advertising. The marketing message that consumers ‘pull’ from Google should be the same as and effectively synchronised with the above-the-line advertising campaign. Your brand’s content strategy should provide relevant, timely content, which would be indexed by Google and appear in its organic search results.

Track A Tangible ROI

Like any other form of marketing, calculating your brand’s return on investment is crucial. Digital marketing, SEO included, requires a different approach to traditional marketing. Brian Sheehan, the author of ‘Basic Marketing: Online Marketing’, had this to say about digital marketing: “While the traditional purchase funnel is about delivering the right message at the right time, the online purchase funnel is focused on measuring the right data and continually improving numerical results. The online funnel is all about measurement.”

Your digital agency should provide you with in-depth reports on a monthly or ad hoc basis. These track the progress of your brand reaching its relevant goals. An example of a goal could be simply to drive more organic traffic to your website through high organic search ranks.

This is an excerpt from an article I for Ogilvy.

Biz Takeouts Radio Interview: Digital agency trends, SEO and innovation in 2016

On Thursday, 3 March 2016, Biz Takeouts Marketing and Media Radio show host Warren Harding (@bizwazza) chatted to Stephen Sandmann (@stephensandmann), strategy and development specialist at Quirk to look at his take on all things digital, SEO and trends that you should know about for 2016.
[Biz Takeouts Podcast] 164: Digital agency trends, SEO and innovation in 2016

We spoke to Stephen about digital agency trends to look out for in 2016, search strategy, development and SEO trends. We also looked at innovative digital marketing solutions via search, new tech and other media that marketers should currently be looking at.

Lastly, we look at the importance of creativity in digital today and the role of mobile in Africa.

Click here to listen to my interview (scroll down the page to ‘Episode 164: Digital agency trends, SEO and innovation in 2016′ and click play). This article and radio interview of myself appeared on

Digital marketing innovation with Google Voice Search

Our craft, as digital marketers, must evolve with the times. I’m referring to today’s ‘No Interface trend’. Trend Watching, the trend experts, have summed it up well: “people want to feed their growing addictions to digital info and live in the present moment; consumers want new, more natural forms of interaction with technology. Speech, gesture, touch, and sight: truly intuitive technologies are set to transform your customer interactions forever.”

When people think of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), they usually think of the traditional type of SEO, based on desktop and mobile Google search. As an SEO strategist, I’ve always been striving to apply this digital marketing discipline in new, innovative ways. Part of me has always wanted to be a creative.

Just Google it

Google recently got the digital marketer inside me intrigued with their “OK Google” advertising campaign, which the 72andSunny advertising agency produced for Google and rolled out in New York. Google integrated voice search calls-to-action beautifully into outdoor media, even on bowling balls. This campaign was rolled out roughly six months ago, to promote its “OK Google” voice search app. So, the advertising world had yet to catch on to this technology and such a campaign concept.

Digital marketing innovation with Google Voice Search

©Marcel de Grijs via 123RF

Google Now on Tap

It was recently announced that the revamped Google Now called Google Now on Tap, will become incredibly intuitive and take the No Interface trend to new heights. Google’s future Android M will play host to Google Now on Tap. Watch Google’s video here and be amazed.

According to PC Advisor, the new Nexus will make use of Android M. They also state that major Android brands should also utilise Android M in late 2015/early 2016.

A South African perspective

I’m currently involved in such a campaign. The above-mentioned voice search idea worked well for me because it brought together three key parts:

    • • a mobile-centric, high-income target market (campaign-specific);
    • • consumers use Google to answer questions that needed asking; and lastly,
    • an innovative, creative concept required to break through clutter.

That being said, with innovation, always comes new challenges. There were inherent risks involved; for instance, there was no local voice search-related data to support the concept’s plausibility. The voice search technology had to be tested extensively to see if it, in fact, could be used within the campaign.

The overall technical aspect of the voice search technology of the campaign was developed and tested from scratch, with no previous campaign to benchmark directly against. We did not partner with Google for this campaign, but they kindly allowed us to make use of their voice search technology.

Try it out for yourself, and ask the below question via voice search to reveal a specific, local fast food brand’s website (links to this page) in the search result page:

    • “Are your milkshakes really made from potatoes?”

This voice search SEO concept is being fully integrating into traditional advertising, via point-of-sale collateral, packaging, billboards etc., which will incorporate campaign-related voice search questions. This through-the-line campaign is the first of its kind for a brand in South Africa, and to the best of my knowledge globally speaking too (I know that Nestle UK announced a voice search campaign a few days after our campaign launched).

Be brave and curious

So, I humbly implore all South African digital marketers to be brave and curious by pitching fresh ideas that are both imaginative and ROI driven.

My article appeared on here 

Tips to win at digital marketing – Paid search and SEO

Digital marketing’s search engine marketing (SEM) can be summed up as a means to harness Google search for your business, as part of your business’ marketing mix to increase product sales and/or brand awareness.

SEM consists of search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid search (Google’s AdWords) ads. Often businesses either invest in SEO or paid search ads but not both, or most likely not adequately investing in both. However, businesses should invest in SEM as a whole for various reasons.

Paid Search can break through clutter via innovation

Dunkin Donut’s executed paid search in an innovative and powerful way. Be inspired by watching this video.

SEO can piggyback off the latest tech to cut through clutter

McDonald’s harnessed “OK Google” voice search through SEO. This video explains it all.

Keyword research

Organic search and paid search keyword conversion data should be shared freely amongst both the SEO and paid search teams. For example, a well-executed paid search campaign will reveal insightful keyword-related data. This is the case because, for example, such a paid search campaign will show which keywords are resulting in the highest conversions, which, in turn, can then be focused on by the SEO team. In this way, SEO and paid search ROI can be maximised through focusing on the keywords that matter.

Alignment makes SEM cost-effective

This is quite obvious in highly competitive search categories, such as the financial industry. This is the case because paid search ads that target highly competitive keywords can be exorbitant. These expensive keywords would usually be popular non-brand-related search queries, keyword ‘z’ for argument’s sake. Keyword ‘z’ costs many hundreds of rands per click, resulting in a massive monthly bill. Naturally, this source of business leads would also dry up as soon as you stopped paying for your ads, while SEO is ongoing and not as ‘payment sensitive.’

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Image designed by Freepik

With SEO (assuming your website ranks #1 for keyword ‘z’) you will get a large amount of website traffic via keyword ‘z’, but you will only have to pay for SEO. What can end up happening is that paid search cost per conversions for keyword ‘z’ are much higher than SEO’s cost per conversion for keyword ‘z’. So, in this case, the paid search campaign was focused on brand-related keywords (less demand for them so they are affordable to target), where competitors’ ads could potentially detract from the company’s brand-related organic search listings.

These keywords perform better in terms paid search cost per conversion, while SEO focuses on the expensive keywords (in terms of paid search). Both SEO and paid search serve their purpose in a cost effective way.

‘Owning’ more of Google search

However, when budgets allow for it, paid search and SEO should always work in unison. When a company’s website ranks #1 in organic search, and #1 as an AdWords ad (for the same search query), there is often a boost in the number of people clicking through to your website via both the respective ad and organic search website listings. This is due to your company ‘owning’ more SERP ‘real estate’, i.e. the bigger the surface area in Google search that your company occupies the more attention your website will receive, like a massive billboard versus a small one. Mediative’s independent research showed that the top performing ad gets roughly 10% of clicks for any given search query, while the #1 ranking organic search listing gets about 30% of clicks.

So your brand will ‘own’ approximately 40% of the search result page’s clicks. One website I worked on showed an overall increase in click-through rate of over 35%, when its ad ranked first together with its number 1 ranking organic search listing. The reverse is true as well – your website could lose out on traffic if you don’t have an ad above your number one ranking organic search listing. A competitor may syphon off clicks by ranking first as an ad, even if your website ranks first organically.

Ads can indirectly increase organic search traffic via the principle of attribution

I have also observed paid search behave as a stimulus for organic search traffic. In other words, paid search ads can indirectly encourage people to click on organic search listings because of an increase in relevant brand awareness. I observed ads, which focused on keyword ‘x’, result in a monthly increase of over 100% in organic search-derived visits via keyword ‘x’ over the same period.

Targeting the purchase funnel via organic search and paid search ads

According to leading independent research by Razorfish, “our research showed at least half (53%) of conversions and revenue happening through paid search are preceded by organic search visits within the previous seven days.” So, in this case organic search acted as an awareness tool, while paid search ‘closed the deal’ at the end of the purchase funnel.

That being said, the reverse is also true – by targeting specific keywords along the purchase funnel, organic search can be used to engage effectively with consumers at any stage of the purchase funnel. Regarding the pre-purchase and awareness part of the purchase funnel, broad, category-based keywords (and related words) would be the focus. The decision-making part of the purchase funnel would focus on product-specific keywords. I’ve observed a blue chip, financial services company’s website receive over 80% of their leads via organic search (with an amazing overall conversion rate of 20%). This also led to the highest number of long-term clients too, eclipsing all other sources of website traffic (including paid search). This company’s paid search campaign was limited.

So, depending on your budget and other variables like time, an ideal mix of organic search and paid search ads can be harnessed to achieve excellent business results.

Quality score

Another factor to consider is Google’s Quality Score, which is an important element to consider when it comes to paid search. A Quality Score is a metric that is scored out of ten, which Google allocates to your prospective ad. A high Quality Score points out that your landing page (website page that your ad directs people to) is relevant to your paid search ad. Relevance refers to the contents of a landing page, which is where the strength of SEO lies.

I’ve seen high Quality Scores result in a lower cost per click (a cost metric relating to a company paying for each time a person clicks on its AdWords ad) and lower cost per conversion (the cost metric associated with receiving a specific business lead via the ad). Well-executed SEO on a landing page will result in a high Quality Score. Basically, the search phrases (what people Google search) you target with your ads should match the website’s SEO-focused keywords. For example: A paid search campaign that targets keyword ‘x’ should be driven to a landing page which has been optimised for keyword ‘x’ too.

What should your digital agency do?

All of your brand’s SEM efforts should be aligned by briefing the SEO and PPC teams at the same time regarding future marketing campaigns. The SEO team can create optimised landing pages and / or optimise existing pages to improve paid search campaign performance (indirectly via attribution and as direct landing pages). The SEO team should share SEO-related data (keywords with best CTRs and impressions etc.) with the paid search team and vice versa. Ensure paid search keywords are driven to optimised destination URLs (landing pages).

Googling things is more popular than ever

The future of SEM is bright. The consumer-related popularity of Google search within each of our client’s industries is growing substantially by the day, across: mobile, tablet and desktop Google searches (in that order of significance).

There is therefore a solid business case to not only invest in SEM, as part of your company’s marketing mix but also to ensure that you get it right.

My article appeared in here.

Online PR: Reinventing Online Reputation Management

The title of this article may sound over the top, but current South African online reputation management (ORM) practices are out of date.
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Brands currently make use of a fragmented approach to ORM. Also, search engine optimisation (SEO) and digital paid media are not adequately utilised, if at all. Below I will share with you leading global research as well as my practical, successful findings.

An integrated approach to ORM

A holistic approach to ORM is needed, which makes use of ‘reputational’ SEO with carefully selected and executed digital paid media types, as well as social media content. Naturally, we also make use of ORM software and other online tools. We coined the name ‘Integrated Online Reputation Management’ for this service or ‘iORM’ for short. iORM is an ‘always-on service’, with real-time effectiveness.

The results are maximum positive consumer sentiment and improved website engagement for brands. These results are made possible by a methodology developed by myself, as head of search strategy and innovation at Quirk digital agency, together with the support of my bright colleagues.

It works

I’ll give you an example. An iORM client of ours, in a competitive consumer service industry, has benefited significantly from our service. A recent PR issue emerged for this client, centered on one of its products. We not only improved positive brand sentiment, but we also increased the number of business leads (via the website) for this product.

iORM has allowed this client to maximise its positive influence on its relevant piece of the South African digital landscape.

The search engine manipulation effect

Properly executed SEO is critical to successful ORM. High-ranking organic search engine listings can sway public opinion. Leading research from the American Institute of Behavioral Research and Technology sums up the Search Engine Manipulation Effect as, “Internet search rankings have a significant impact on consumer choices, mainly because users trust and use higher ranking results more than lower ranking results.” I couldn’t agree more with their research.

The Streisand effect

It is essential to be mindful of the Streisand effect when it comes to ORM. I’m not referring to the effect that Barbra Streisand has on her fans. Instead, I’m referring to a PR-related phenomenon, which Wikipedia summed up as, “A phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.” iORM is carefully executed across the Internet with the Streisand effect in mind in order to achieve maximum ROI for our clients, without any unintended consumer backlash.

Why is iORM an independent service?

iORM should run parallel to clients’ other digital marketing campaigns. iORM and the other brands’ campaigns act as a two-prong approach to digital marketing, each with clear objectives. A brand’s iORM and other campaigns would compromise their individual focus if they were not independent of each other.

International validation of iORM

We are ‘preaching’ the latest methodology in communication performance, while this new philosophy is still fresh from a global perspective. I’m referring to Barcelona Principles 2.0., the first international framework for measuring communications performance. This framework was devised by AMEC (International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, the largest of its kind in the world), PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) as well as many other leading global PR-related organisations.

Current online PR and ORM efforts are obsolete – AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalency metric) are no longer the value of communication. There is a need to be holistic, integrated and aligned – across traditional PR, digital: paid, earned, shared and owned digital marketing channels. There should be a focus on the measurement of engagement, ‘conversation’ and ‘communities’.

iORM utilises data in a smart, ‘creative’ way

What distinguishes our unique iORM product from other ORM efforts? The answer is simple: iORM allows for the intelligent acquisition and use of data, together with the single purpose of improving a brand’s communication performance, across multiple digital channels in a cost-effective way.

South African brands need to take full control of their reputations and iORM is the answer.

*My article appeared in here