media update’s Adam Wakefield and Nikita Geldenhuys spoke to Richard Bensted, director of iShack Digital Consultancy, about why doing SEO right means having a plan and knowing what you want to achieve.

What are some of the main myths that South African businesses, like your clients, have when it comes to SEO?

I hear time and time again that SEO is dead. Others are:
  • AdWords is sold as SEO and clients genuinely believe this is real;
  • You can get on page one of Google for R1 000 and for any number of keywords;
  • You can have SEO implemented as a once-off quick service; and
  • You can’t have SEO keyword packages as SEO is dynamic.
In what way are these myths hurting local brands and to what extent does it affect their ability to compete with global websites?

Local SEO:
  • Agencies are selling a service that is never really delivered to the company or the brand; and
  • Companies can spend a lot of money on supposed SEO projects that are later considered a fail and, worst of all, SEO gets the blame with the decision maker mantra becoming, “Didn’t work, don't believe in SEO”.
If a brand does have a SEO project that is considered a fail, budgets are cut and sometimes this means that the brand now doesn’t have the requisite budget to implement a relevant and accurate SEO strategy.  

A great example is when a company wanted to expand its reach into Africa across 10 specific territories. Unfortunately, they only had budget to deliver a technically proficient and accurate campaign in one of these territories. So they opted for the ‘R1 000 for page 1’ offering and were penalised by Google for spammy backlinks.

They are now looking to invest in genuine SEO, but the cost of the poor strategic investment, and the removal of the spammy backlinks, has added to the price tag.

Factors for local SEO:
  • Easier to rank locally than it is nationally or internationally;
  • Generally, there is less competition for ranking in local search; and
  • Search engines like Google now provide local results depending on your location, thereby ensuring users get relevant search results.
Factors for Global SEO:
  • It’s competitive; and
  • It requires a strategy that is advanced and that requires a consistent and aggressive approach.
Where should brands, businesses, and marketers start when they want to cut through the clutter around SEO and get the basics right?

SEO is the long [term] game, so the brand needs to invest in a package that has been tailored to their strategy and budgets. We have constructed a number of these that are developed around the number of keyword phrases such as 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, etc. Each package has its own work plan and strategy.

We ask clients:
  1. What is your business objective? and
  2. What is the budget that you have set aside to achieve the objective?
Once we get answers, we can recommend the keyword package. I admit that budget in SA seems to drive the business objective, but I still ask what the objective is and then ask about the budget.

Do you think natural language will affect how effective SEO is? How can marketers and businesses prepare for this future?

Natural language search systems focus on the meaning and the natural way humans ask and offer answers to one another.

Natural language is idea based, which means it returns search hits on records that are “about” the topic related to what you are searching. Also, there is the possibility that the keyword phrase in records doesn’t match with keywords that you are entering into the search query.

It will also provide answers of search queries with connecting words like “how”, “and”, “the”.

The Google algorithms are now even smarter; even understanding queries that include superlatives and times, as well as more complicated questions proposed.

Google’s latest algorithm looks to determine your search intent from several factors. These include:
  • What type of device are you using (desktop, mobile phone, tablet)?
  • Are you typing or using your voice to conduct search?
  • What else are people searching for?
  • Number of consecutive searches done; and
  • Any related topics. 
Tips for making content marketing more effective for natural language search:
  • Plan content with detailed descriptions and vary the related keywords phrases rather than focusing on a single keyword in the whole content;
  • Design your website for mobile, i.e. mobile responsive, this will ensure that delivery is in the most useful format for your visitor;
  • Link to other authoritative and related resources;
  • Write content properly. 
Content is always a starting point and it is one of the very first steps that prepare a client’s website and prepare that website's content. Content should be solution-centric, where answers are provided. Rich media content, infographics, and videos are very important.  

Google will always prefer websites with content that delivers relevant information to a search.

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Bensted has gone into the guts of how SEO works, but why is it so valuable? Read more in our article, SEO keeps your content top of mind, and page.