Why SEO Pros Are Killing the Competition

on under Search Engine Optimization.

What separates the industry-leading SEOs from the bargain barrel ones? Everybody has their opinion, but a surprisingly off-the-radar joint study by Search Engine Land and Conductor puts their data where their mouth is. I have some reservations with the methodology (as usual), but it does help point us in the right direction.

Let's take a look at the takeaways:

  • They surveyed 380 (not so randomly selected?) search marketers working in enterprise-level businesses.
  • They divided the respondents into two groups. "Best in class" SEOs were 3 times more likely to double search traffic over the past year, 3 times more likely to double search conversions over the past year, and self-described (ugh) as "highly successful at SEO." Those who didn't fall into that category were deemed laggards.
  • Laggards were three times more likely to get involved in content only after the core content had been produced.
  • Laggards were three times more likely to do "basic" reporting only. In other words, they weren't looking at correlations, they weren't segmenting traffic by keyword, and they weren't looking at how they influenced key metrics like conversions and visibility. In general, laggards didn't think frequent reporting was all that important to their job, and they mainly just measured rankings and aggregate traffic.
  • Sixty-three percent of the best in class SEOs thought evangelism was an important part of their job, while only 29 percent of laggards felt the same way.
  • The differences in budget and headcount between laggards and best in class SEOs weren't striking, so technique had more to do with it than resources.

What I like about this study is it's not looking at ranking factors and algorithms: it's looking at mindsets. Successful SEOs were heavily involved in the content creation process, they felt that getting stakeholder buy-in was a necessity, and they saw data as their lifeblood: something that needs to be continually monitored and re-evaluated.

So, why are industry leading SEOs stomping the competition? Because they're data-driven, holistic, and they make themselves an integral part of the company.

This isn't the only study to investigate this topic.  A study by Ascend2 suggests that successful SEOs also incorporate social media. Among respondents who rated their SEO strategy "Very successful," 38 percent had extensively integrated their SEO and social strategies. Among those who rated their SEO strategy "Not successful," only 2 percent had extensively integrated social media.

Meanwhile, in August, SurveyMonkey held a controlled survey to test some assumptions about search engine users, and came to these conclusions:

  • Users are more likely to trust branded sites
  • Facebook Likes, Tweets, and Google Pluses increase the odds that a user will read something if it shows up in their social media account
  • Linking to high quality sites makes your site more trustworthy
  • Users trust a guest post less if it is labeled as a guest post
  • In some circumstances, keyword matched domains increase the likelihood that a user will contact the business
  • Evergreen content isn't influenced by publication date
  • Poor grammar and spelling hurt trust
  • The main reasons a user would block a site would be too many ads or poor content
  • Users can guess the context of a link regardless of the anchor text

This survey had a few priming issues, but it was relatively scientific for the industry.

Putting it all together, the data is telling a consistent story. If you want to earn your place as a top-tier SEO, you need to approach things holistically, get stakeholder buy-in, and look deeper than basic metrics. You're almost certainly going to be incorporating social media, with a focus on actionable evergreen content and branding.

Image credit: Mai Le

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  • Nathan Safran

    Thanks for writing about our study Carter.

    Nathan Safran
    Director of Research
    Conductor, Inc