Winning with Search in 2019: Talking SEM & SEO with the other Alexa


Think Amazon.com knows a thing or two about Search marketing? We talk to Andrew Ramm, President, Alexa.com, Amazon’s search, content and analytics platform; about making SEO and SEM strategic to the business, whether its B2B or B2C; as well as some practical ideas on how best to identify and plug content gaps to build the most powerful search strategy. 

It all began when we read somewhere that Amazon spends around $50 million a year on Search alone. We believe in Search of course; but have found that it often gets relegated to an outsourced or tactical activity – more about checking the boxes than something that can effectively elevate overall marketing performance. So, we checked in with Alexa.com- the other Alexa and a subsidiary of Amazon – which leverages its 20-year history of big data and ML expertise to deliver unique insights to marketers using search and content marketing to connect and engage with a broader user base. In conversation with Andrew Ramm, President, Alexa.com; about all things Search, and how to elevate it from tactical to strategic for 2019 and beyond.

Chitra: How is search – SEM and SEO – evolving as a strategic practice?

Andrew: Search marketing is constantly evolving. If we think back to the early days, search engines have really been able to crack down on black-hat tactics in order to eliminate spammy content and provide users with the best experience possible and a curated set of results to match their search intent. 

Paid Search Engine Marketing in particular is key to getting your product or service in front of users, especially young brands that haven’t yet built much authority in their space. Allocating a budget towards paid search efforts allows you to get your site and offering in front of customers immediately. For CMOs who are still trying to prove out a product or service, a good paid search marketing strategy is a crucial component of getting a business off the ground.

Organic or SEO strategy, on the other hand, is the bread and butter of acquisition marketing that can scale. This has become even more true over recent years, as creating valuable content to match a specific search intent has become increasingly important to marketers. Good content will work month after month to bring in more new visitors who are searching for what you offer.

Chitra: Do you see any strategic differences between an effective B2B and B2C SEO strategy?

Andrew: We’ve observed that the difference between B2B and B2C SEO strategy comes down to the core goals of the organization. Both B2B and B2C companies should focus on understanding their target audience, answering their questions, and positioning their solutions to a problem faced by that audience.

Generally, B2B companies have a more complex sales cycle. Multiple influencers and decision-makers, longer sales cycles and more touchpoints are involved – so they’ll want to think about how their SEO strategy addresses every one of those touchpoints.

For example, a corporate event company’s SEO strategy may include:

  • Top-of-funnel blog posts targeting information-intent queries—like “corporate event ideas”—to attract visitors in the exploration phase.
  • Downloadable guide to capture their email address and start nurturing prospects.
  • Product reviews page targeting reviews-based queries—like “[venue name] reviews”—to attract visitors in the consideration phase.
  • Buyer’s guide to influence other internal stakeholders.
  • Tutorial content to teach new customers how best to leverage their services.

That’s not to say that an SEO strategy for a B2C company will necessarily be less difficult. While there may be just one decision-maker, B2C buyer keywords may be more competitive, and a B2C company may need to focus more on converting a prospect during the first touchpoint. For example, a wedding planner may target the term “best wedding planner” for her local region and add in the right elements to get visitors to schedule a call.

Chitra: What are some typical missteps you see marketers make with their SEO strategy? (Perhaps especially when it comes to measuring outcomes from both paid and organic search, and the way we are conditioned to track search metrics.)

Andrew:

  1. One misstep we’ve seen is that marketers assume they fully understand their audience. Understanding your audience goes beyond knowing their needs—it’s about knowing where they look for information and what their mindset is at each stage of the purchase process.

    For example, if you’re an online furniture retailer, you need content that will answer information-intent searches, like “modern living room ideas.” People searching this are probably thinking about designing a living room. You’ll also want to focus on the buyer-intent keywords, like “best sectional sofa.” Understand when and if these searchers are buying from or revisiting your site, but also what other sites they’re going to, what other keywords those sites are targeting, and where you have gaps in your SEO strategy for this market segment.
     

  2. Search is not just about what you’re doing on-page. On-page SEO is still important, but SEO goes well beyond that. Usability and engagement are increasingly important factors. For example, if your site is easy to navigate and people are spending time browsing around once they’ve landed on your site, the reflection of that will be positive in search results.
     
  3. Measuring results should go beyond a user’s first interaction with your brand. We often think of the typical metrics—traffic, links, engagement, etc.—to gauge performance. That’s important; but measuring interactions by a cohort of customers across each touchpoint they’ve had with your brand is even more important.
     

Chitra: What tips would you have for small to mid-size marketers with limited resources; who want/need to build a more competitive search strategy? What should they prioritize?

Andrew:

  1. Automate as much as you can. Invest in tools that can help streamline site and content optimization; and provide actionable insight.
     
  2. Prioritize keywords for which you can realistically rank. Low-difficulty keywords may bring in a lower volume of potential customers each month, but usually being on page one for a low-volume keyword is better than being out on page two or three for its higher-volume counterpart. For example, if you run a small accounting company, it may be hard to rank for “small business accounting.” A lower-difficulty keyword like “best way to learn accounting” can be a better way to reach users that need your service now or later.
     
  3. Spot opportunities and ideas to plug gaps in your content strategy. For example, a company that provides fresh fruit delivery to offices might find that their audience of office managers is also visiting a popular lunch delivery website. Upon looking at the keywords that drive traffic to that site, they might discover unexpected ideas like “healthy lunch for work” or “best office lunch delivery.” While the company might not sell other food, they know it’s something their audience is searching for, and the company could provide valuable content to attract that audience.
     

Chitra: What trends in the search space are you tracking as we head toward 2020?

Andrew: The need to produce quality, engaging content that is easy to digest will continue into 2020. This includes both written content as well as rich media and interactive online events. Content that is unique, current and highly relevant will win the day.  So, staying on top of bleeding-edge topics and freshly-emerging conversations in your segment is absolutely critical to engaging your audience, and this trend will only become more prevalent in 2020 and beyond.

More about Andrew Ramm is President and General Manager of Alexa.com

Andrew Ramm is President and General Manager of Alexa.com, the marketing analytics subsidiary of Amazon. Over a 25 years long career, he has delivered significant growth for Brands in the areas of data analytics, digital design, digital music, VR and video technology. Outside of work, Ramm is an accomplished guitarist and an avid reader of books on astrophysics and quantum mechanics

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