Digital marketing has never been more granular and the range of metrics at our disposal grows ever larger. But only one metric really matters – commercial growth.

It might sound simple and obvious – even easy – to focus your SEO campaign around commercial growth. And it can be in the short-term.

The reality of sustaining growth over the long-term can be more complex though, especially for larger SEO campaigns. The secret is to balance a number of concurrent strategies, each with their own metrics and timescales, to ensure constant progress and commercial success in phases.

Striking distance SEO for quick wins

If you’re investing in SEO, you’ll probably be itching to see incremental commercial growth as soon as possible. You need ROI to justify the activity.

For short-term wins, it makes sense to focus on keywords which are already close to, or already, ranking on page one. These ‘striking distance’ keywords can yield fantastic commercial results with the least amount of effort. There’s your early ROI.

Ranking anywhere on page 2 will get you less than 2.5% of the search volume for any given keyword; but as you move up page one, the growth is exponential.

It can be tempting to focus on nothing else. But what happens when you run out of striking distance keywords with enough search volume to make a commercial impact? What happens when the competition becomes too fierce to move the needle quickly for your best rankings, but you’ve ignored other potentially lucrative keywords and left them on page 5 or below?

As advertising legend, Dan Izbicki, once said:

We’ve become addicted to short-term measures… It’s not to say that it’s not relevant, but there’s lots of evidence to show it doesn’t have much correlation to a brand’s success in the long term.

A boost in sales and rapid growth in the short-term is great, but if you want commercial growth from SEO to be sustainable, you’ll need some longer-term thinking.

Uncovering hidden champions

If your SEO becomes too dependent on striking distance SEO, you can lose sight of your brand’s ultimate goals. And the longer you do it, the harder that vicious cycle is to break.

If you’re not careful, you will end up only focussing on pages that already performed reasonably well when you started the campaign, but never on pages which perform poorly, yet have potential to generate commercial growth. You need to identify and nurture these ‘hidden champion’ pages too.

The approach is simple. Look at your sales and look for products, categories or ranges that you feel should be performing better for you. Then just do your keywords research and look for SEO opportunities as normal.

You might even find that something relatively simple has been overlooked on that part of the website.

SEO keyword clusters

Start by casting a wide net. You don’t currently know which keywords will perform for you commercially or which will move up the rankings fastest, so stay broadly focussed across a cluster of keywords and then assess keywords individually once they appear within striking distance range.

Long-term authority building

Done correctly, SEO should sit at the core of an integrated marketing strategy. All of your other marketing channels, from social to PR and advertising, should be engineered to feed straight back into your SEO by generating backlinks and authority

Building authority increases your website’s propensity to rank for bigger, more competitive and more lucrative keywords. Ultimately then, building authority is the only way you can ever hope to rank for the largest phrases in your niche.

Even if you are launching a brand new website, you should still have some focus on integrating your SEO into the core of your marketing strategy and building authority. You may have a long way to go before cementing your position in Google as a household name, but you have to start somewhere!

Putting data in its place

For some people, data analysis is the nemesis of creative instinct, not to mention productivity. Average search volumes tell us what used to be popular, not necessarily what will be popular. Authority and backlink metrics give insight into ethereal big data, but they don’t always correlate with real-world rankings. And every minute spent crunching a spreadsheet could have been spent marketing a website.

By contrast, some people feel that data enables them to hit peak performance, with laser-targeted precision and confidence in their strategy. Testing, gathering data and refining is the key to their success, informing everything they do.

In this new age of accountability, marketers are being asked to do more with less, to justify their existence by proving ROI and to find the perfect marriage of effectiveness and efficiency without forgetting the great intangible – creativity.

Russell Parsons, Editor, Marketing Week

Both are valid points. Great SEO needs a healthy dose of creativity, but metrics are needed to direct that creativity. The secret is choosing the right metrics and approaches for each part of the strategy.

Try to find a ratio of short-term, mid-term and long-term focus and work on all of them at the same time.

The golden ratio

In the short-term, you should look at current rankings, search volumes, Google Trends data and competitor backlink profiles. Find low-hanging fruit and seasonal opportunities. Trust the data and act fast.

You also need to think about pushing hidden champions – those keywords which are not within striking distance, but that you know you could get commercial success from. Do the keywords research to find the best variations and analyse competitors for inspiration, but moreover just trust your instincts. Think holistically about keyword clusters and aim to move as many keywords as possible into the striking distance zone.

And finally, you should always be making progress towards the long-term goal of ranking for the highest-volume short-tail phrases in your niche. By building authority in the right ways, you can work towards positioning your brand as a market leader.

As a rule of thumb, try splitting your focus roughly like this and reassess your keywords every 2 to 3 months as a minimum:

  • 30% pushing and maintaining lucrative rankings
  • 25% pushing striking distance keywords
  • 20% reactive and seasonal SEO
  • 15% pushing hidden champions into striking distance
  • 10% general brand and authority building

Once you realise that your keyword focus should be ever-shifting and you shape your approach to SEO as a funnel rather than a rigid list of rankings, generating sustainable growth from SEO becomes not only achievable but unavoidable and even inevitable. Each commercial success leads to the next.

If you need help with SEO strategy, speak to our award-winning experts for advice.