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How to manage your SEO in difficult times

Monday, March 30, 2020
seo and visibility + reviews

The objectives of SEO (search engine optimisation) are clear - to ensure that search engines can crawl and index your website’s content, so that your website can rank for the relevant keywords, and more importantly, to improve organic search traffic and revenue.

Yes, SEO can often be complicated and technical, especially in times like these. A website can be optimised to have all the SEO bells and whistles, but if its brand reputation is subpar, that could have an impact on performance. In this article, we’ll be discussing the importance of a good reputation when it comes to search engine optimisation, especially in uncertain times.

Word of mouth is one of the best forms of marketing

Before the age of the internet and eCommerce, businesses relied on traditional forms of marketing to grow their business. One of the best forms of marketing out there is word of mouth. Providing a great experience and service for one person means they’re more likely to become not just a repeat customer, but also a brand advocate. They help spread the word of the great service they just received, which then results in better brand reputation.

However, this form of marketing can only work if you conduct good business. Good business in this context means ensuring customer experience and satisfaction is your highest priority. In the eCommerce world, this would mean fast delivery turnarounds, seamless returns policy, great customer service, and also great prices. If you get those things right, the abundance of digital mechanisms available can help streamline the rest. Which leads us to the next section.

The importance of reputation & reviews

Humans are naturally curious, and they are particularly curious if they have not heard of your brand before. If you have a great product on offer at a great price, let’s say 10% cheaper than the competition, but you’re a start-up brand, users are more likely to start asking questions, such as:

  • Who are these guys?
  • Why are they offering this product at a cheaper price?
  • Are these guys legit, is this a scam?
  • Am I going to get ripped off?

Which is why it is so important to ensure that you have a well-designed website, and more importantly ensure that your trust signals are obvious: SSL certificate (HTTPs), secure checkout, payment options, privacy policy, shipping policy, returns policy, and reviews and testimonials. Browsing websites is second nature to most users, and today’s shoppers are subconsciously looking for these cues to determine legitimacy and authenticity of a website. These trust signals also contribute to Google’s evaluation of E-A-T of a website as part of their algorithms, which we will cover in later sections of this article.

Google searches

Start typing in any brand name in Google and do not hit “enter”, you will get a list of suggested queries in a drop-down. These suggestions are referred to as Google Auto-suggest, and it is a common occurrence to see “brand + reviews” as a suggestion. Queries appear on this list because they are popular. Which is why it is important to ensure that you have positive reviews floating out there on the Internet, especially during times of uncertainty.

Google Search Engine Results Page

If users aren’t familiar with your brand or website, they are going to search for your “brand + review” in Google in order to conduct their own research. It is said that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and it is no surprise that reviews provide efficient social proof.

How customer reviews impact SEO

If implemented and executed accurately, user generated product reviews provide social proof that the product is legitimate and the number of reviews indicates that there has been numerous sales of the product. More importantly, the textual nature of user reviews provides keyword research content depth to product pages. If a user is going to be writing a product review, they are naturally going to mention the product name (primary keyword) and the features of the product (secondary keyword), contributing to juicy on-site relevancy signals which Google looks at when ranking websites.

It is well and good that some websites encourage their customers to leave native reviews through their eCommerce platform, but let’s face it, third-party validation from verified review websites plays a very important role when it comes to a website’s reputation, especially when you are a new brand or startup.

That’s why it is so important that you get your business process right by collecting reviews through review platforms, and ensure a positive customer experience and affect positive change internally.

Reputation and E-A-T

In September 2017, CNBC published an article interviewing Ben Gomes (VP of Search Engineering at Google) on how search works. In that article, he reveals that Google employs thousands of search quality raters to help evaluate the quality of search results when they are considering a tweak to their search algorithms. These search quality raters evaluate SERPs based on a document called the Quality Rater’s Guidelines which is a publicly accessible document.

To quote the article:

“Google contracts about 10,000 of these raters around the world, and while they cannot directly affect search results, their opinions help Google’s search team evaluate whether a given tweak should go through or not. Raters typically see old and new results side by side, and determine which are better.”

In the quality rater’s guidelines, there is a strong emphasis on E-A-T which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. I want to bring your attention to section 4.0 and 5.0 of the document which highlights what they deem to be High Quality Pages and have a high level of E-A-T. Below are some snippets from the document:

high quality pages

Back to those on-site trust signals that were mentioned in earlier sections of this article... It is important to ensure that these trust signals are obvious and clearly outlined on your website.

reputation and google

They also make mention of the importance of reputation throughout the document, even providing instructions on how to determine the reputation of a website in question:

searching for business reputation

These are all hints that your overall business reputation plays a huge role in your E-A-T. In the CNBC article, it was said that their evaluations from the search quality raters guidelines have no direct impact on Google’s algorithms. Fast forward to February 2019, Google published a whitepaper outlining their attempt in fighting disinformation in SERPs. To quote the whitepaper:

Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority and trustworthiness.

This is a pretty clear indication that E-A-T is important, and that Google’s algorithm considers it when ranking websites.

Focus on doing good business, even if difficult times

If you actually spend some time reading the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines without an SEO lens, it is all about ensuring that your business has a good reputation. Having a good reputation is a byproduct of doing good business and doing good business is all about ensuring your customers are happy and satisfied. Word of mouth marketing is a really powerful tool which is free, and the effect of it compounds over time.

You can invest in SEO tools, hire the best SEO agency and spend millions in PR and digital advertising. but if your underlying reputation is bad - no amount of investment is going to fix that. Look internally and affect change, and the rest will follow.

Jason Mun is the Search Director for Overdose Digital. With over a decade of search experience, he leads the charge on all things SEO for both the Melbourne and wider global offices.

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