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The SEO Secrets that Google and Facebook Keep Under Wraps

The SEO Secrets that Google and Facebook Keep Under Wraps

Making sense of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a struggle for businesses and industry professionals alike. These six factors will help you get better returns on your marketing spend


95% of traffic on the internet comes from Page One of Google

Like you, I spent most of 2020 working from home 😷. Perhaps unlike you, my year was spent advising New Zealand’s top export businesses on how to tune their digital presence for growth in the Australian market. I had the great privilege and fun working with some exciting companies, ranging from fintech, food engineering, leasing, and accounting technologies, through to construction tech, edible seaweed, and even racehorse exporters. On the surface, the businesses I worked with had very little in common.

Curiously, as the year progressed, I noticed that the same question was coming up over and over again, that being: “How do I drive more traffic to my website?”. Now, remember, the companies I am working with are successful NZ businesses, most of whom have engagements in place with reputable marketing agencies and development companies.

And yet, these questions related to SEO kept popping up. To be perfectly honest, despite a long career in technology and product development, a Ph.D. in customer experience, and likely above average knowledge of SEO and digital marketing, I had to admit that I could not precisely pinpoint exactly which factors were key to ranking well on Google.

“When I started looking into improving our SEO, I was immediately confused and overwhelmed with conflicting information. I spoke to a business development consultant, two different marketing companies, a web developer, a specialist SEO company… every one of them had different ideas about what to do.” — Brain Corff, COO kindSIGHT

The dilemma that Brian and many of my NZTE clients faced challenged me. I started to dig into SEO, and at first, the more I read, the more confused I became. Every expert had great advice, yet collectively, the advice was often conflicting and certainly unclear in terms of priority and importance.


What is SEO and how does it work (the 10-second version)

Search Engine Optimisation is the term used to describe how your web page ends up on page one of Google. According to Google’s mission, their number one priority is to make sure search results are accurate and relevant.

The process by which Google arrives at this mission is opaque, increasingly sophisticated, and changes frequently. The Google algorithms are now clever enough to understand the meaning of a web page — the old days of stuffing keywords into meta tags and using tools to game the system are short-lived.

Attempts to stay on top of changes are equally fraught with failure — according to one of the top SEO experts in the world, Neil Patel, Google changes its page ranking algorithm over 3,000 times a year. An army of developers would struggle to keep up with that.

So, what is SEO?

SEO is having the most useful answer to the question being asked by your future customer.

If you succeed, Google will reward you with the coveted Page One Ranking 🏆… except in those cases where your best answer gets in the way of Google’s other mission, which is to sell ads.


The economics of Google and Facebook Ads

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s epic Blink, the human mind can only grapple with around three variables when making a decision. As soon as we have more than three different input factors, we are better off making decisions based on intuition than on complex spreadsheets. A useful caveat is that one’s intuition can be greatly enhanced by following the money flows.


Google Ads Revenue Trends

In the olden days, businesses would pay pennies for Google Ads clicks. In those days, the economics made sense. Today, Google is smarter, and the Google Ads pricing model is directly linked to demand and capacity — if you are buying keywords in medicine, SEO, or legal fields, your cost per click can be hundreds of dollars; if you are buying keywords that are not often searched for, such as pontoon repair or mid-life crisis, your cost per click may be a few dollars a pop.

Google Ads revenue has been increasing year on year. Between 2018 and 2019, Google made an additional $18.35 billion from advertising revenue. To put that in context — the increase in revenue for the 2018–2019 financial year for Google was around the size of the GDP of Lebanon, and many of the countries in Africa.

Advertising revenue of Google from 2001 to 2019
Advertising revenue of Google from 2001 to 2019. Source Statista 2021

The reason Google Ads are generating more revenue for the company each year is that Google is solving for Google’s mission, not for the mission of your business. To this end, there is a tremendous incentive for things like “organic” search results to be throttled and results from more “reputable sources” to be given a leg up. This trend is not particular to Google.


Facebook Ads Revenue Trends

Like Google, Facebook’s ad revenue is growing at around 17% per year. In 2019–2020, Facebook reported an additional $13.56 billion from advertising revenue.

It is most likely not a coincidence that the increase in Facebook’s advertising revenue coincides with changes to the feed algorithm which decreases the organic reach of posts. If you are a business with 10,000 followers, it’s likely that only 650 of your fans will see one of your posts. According to Hubspot, Facebook reports that “you should assume organic reach will eventually arrive at zero”. Once again, there is strong evidence to suggest that Facebook is solving for its own mission, not the mission of your business.

Following the money flows, we can make the fair projection that Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube (insert your favourite social media platform) are solving for their own business models, which includes creating new ways to squeeze more advertising dollars out of your business.


When do Google and Facebook Ads make sense as your primary SEO strategy?

There are two ways to answer this question: the Warren Buffet way, and the Mark Zuckerberg way.


The Warren Buffet Calculator

The Warren Buffet calculator, let’s call it the “old-school” way of doing maths, is relatively simple: the cost of acquiring a customer (CAC) should be less than the revenue generated from that customer.

Cost of Customer Acquisition < Revenue from Customer

For example, if the average cost per click for the keyword “SEO” is $11.58 and conversion rates are 2%, I break even if each customer spends $579. So if I am selling SEO courses at $49 a seat, I will either need a conversion rate of 24% or be prepared to lose $1,060 for every 100 people that click on my Google Ad.

There are many businesses for which a Google Ads focused approach works really well. As an example, the Gutter Knight franchise runs over 19 websites, all generated based on a complex formula of keyword analysis and geography. They have a team of five full-time staff dedicated to monitoring and continually refining the keywords used in their marketing campaigns. Another example, Procore construction software runs around 7,000 Google Ads at any one time based on programmatic analysis of keywords.


The Mark Zuckerberg Calculator

Paying my customers to use my product or service does not seem like a sustainable business model to me, however, I am routinely proven (at least temporarily) wrong because of the way modern SaaS economics works

Cost of Customer Acquisition * [6–12] < Revenue from Customer

Traditional businesses are valued on a 3–4 multiple of EBITDA, while SaaS businesses are often valued on a 6–12 multiple of revenue. In this world, if you grow your customer base really fast, and take a punt on the future revenue being 6–12 times your cost of customer acquisition, you can win. Regardless of whether you get it right, or wrong, Google wins.

As an example, I recently worked with a customer whose CAC was around $6,900, while the expected first-year revenue was on average $600. When we dug deeper, we found that there was a discrepancy in the business model — on the one hand, the product pricing model was based on similar SaaS models, while on the other hand, the CAC was based on a traditional consulting model. Understanding this discrepancy allowed us to create a lighter touch product line, and dramatically reduce the CAC.


How much do you need to spend on Google Ads?

A question that often comes up is “How much do I need to spend each month on Google Ads?”. The answer is that it varies, however, the number $9,000 -10,000 is cited by various sources as the typical average monthly cost for successful Google Ads campaigns (e.g. Wordstream, White Shark Media, WebFX).

Depending on the nature of your business, a marketing strategy based primarily on Google (or Facebook, Instagram, etc.) Ads will make sense if the calculations above stack up for your business. If they don’t, you need to find another approach.

“Up to 90% of spend goes towards advertising, yet the single, most powerful impetus to buy is someone else’s advocacy.” — Harvard Business Review Journal


Five critical factors that will help you win at SEO, and bypass Google Ads

If the cost of placing Ads on Google (or Facebook, Instagram, etc.) does not make sense for your business as a primary SEO strategy, read on. There are a number of factors that you can tune to ensure the best possible Google rankings, and solve the challenge of driving traffic to your website.

The list of factors is short by design. I spent much of my year in COVID-lockdown testing and refining these five key factors, and I know they work. In one instance, we had a major payoff two days only after implementing the above changes.

“We rebuilt our website using a modern mobile responsive template, updated our logo and tagline, and repositioned our content to be focussed on customer value. We locked in a new contract two days after implementing these tips. In the next six months, we doubled our projected revenue for the year.” — Steve White, Managing Director, Spinifex Land Access and Environment


Factor 1: Keep your HTML healthy

First, non-negotiable and critical rule: make sure that your website structure, that’s the HTML code, is healthy. Use the right tags in your HTML, such as <title>, <h1>, and ensure that your website is based on a mobile responsive template. You check your website health by running a tool such as Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest over your site — simply hand the report to your development team and have them address and fix all the errors identified.

Pro-tip: Run the tool again after each major website update to make sure that errors that could affect your SEO were not inadvertently added


Factor 2: Be strategic with keywords

Describing your products and services can be tricky, especially if your product is complex. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of using internally focussed language and describing your business rather than shifting the focus to how you make your target audience’s life better. Using the right words, that is the words that your audience is using when searching for your product or service, should not be left to chance. Use tools such as Keywords Everywhere, Google Ads Keyword Planner, SEMRush.

Pro-tip: Use keyword tools on your competitors’ websites to learn which words are driving traffic to them


Factor 3: Add your keywords to key HTML elements

Third, non-negotiable and critical rule: strategically use your keywords in the following HTML elements:

  • Page title <title> tag

  • Headings <h1>, <h2> etc and links <a>

  • Page URL

  • Contextually in the body of your web page

If you are working with a development agency, hand them the list of keywords and ask them to add them to the appropriate tags. This tutorial gives you a great step-by-step guide for how to add SEO-rich keywords to your pages.

Pro-tip: Use Google’s search predictions and “People also ask” to get ideas about popular search phrases and questions being asked


Factor 4: Serve, don’t spam

Resist the temptation to adopt spammy, silver bullet, quick-fix-overnight-success SEO tactics. Google is smart and ever-adapting. Your success will be short-lived, and you run the risk of devaluing your brand. Invest instead in creating content that will add value to your customers’ lives. Tools such as CoSchedule’s Headline Analyser, the mortgage calculator on Realestate.com, and Neil Patel’s site analyser genuinely add value and additionally create a long-tail source of warm leads.

Pro-tip: Invest in content that will genuinely make life better for your target audience


Factor 5: Scale your marketing through channels, not Ads

Instead of Ads, think about channels. Think about your highest value customers, and now think about how to reach thousands of them with one conversation — for example, if your target audience is architects, you could look at channels such as the Architects’ Guild in your country, newsletters that provide information about new architectural products, product specifiers, architectural conferences, and any other groups or individuals who can give you access to your target audience at scale.

Pro-tip: Solve for the channel provider to get access, and add value, to your target audience at scale


Key Takeaways

  • SEO is optimised for Google’s business model, not yours

  • Understand the cost of the keywords in your industry, and how this impacts your cost of customer acquisition and resulting revenue

  • Make sure your website structure (HTML) is healthy and utilises relevant keywords

  • Be strategic in your use of keywords

  • Focus on creating genuine value for your target audience or channel partner