The SEO industry has changed dramatically since 2009 when MVF was founded. Google (still utterly dominant despite the growth of Bing), and its algorithm has become so sophisticated it is now impossible to game or manipulate, as SEOs previously attempted.
Fortunately for those of us now working in MVF’s publishing team, our founders and early SEO pioneers always saw this change coming.
MVF recognised that as one of the biggest tech companies in the world - with some of the best software engineers - it was better to look at the overall picture of what Google is trying to achieve with its organic search results, than to focus on short-term wins that may actually damage site health in the long-run.
This is something that still rings true today. Rather than obsess about specific ranking factors like links or social shares, we always work towards the end goal.
We ask ourselves: ‘What does Google want to see in position one? What is its aim?’
The quick answer is that Google wants to return the best and most relevant piece of content for every search query. It may be a simple way of looking at it, but it helps us stay focused on the end result. Essentially we need to build the best sites and brands in all of our markets, filled with content that is head and shoulders above anything else out there.
There are so many different elements to this that it’s not possible to go into them all in detail here.
Broadly speaking, our key areas of focus and investment can be split into four sections:
1) Publishing the best content
2) Building the best team
3) Developing the best technology
4) Continuous, smart testing
Below is an introduction to how MVF is doing each of these things. Hopefully it will help you with your own organic search strategy.
Content quality as a KPI
If you don’t have a strategy for producing high quality content, you don’t have an SEO strategy.
Content quality has to be the number one KPI for an SEO team in 2016. Obviously quality is subjective and therefore difficult to measure, but if you want to get it right you have to try and build a framework for it.
At MVF we have created a process to ensure all the content we are producing is as good as it can be. We continuously analyse our top performing pieces (as well as those of our competitors) to improve our understanding of what makes a great piece of content.
This is a process we are constantly refining. We regularly revisit published pages as we know our content can always be improved. Rand Fishkin’s introduction of the term 10x content - the principle that you should always aim to build content that is ten times better than anything else online - is something we have truly bought into.
High quality content needs real investment. It’s very expensive to build, and almost impossible to produce at scale. I say almost because the way the team has been built at MVF makes it possible.
SEO team or publishing team
Over MVF’s seven year history the SEO team has evolved into what is now the publishing team. Today we have an incredible team of 30 marketers and content producers who are able to inspire and help each other by sharing creative ideas and insights gained from test results.
As part of this shift we have created new central teams that sit within the broader publishing department - video, PR and brand. These are all world class teams in their own right, but what is particularly exciting from an SEO perspective is that because they sit within the publishing team their KPIs are directly related to organic search.
Obviously this is a significant financial investment, but the end results have been truly remarkable. To have a team of PRs that understand the value of SEO generating regular national press coverage is amazing. The same can be said for the video and brand teams.
Technical SEO skills are still vitally important to the work we do. It’s imperative we have team members with advanced knowledge and experience of conducting website migrations and implementing hreflang and schema markup, for example.
But, without world class content creators our technical specialists would not have great content to optimise. And without the PR team, this content would not get as much coverage as it deserves.
To publish world class content that is optimised to rank in organic search you need to build a multi-skilled team capable of producing and marketing it. Non-traditional SEO skills like video, PR and branding are an extremely important part of this process. Without them it would not be possible to achieve what we do.
This is how we won the Drum Award for SEO Campaign of the Year in 2015; by functioning as a multi-skilled single publishing unit, with SEO-focused KPIs.
It may be another big investment, but to build the best sites you need to have the technology in place that allows you to do so.
The most obvious thing you need to get right is the output of your sites on the front end. How can you create the best overall design, and what types of content are you able to publish? Again this is where having content, brand, UX and technical SEO skills all in the same team to work with tech is essential.
It’s also extremely important to think about the publishing workflow. As already discussed producing high quality content is extremely resource intensive, so it’s essential that the actual publishing process is as efficient as possible, particularly when you publish 10,000 pieces of content a year, as we do.
Make sure your CMS is tailored to your needs. Invest in your own publishing platform and constantly looks for ways you can develop it.
And, of course, the technology you use has a direct impact on so many known ranking factors that obviously correlate with Google’s aim to produce the best result. You can build a great page, full of rich media and interactive content but if is takes several seconds to load it is not the best result. If it is not the best result, it will not rank.
Test, test, test
Testing has always been a big part of SEO. This is another area where we’ve had to adapt as marketers. If you’d said five years ago that in 2016 more than 90 per cent of organic keywords would be listed as ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics a lot of SEOs would have been wondering how they could still do their jobs. But, in reality, we actually have more data now than ever before.
As SEO has become a broader discipline and new tools have been released, our testing at MVF has become more complex and varied. At any one time we can have between 10 and 20 different SEO tests running, looking to improve a whole host of metrics. A few recent examples include:
Content edits to secure more featured snippets, and the impact of these on CTR.
A/B testing a new CTA to see its impact on conversion rate.
HTTPS migrations on several of our smaller sites to understand the impact ahead of migrating our largest brands.
Heat maps, click maps and visitor recordings running on our recently rebranded site expertmarket.co.uk, to see how our new page types are performing.
We have so much data available to us now, so it is important to try and pull it all into the same place. There are some great off-the-shelf solutions available, but if possible it is best to build your own data platform where all your traditional SEO and content performance metrics link up with the rest of your business intelligence.
It’s another big investment in terms of technology, but it’s an area we are focusing our efforts and the ROI is already clear as we scale up our efforts.
The importance of continued investment
We know that to to stay ahead in organic search and enjoy even more growth we need to continue to invest heavily.
Many businesses make the mistake of seeing SEO as a free marketing channel and therefore fail to invest at the level needed to compete.
We already have an amazing multi-skilled team of marketers and content producers, and we will continue to grow and develop this as we learn from our test results. This, combined with the technology we are developing, will allow us to achieve our vision of having the best sites in all of our markets. And it's only the best sites that Google wants to rank.