Thomas Gallagher is a digital marketing thought-leader with a passion for staying on top of emerging trends. In 2007, while at Starz, he recognized the emerging power of social media. Within nine months of launching the company’s Facebook page, membership grew from 1 (Thomas) to 1.6 million global members. Since then, Thomas has developed forward-thinking digital and social media strategies for some of Denver’s most innovative software companies such as Rally/CA, EMS, and now ProtectWise.
We caught up with Thomas to find out how he helps companies climb out of Page-2 oblivion to the top of Google’s search engine results pages. His insight here is a treasure trove for anyone challenged with this ever-competitive discipline.
Question. Let’s start with the basics. Why is ranking at the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) such a big deal for companies?
Answer. Because search is still the best way for companies to build awareness, reach and expand their target market. It’s where potential customers start to educate themselves about the problems they need to solve. They’re looking for the company with the best answer and ultimately the best solution.
Q. Let’s say a company believes in search the same way you do. They’re putting time and energy into developing content. Try as hard as they can, they can’t get to the top of the SERP?
A. It’s like companies are in an arms race to take over a topic relevant to their product or service. Produce more content. Produce more content faster. That’s the wrong strategy. A glut of content doesn’t increase the odds of a search engine driving links to the top listings. In fact, companies working harder and harder to produce more and more content are starting to face diminishing returns.
Q. All things being equal, in terms of the amount of content a company produces, why would a search engine reward company A with a higher rank instead of company B?
A. If company A’s content is contextually relevant to the search question. Search engines have gotten a lot smarter. They don’t care about how much content you throw out there. They care about quality. They care about a contextually relevant answer to a search question. And they care about the quality of the websites referencing that answer. They reward this combination of relevance and reference quality. Take Google search. Google interprets the question and returns content with contextually relevant answers that have statistically been verified as the most relevant. That’s why their SERP comes up with better answers.
Q. Say company A and company B have the same answer to a search question. Why is company A still ranked higher than company B?
A. Company A did a better job of predicting and addressing the questions and refining the answers. They also spent time cultivating quality linkbacks. Company B didn’t spend enough time thinking about all the possible questions customers would ask about a product in their category. Their answers may be too broad. It begins to be displaced by more relevant and better quality answers in the SERP. In fact, Company B might even have a much better product than Company A. No one knows it’s a better solution if company B doesn’t refine the answers so it’s contextually relevant to the questions, then frame that answer in different ways.
Q. How would a company frame the answer in different ways?
A. Let’s say they have a white paper to distribute. They parse the information and frame each answer relevant to questions different buyer personas would ask. Then they distribute content with those answers on relevant channels for different audiences: blogs, videos, infographics, web pages, social media. That same white paper is reframed for each buyer persona and the most relevant aspects are delivered to the right person in the channel they respond to best.
Say you’re a B2B company. Each stakeholder around the purchasing table has a different question about your product. The CEO’s questions are about how the new product will impact the enterprise. The CFO’s questions dig deeper into financial ROI. Managers with employees on the front line want to know how your software makes their workflow easier.
Q. What should Company B do to improve its ranking?
A. Fundamentals. Competitive edge always goes back to marketing fundamentals. Company B has to stand back and take a really hard look at their value propositions to make sure it’s clear to the buyers why they need their product and in turn, how their product solves their problems better than their competitors. Then they need to take a really close look at who’s interested in their product. Sales may say everyone in the world or this specific buyer role. That’s probably not the whole story. A refined understanding of the value propositions may uncover additional markets and buyer roles. This in turn informs the creation of questions and the keywords associated. The better you are at predicting the variety of questions those customers will ask, the better you are at creating content with relevant answers. Then the search engines will reward company B with an organic ranking above company A. They’ll get found, rank higher and eventually displace the competition.
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