The definition of search engine optimization — aka "SEO" — applied to media affiliate marketing
Search engine optimization ("SEO") is the process of improving a website’s infrastructure (technical) and content (editorial) to improve its visibility in non-paid (i.e. "organic") search engine results.
- Note, "SEO" differs greatly from "SEM," or "Search Engine Marketing."
- SEM describes the practice of bidding for paid ad placements on Google's search engine result page listings (fwiw — paid arbitrage can get dangerously close to publisher purgatory, aka the chum box, but it can be done, (and well)).
Dissecting a Search Engine Results Page (short-handed = "SERP")
Let's break down the various elements of the all-important Search Engine Result Page. "SERP" for short.
- Um...SERP? more than likely, the first time you hear the term "SERP," its definition will remain "yet to be defined" (i.e. said by an insider SEO person without context).
- Don't get intimidated. "SERP" stands for Search Engine Results Page, and it's the interface you use to click from Google.com onto other domains with relevant information for your search query
- Remember, Google ranks the sites according to how likely Google thinks the sites contain the information being searched.
- That means that, even for Google, "the customer is always right" —> and thus the amount of time people spend on the site visited after a Google Search click matters, a lot
- Longer visit times equate to happier visitors (provided overall site speed remains as fast as possible) and Google will continue to send similar search query traffic to these high-performing pages (as Google should)
Example listing types, e.g. Google Shopping ads, SEM, and SEO
- Google Shopping Ads: one of the interesting developments of the past decade plus is Google owning more and more of real estate on search engine results pages.
- In the past, Google linked more to sites, but now you see more and more evidence of Google pulling more information onto Google —> so people keep, well, Googling.
- Paid listings: in essence, Search Engine Marketing boils down to a dedicated process of A/B testing; by aligning ad copy and content to search terms, you can convert audience to a landing page you own and analyze (see below, but around 4% of searches go to SEM links vs. ~90% to the first three organic search results).
- Organic results: earned through a combination of optimized website infrastructure, as well as the strength of a site's backlink profile.
- E-E-A-T: In other words, does the site have a solid codebase, does the site's codebase connect well into Google's, and do other websites link to the site's domain verifying its experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trust (aka "E-E-A-T.")
- E-E-A-T is the de facto guidance given by Google to publishers about how to improve their search engine rankings (i.e. "improve your E-E-A-T and your site will rank higher in search engines").
Components of a specific search result
- URL / Meta title: that's what people click on. You can't do anything about your domain, so this is where good editors make their money.
- Publish date: Google values more recently published content. That's why detail-work such as link management matters so much.
- Codebase connectivity into Google matters: attributes such as On-page headings, Image, Meta Description etc. aren't exactly straight forward for non-technical users to create. The benefit is that solving for Google ensures content renders correctly in Google Search Results Pages, which results in free traffic to a site.
- This is why optimized codebase architecture and site taxonomy can drive significant value for publishers that want to sustainably grow.
More recently added components of search engine results pages
- Google is solving for users, according to their codebase: all of these newer, specific entries on a search engine result page (e.g. "People also ask," site links) have to connect into Google's codebase to render correctly. Improving the way a site's codebase talks to Google dramatically impacts SEO success.
- Own the full funnel of searches: for an affiliate publisher to win, they have to write for and rank highly in bottom-funnel searches (e.g. "best car wax, buy now").
- In order to do so, however, affiliate publishers also have to cover the entire funnel of searches (e.g. "best car waxes for sunny climates," "best car waxes for old cars," etc.).
- To win in affiliate you need to commit to a (call it) volume of quality — where scale comes from satisfying the demand of voraciously-searching consumers interested endemic, expert product content.
How to increase your ranking in SERPs (i.e. "improve SEO")
There are essentially three ways:
- Keyword research: identify the "magic quadrant" of content interest for a given endemic audience: i.e. relatively high-trafficked articles, with low competition for those keywords.
- Codebase technical improvement: prune underperforming content, optimally connect content infrastructure into Google's codebase (i.e. better "crawl-ability"), improve site speed, as well as overall user experience (i.e. A/B test to solve for longer average time on page)
- Iterate: the key to SEO being that you need to constantly refine your content strategy according to average SERP rank for those strategic buckets of authentic-to-the-brand topics.
- One example from the home endemic category — domino.com saw an opportunity to find users via category searches for "lime green paint."
- This increasingly-relevant topic for design-minded consumers became a way for Domino to use its design expertise to earn new visitors, and educate them about how to best deploy this color to various rooms and items in a smartly and savvily- designed house.
A note about taxonomy — "the library" analogy
- Think of Google like a library: the best way to understand taxonomy is to think of Google Search as a Gigantic G-Library:
- The person looking for books/information = the person searching Google
- The librarian retrieving information for the person = Google
- A site with proper taxonomy has all the books organized on shelves according to a sensible dewey decimal - like system.
- A site with poor taxonomy has no shelves and books strewn all over the floor
- If the librarian (Google) had the choice to recommend a resource to the person, the librarian would always select retrieving information from the well-organized bookshelves / proper taxonomy.
SEO Fundamentals Glossary | Affiliate Marketing for Beginners
- Domain Authority (DA): measure of a site’s authority, based on the quantity and quality of backlinks to the domain
- (NB: "Domain Authority" does not automatically guarantee increased search position rank, however there is a strong correlation (which I would argue becomes causal with the additional technical infrastructure upgrades)).
- Average position/rank: for a given keyword, where does an article rank on the SERP —> i.e. the top organic search result = #1, the 2nd #2, the 3rd #3, etc.
- #1-10 = first page, #11-20 = second page, etc.
- Search volume: the amount of monthly traffic driven by searches for a given keyword, or category of keywords
- Organic sessions: total amount of visits to a site generated by SEO
- Link equity: amount of "SEO juice" that gets passed from one site to another via link sharing (fwiw, black hat SEO practices never work; do not do them).
- Striking distance keywords: opportunity keyword categories for a site's editorial/SEO team, given the site's current organic traffic profile
- URL Rating: similar to domain authority, but at the page level
- Keyword Difficulty: amount of competition to own traffic for a given keyword; ideally you want to target content toward searches with lower keyword difficulty.
- Google Search Console: Google’s official SEO analytics platform, used to track a site’s visibility in Google, and remain up-to-date on any potential technical or other issues
Example comparison of various organic search result conversion rates, according to search position (i.e. #1-ranked article returns 40% of total traffic; #2 = 19%). Long story short, you have to get in the top 3 to be successful at earning maximum value from SEO, or at the very least the first page)
Key Takeaways for Media Affiliate Marketing, from an SEO Perspective
Consider that in the U.S. alone:
- There are more than 250 million Google users
- These users post ***hundreds of billions of searches every single month***
#1 - Publishers who satisfy this demand will be more successful than publishers who don't.
There's too much value in growing audience for free. Imagine a consultancy that dependably received hundreds of billions of advisory service requests every single month without having to spend a cent marketing —> That's the opportunity that Google represents for publishers. Free traffic, which you can then convert to recurring visits, readers, and revenue to reinvest in your media business.
#2 - Endemic publishers will be more successful than generalists
By 2030, Google will send most of its traffic to expertise-laden publishers who can satisfy consumer interest authentically. Alphabet maintains that they invest in servicing their customers (i.e. searchers) with high-EAT content — expertise, authorativeness, and trust.
So, publishers who can authentically speak to endemic categories will win in the end —
(That means great news for automotive mechanic gearheads, Masters of Wine, design-savvy minds with exquisite taste, YouTube creators re-imagining their favoriate shows, and less so for blanket-sports coverage, generalist news, or (call it) "chum box fluff").
— reason being, the modern Internet is eradicating what are called "third-party cookies." Compliance with policies such as GDPR, Consumer Protection & Privacy, etc. will only become more stringent, preventing sites and technologies from tracking consumers wherever they go.
- As a result, advertisers will have to place their bets with publishers who can provide reliable and consistent access to endemic audiences.
#3 - Endemic publishers should consider SEO content from two perspectives: beats and breaks
Consistent access being the key — and that's where SEO and editors need to collaborate. Consider the search demand for anything in an endemic category, e.g. "launch of the Nintendo DS" vs. "Best games for the Nintendo DS). You have news that drives traffic in a single day or month, vs. ongoing interest that drives traffic for months, quarters, and years.
Point being, editors and SEO teams satisfying two news cycles, if you will, with their SEO content analysis —
- Beat: 12-month time horizon that drives maximum ongoing/recurring traffic
- Break: 1-month time horizon that drives maximum traffic in one day/week
- For example, millions of monthly searches will continue for terms like "5 drawer dresser" for the next 10 years, at least. The current data trends show momentum that's too strong to suggest otherwise. So media publishers that can own that entire funnel of discovery, learning, evaluation, decision, feedback due to their in-category expertise stand to gain tremendously from the erosion of third-party cookies.