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2020 held many surprises for everyone.  In March of 2020, when the bottom of the market dropped, all of us were wondering “what’s next?” I had been focusing on many aspects of Digital delivery for the past 10+ years. I never would have expected how much 2020 would change SEO in a company.

SEO Prior To The Pandemic

Before 2020, SEO was treated like a buzzword that everyone should look like they paid homage to. Few knew what SEO meant or really wanted to invest in it. For most, it was a box to check on a list. The typical investment towards SEO and organic channel development came in to my firm a few times a year. SEO requests were generally from clients who wanted to check that box. Investments were minimal compared to other channels. “Quick wins” were always sought after, so funds could be focused on the next campaign.

When the market dropped, and financial futures dried up, so did the marketing budgets. When this happened, so did the traffic from those budgets. Marketing leadership had to go to their boards with their tail in between their legs, and explain why there was no traffic.

Lessons in SEO and SEM Allocations

The answer was simple, they had been renting traffic. It was too easy for marketers to make their numbers, and their careers, by throwing money at the challenge. Businesses were spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars a year in leased traffic. In other words, they were spending the vast majority of search budgets on paid ad campaigns.

They had not contributed a significant amount of their budget portfolio to developing “owned traffic”. Markets were not investing in building the maturity of their organic channel. When depending too much on paid channels, if the marketing budget runs out, so too goes the leased traffic. When you stop spending money, and you don’t have money to spend on ads, you don’t have any ad traffic.

This caused a startling eye opener for many boards for leading companies. It also drove a reassessment of marketing spend. More than 95% of many companies SEM spend would go to PPC campaigns, yet only 10% of search traffic would click on paid ads. More than 90% of search traffic opts for organic search results. There are many reasons for this, but the short answer is that people find them more reliable.

The realized disconnect in spend vs channel potential drove the change for SEO in companies across the market.

The 2020 Alarm For SEO

The alarm bells rang, and everyone realized it at the same time. “2020 is the year we start getting serious about building our organic channel a mature SEO approach”. “It is time to develop an ‘owned’ audience”. Everyone at once started to try and figure out “how to SEO“. Unlike previous attempts at SEO, they were serious this time.

As I said before, typically my firm would see a few requests a year, specifically for SEO. In 2020 that amount more than doubled. Not only did SEO demand double, but the requests were much more serious. Site audits and “quick wins” were historically what we were asked to focus on. These allowed clients to check the box for SEO. Now we were seeing executives that are interested in the strategy of SEO and enabling digital demand through organic channel growth.

I started developing a complete SEO program solution for these needs. This was exactly the type of work that I wanted to develop for years, if only I had the time. 2020 created the industry focus, which enabled the time investment necessary to build SEO maturity in the industry.

SEO In A Company In 2020

This SEO program is what I developed to address company needs for SEO in a company after 2020. It is not simply enough to have SEO sprinkled on a project. SEO is not something to be treated as an editor that can polish up whatever the business leaves for it. Instead SEO needs to drive the business to the goal. If the company is dealing with public facing content, and organic channel traffic is A concern, then the only way to succeed is for organic channel traffic to be THE focus. It must be at the heart of every decision made. An understanding of the channels audience and voice must be known by all stakeholders and contributors.

Companies realized it is not enough to have branding lead a website redesign, and have SEO try to come behind and clean it up for the search engines. No. Instead branding needed to understand the audience voice, and know the branded audience voice. What keywords did the brand want to target and own, even if they were not “branded” keywords? This is just one example of the shift in thinking that occurred in 2020.

SEO In A Company In 2021 And Beyond

SEO in the business will never be the same. In the first 2 months, SEO demand is up 100% from all of 2020. Companies are looking to mature in SEO quickly during 2021. By the end of 2021 many businesses will be further along in their SEO maturity, including some of your competitors.


 SEO in a Business 2021


SEO Program Approach

SEO Capabilities Assessment:

The SEO assessment component looks at the businesses capabilities, org structure, processes, and technologies and compares them in maturity rubrics. Gaining insights here is essential to enabling SEO maturity for the company.

Organic Architecture Site Audit:

We are all likely familiar with the SEO site audit. This is the favorite of many SEO agencies and tried and true. SEO site audits can see fairly significant organic channel growth in short amount of times. If your SEO resources understand how to partner with your web development team, you can get some success here. If you have historically seen SEO site audit reports come from your SEO resources, but nothing happens, you likely have an SEO organizational maturity deficit. See the assessment component above.

SEO Strategy:

SEO Strategy is something we will go into more detail on in a later post. The key takeaway is that many insights can be gained from keyword data when viewed through the right framework. Outputs from SEO strategy can drive content strategy and content planning, persona development, new product and service opportunities, design insights, etc. SEO data provides direction that makes it essential for it to brought up from its historical position as editor, and into a driving seat at the companies strategy table.

Organic Channel Focused Design:

Outputs from SEO strategies will give you keyword insights to drive design decisioning. Keyword groupings will reveal potential channel size through audience voice search volumes. With this we can build site hierarchies that focus on content groupings which target audience channel sizes. SEO will identify the site hierarchy and map it to audience intent. This will ensure the entire site is designed to support your most desired keywords that generate the most demand.

Reporting For SEO:

Build reports across business units. They need to show holistic views of your business is adopting, executing, and performing in SEO. Before you start building dashboards, metrics, and KPI’s, start by building KPQ’s, or key performance questions. What questions do you need answers to. That will drive the KPI’s you will need to develop and track. Since SEO encompasses so much of the business, you must understand what roles and resources both own and influence KPI’s. We will talk more on that in a later post on SEO Reporting.

Optimize (The O in SEO):

Historically, this is what many talk about when they talk about SEO. Search Engine Optimization is something that is not often achieved. SEO is not something you do. It is what happens when everything else works together. Without organizational and process alignment, you can’t get to optimization across product, IT, and marketing resources. If you don’t have proper reporting, and stakeholder buy in, you won’t know what optimization to drive. Without understanding your audience voice and channel potential, you won’t have a content strategy working towards and organic channel growth. If organic architecture and audience voice don’t lead your design, your efforts will be limited by where they start … Which may be behind the 8 ball.

In Conclusion: What It Takes For SEO To Be Successful In A Business

Once we have enabled the components of SEO in a more mature spot, then we can truly optimize content and our technology for search engines. Only after we have developed our companies SEO maturity and brought SEO up in and through the business, then can we most effectively use SEO for its editorial capabilities. This program approach to SEO will allow your business to succeed in organic channel growth, and allow your business to compete with other mature SEO companies and competitors in 2021.

Kyle Wahlquist

Kyle is an Organic Channel Growth Leader and SEO Expert within Credera, who in his 14-year career in eCommerce and digital marketing enablement has worked for some of the fastest growing and largest companies in North America. Kyle is a polymath, or someone who likes to learn a lot about a lot of different areas. He combines many different disciplines to explore new ways to approach challenges and solve problems.

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