On each of my trips to Europe or elsewhere abroad to a marketing conference, it is inevitable that someone will say, “We’re 1-2 years behind digital marketing in the U.S.”.
The reasons for this vary, from the capabilities of agencies to demand amongst business buyers of marketing services. Business culture in the UK drives many companies to react to competitors more than leading their respective market with new marketing tactics.
Budgets are another reason why a lag exists between the U.S. and Europe – there’s simply more money being spent on digital marketing, advertising and PR so there’s more resources, opportunity to experiment and innovate.
In advance of my recent speaking engagements in Amsterdam, London and Copenhagen, I reached out to a few European marketers (mostly from the UK) in my network from companies like Lloyds Banking, Vodafone, MediaCom, Cision, Adobe, Telenet, Traackr, and Brandwatch for their insights about digital marketing in 2016.
On the topic of the importance of SEO to overall digital marketing, opinions focused on the importance of quality, customer-focused content and SEO integration with other marketing tactics to the continued displacement of organic content for paid and the impact of mobile.
If your business expects to attract organic search traffic to content intended for buyers in the UK and broader Europe, here are what the marketing leaders and practitioners I connected with had to say:
Where does SEO fit in the digital marketing mix for 2016?
If you had asked me this question five years ago, I would have given you a very different answer. I’m focused on a very specific audience, and identifying and building a social community has helped me more – and has been more measurable — than SEO.
Shannon Doubleday, Content and Social Media Marketing at Bloomberg LP
SEO is still highly important and very much on the agenda for brands, where people are researching more and the touchpoints for someone actually visiting your site are growing, we need to make sure we are as relevant to the consumer searching as possible. SEO should focus on consumer needs and demands and not about the search engine algorithm changes and updates (if you’re doing SEO right, then you don’t need to worry). I also believe that more channels of digital marketing should align and not work in silo. PR, PPC, Display, VOD and SEO can all work together to create a consumer experience that’s seamless…. And make sure you have attribution modeling in place to track each consumer touchpoint, what channel they first came from so you can assign a percentage of that engagement to that channel.
Russell O’Sullivan, Senior Digital Performance Marketing Manager at Lloyds Banking Group
The equity a site builds with Google accrues over time, so we tend to think very long-term when it comes to SEO. Increasingly we are looking at onsite navigation and user-experience as a place to spend our time and thinking as we could definitely do more with the traffic that we get. And you know, the knock on effect of that is likely to be better ranking – Google are doing a good job at keeping the interesting stuff towards the top of their SERPs.
Giles Palmer, CEO at Brandwatch
In terms of SEO, the latest Google updates, particularly the quality update late last year, appear to confirm that your SEO strategy should be focusing on quality content and user engagement. A short list post may get you shares and initial traffic but well researched, long form, quality content that answers user’s questions is likely to gain more user engagement and achieve more links. Thus I suspect the relationship between SEO and content marketing will be more tightly intertwined this year.
Steve Rayson, Director at BuzzSumo
SEO is key. We definitely orient our marketing around what we see as our core asset, adobe.com. It’s one of the world’s most visited websites and pivotal in the entire customer lifecycle. SEO helps us with both awareness building and direct call-to-action activity – and the first port of call is adobe.com.
John Watton, EMEA Marketing Director at Adobe
SEO remains a key part of our marketing mix in 2016. As influencer marketing and content provide a strong boost of interest up the funnel, SEO is a key strategy for prospects and to drive traffic to our web site and blog. Since 2009, Traackr has been instrumental in defining the new category that is influencer marketing and our content and influencer activities provide the best foundations for successful SEO.
Nicolas Chabot, VP EMEA at Traackr
Within the digital marketing mix, SEO plays a useful role in delivering users to the information they need across devices and localities. This year will present opportunities and challenges to enterprise SEOs, who will increasingly be seen as search architects, as they engineer the best journeys for their users. This is especially true within mobile SEO, as Google focuses on improving the mobile experience through deep-linked app content and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
Nick Wilsdon, SEO Lead – Global Channel Optimisation at Vodafone Group
Being found and being ranked properly is the everyday battlefield in the digital space. Therefore SEO strategy is fully part and in the top priorities of our digital strategy and investment.
Greg de Clercq, EMEA Marketing Director at Kodak Alaris
SEO is still a fundamental part of any digital marketing strategy. Whilst I would potentially controversially say that its heyday has come and gone (in terms of what SEO was) , I believe that the channel has evolved and that we are now seeing a more mature channel that allows us to talk as both DR and Brand.
One of the biggest challenges for SEO is accountability. Increasingly we are seeing Google (in particular) take great swathes of real estate from the search results page in favour of paid advertising solutions (for example the four pack of PPC ads now in play). Furthermore the lack of keyword level data means that many frameworks to measure effectiveness are often based on flawed models that do not allow us to accurately understand the impact of our work at channel level. This all provides a challenging landscape for SEO practitioners in the modern landscape.
As a channel therefore, we need to evolve. SEO is increasingly not just about delivering volume – whether that be rankings, traffic or conversions. Increasingly practitioners are becoming more versed on measuring the impact of their work beyond standard SEO metrics. Increasingly we hear about coverage (whether that be value or volume thereof), brand uplift (either on searches or brand tracking) – and this migration towards more traditional brand metrics should allow us to provide clear actionable insight on our campaigns.
SEO will continue to be an important part of the digital marketing mix for the foreseeable future – however we as advertisers need to continue to provide clear value for advertisers – and measure as much as we can – not just in isolation of SEO – but of it’s role in the wider marketing mix.
Pete Young, Head of Digital at MediaCom
SEO is still key to our digital marketing mix. We get a lot of leads from search engines and it remains a key part of our strategy. However, we don’t just rely on SEO; we nurture all our leads with content, invite them along to our events where we can connect with them personally and introduce them to the most influential people in our journalist community.
Jeremy Thompson, Managing Director EMEA at Cision
When we look at where SEO fits into the wider marketing mix we recognize that SEO is the basis that everything needs to be built upon. SEO is a hygiene factor that should be addressed at the very beginning of all campaign design. We can use the results here to drive different approaches within SEA where previously spend levels on core traffic drivers took a disproportionate level of spend. By migrating the core traffic keywords from SEA and focusing them on SEO it will allow for a wider overall capability for keyword experimentation.
Jeremy Curtin, Director of Digital Experience at Liberty Global (Previously at Telenet)
I don’t see it fitting anywhere.
Ok, you can put the pitchforks away, what I mean is that SEO as a stand-alone channel or something that fits in a box isn’t something that really exists any more. SEO touches everything from web development, to content, to PR, to PPC, to advertising, to events to … etc. Every single marketing activity you do can benefit from having some form of SEO element, even if it’s just considering what searches people may do after they receive it.
SEO doesn’t so much “fit” ( in so much as putting a square box in a square hole) instead it attaches itself to everything else, improving it and forcing marketing teams to think in new ways. That’s the real power of SEO for me.
Mike Essex, Marketing & Communications Manager at Petrofac
One bitter pill that many SEO folks had to swallow was that SEO could no longer live in it’s own silo, for it to be successful it now needs to align with marketing plans but it also requires significantly more investment than a few years ago to be done well. It’s no longer good enough to just copy what worked in another market, clone and translate it, great SEO projects have to align with local marketing campaigns and objectives. A big part of SEO’s involvement in the digital marketing mix is how it can be leveraged to drive more organic downloads of your mobile app and increased visibility in the mobile app stores.
David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at eBay Classifieds
As you can see, there are a variety of perspectives about SEO for European and UK marketers specifically. The two main schools of thought seem to be:
- SEO isn’t what it used to be but it’s still important as long as it is quality and customer focused
- SEO is still important and even key to digital marketing success as part of an integrated marketing strategy
Whether you’re a marketer based in the UK, broader Europe or in the U.S., what’s your take on where SEO fits in the digital marketing mix?
To see U.S. marketing executives’ answers on this very question, be sure to check out this post: 12 Major Brands on Where SEO Fits in the Digital Marketing Mix for 2016