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The Business SEO Battle: Ranking By Numbers, or Intelligence?

Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way, with continued developments, advancements and algorithm tweaks giving business owners, brand agencies and marketing gurus more than just a digital headache.

But traditionally, SEO has been a numbers game, with ranking positions the all-important deciding factor. However, with the purpose of the activity to reflect and cater to user behaviours, can SEO really be simplified to numerical values?

In this piece, I take a look at how far business SEO has come and how more recent advancements in intelligence are helping it towards its ultimate goal.

For any business operating online, SEO is an essential element of the digital marketing mix. Forming the foundation of website designs and content output, SEO helps businesses build an online presence by increasing the chances of web pages and products appearing in visible positions on search engine results pages.

Over the years, the activity has advanced significantly. Of course, it has come a long way since the early days of cramming as many keywords as possible into text, or using spam websites to backlink to yours in an attempt to gain authority.

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And while many of these activities are now frowned upon, and can in fact, negatively impact SEO rather than help it, the motivations are the same. For instance, using keywords in website copy or product descriptions is still key in ensuring they rank for the right search terms. Similarly, backlinks remain the golden ticket for website authority, albeit from genuine and trustworthy sources.

The difference is that today, SEO is much more intuitive. Best practice is all about optimizing content for logical human behaviour and user experience. For example, keywords that are integrated into copy in a much more natural way are likely to gain more SEO points than a page which uses the old cramming approach.

The reason for this shift is all down to advancements in intelligence, which are enabling search engines to assess and score content in more sophisticated ways than previously possible. Ultimately, today’s ranking assessments understand pages and content in ways that are similar to human usage and interactions.

For example, Google’s roll out of featured snippets has shown significant insight into how the search engine is being used, and in turn, how businesses must adapt their content in order to reach the top-ranking positions.

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Emphasis on Q&A style results in position zero of results pages is clear evidence for users turning to the platform for question queries, for which they want quick and straightforward answers. And with these featured snippet boxes taking up significant space on the top of the results page, pushing other organic results further down, it is essential for businesses to include such content into their optimization strategies.

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Additionally, there is a strong case for the use of PPC ads in order to ensure higher visibility on pages that are becoming much harder to rank on organically. This is also true for product searches, as the search engine prioritises shopping results when a user’s query is interpreted as an intent to purchase. Therefore, shopping ads are a great way to ensure your products are visible among competitors in the most prominent position on the page.

Evidently, intelligence in SEO is enabling it to reflect user behaviors and intentions more accurately. And while this is a positive change from a consumer perspective, as results are only becoming more relevant, convenient and useful, for businesses, the playing field is more complex than ever.

So, with ranking criteria constantly being adapted and advanced by search engines, there are ways for businesses to leverage their own intelligence in order to improve SEO activity.

For instance, the backbone of any effective SEO strategy is data and insight. For many, collecting this information requires a trial and error approach, whereby businesses implement tactics and learn from what is and isn’t working.

But as search engines become more complex and intelligent, it can be difficult to get things right, or to really be able to assess activity without waiting months in some cases. Therefore, businesses should use their own data and insights to inform any decisions or activity. This can be a key way to ensure you focus on the right channels, customers and keywords.

For instance, using lead intelligence gathered and analyzed by a sophisticated management system that takes into consideration all sales channels, including owned and third-party marketplaces, can provide valuable information on which channels your customers are using most frequently and what products or services are most popular.

This information can then go on to inform the channels you should focus your SEO efforts on, and which products or services will provide the best ROI.

In business SEO, the numbers will always be important, as ranking positions will always determine the success of any efforts. However, intelligence should be given just as much attention, as it is only with the latter that efforts can be streamlined for more effective results.

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