Scaling SEO: 5 levels of automated digital progression & elevation

Today, SEOs have a massive opportunity to expand their role in digital workflows, as far as both the volume and importance of tasks available. As companies increasingly look for equal parts creativity and analytical skills in digital leadership, experienced SEOs are uniquely positioned to fill the gap—that is, if they are able to capitalize on the innovations that enable them to practice scaling their best SEO efforts.

I wrote recently about the power of intelligent automation; that is, automation supercharged by a layer of artificial intelligence. Digital is encountering and even coming to rely on AI in predictive analytics, automated sales analysis, research and information aggregation, automated communications (think chatbots and email), and even virtual personal assistants.

Across digital channels, campaigns, and tactics, it seems nothing is untouched by automation. And yet the degree of automation and just how much AI informs the decisions being made can vary widely. Intelligent automation isn’t an all-or-nothing prospect—there are many different ways we can work alongside the machines revolutionizing digital.

In fact, those with the greatest understanding of how to collaborate with intelligent machines hold the keys to driving digital forward.

5 levels of automation: Elevating SEO and driving digital performance

Let’s look to the automotive industry for a model automation framework that illustrates just how much technology impacts the human experience in a defined task. The Society of Automotive Engineers created its “Levels of Driving Automation” standard to define the six levels of automation in the driverless car industry.

From Level 0 through to 5, the tasks a human driver must undertake decrease, while technological features increase.

SAE automation levels for driverless cars

Image source: NHSTA.gov

In Level 0, the driver is on her own and must constantly steer, brake, accelerate, signal, and otherwise control all aspects of the car’s performance. By Level 3, she may be in the driver’s seat but various automated driving features are engaged. The conditions must be right for automated operation, and the machine can ask her to take over at any time.

Lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and self-parking are a few examples of automated driving features you might experience in a Level 3 or 4 vehicle. (As Lance Eliot pointed out recently in Forbes, we’ve yet to see a true Level 5—a truly automated and driverless car—in action. The U.S Department of Transportation expects we’ll see fully driverless cars from 2025 and beyond).

We can apply this sort of framework to help further our understanding of the intelligent automation opportunity for SEOs. And while the automotive industry has all sorts of regulations and laws in place to protect public safety, you are a lot freer to explore the boundaries of intelligent automation in digital (and in SEO, in particular), so long as you respect user privacy.

Level 1: Manual SEO

The SEO of days gone by was almost entirely manual and incredibly time-consuming. That’s not to say that the more labour-intensive style of SEO doesn’t still happen today; there are still some SEOs who toil away in Excel, manually auditing and optimizing sites. Manual SEO gives you complete control over your entire search strategy, from selecting backlinks at the individual level to careful optimizations throughout the site. But with 53% of website traffic coming from organic search – opportunities to capitalize and scale are immense.

how much of website traffic comes from organic SEO, paid search, organic social, other

However, it’s simply impossible to ingest, analyze and activate search data at any sort of scale without automation. Manual SEO can be incredibly effective, but that value is reduced by every missed opportunity caused by slow implementation and the expensive overhead of a team of experts.

Level 2: Simple automation

Some of the tools you use in SEO today were probably borne out of earlier SEOs’ need to automate manual tasks such as keyword research and tracking rankings. Second generation SEO tools began to automate content optimizations (at least, pointing out opportunities to optimize).

Simple automation is almost exclusively about reducing manual labor for simple tasks. Gathering the same data set at regular intervals, such as daily rankings on specific keywords, for example. Scouring the web for links to your site.

Simple automation will reduce labor spent on these tasks, freeing up time and energy for more creative and strategic activities. Think of this level of SEO automation as cruise control—you can take your foot off the pedal and let the machine do some of the work, but you are very much still in control of the car.

Level 3: Application of AI for insights

In Level 3, our SEO software becomes a whole lot smarter thanks to artificially intelligent analysis. In this stage, the car is driving itself—but only under certain conditions.

From your place in the driver’s seat, you control what input you feed your SEO tools and define what you’d like as outcomes. Through the analysis of massive data sets (far more than you could ever plow through on your own), you’re able to glean greater insights and make better decisions.

You can automate the process of analyzing your site’s content and have your software return optimization recommendations based on your selected keywords, for example. This can inform your content creation efforts and ensures that you’re spending the time you do have on the areas with the potential for the highest impact.

Level 4: Real-time interactions

The car is driving itself, but you can’t throw caution to the wind and take it out in all conditions. In the driverless car world, a Level 4 vehicle may not even have a steering wheel or brake pedals installed. In a 2018 test case in Japan, for example, a driverless taxi ferried paying fares on a defined route through the manic streets of Tokyo.

Chatbots are a great example of a Level 4 automation in digital. SEOs are a natural fit for driving conversational AI strategy, as consumers often turn to chatbots as an extension of the search experience. Whether querying by text or by voice, connected consumers look to intelligent automated assistants to help them solve their immediate needs. Who understands that customer’s journey and which pieces of content best answer their questions better than the SEO team? If chatbots are being treated as a function of sales, it’s important that marketing (and search in particular) assert their will to be consulted, or even to lead.

Level 5: Real-time decision-making and automated optimizations

The fully autonomous car may drive itself, but its independence is an illusion. The car—when it comes to market—will rely on teams of skilled designers, engineers, and developers to create and maintain the systems that will enable it to make decisions and take action in the moment to keep its passengers safe.

And so it is with fully AI-integrated search software. Disparate tools that automate only a handful of functions have fallen to the wayside as platforms have evolved to ensure that all functions are able to share data and “talk” to one another. Empowering the machines to prioritize tasks and make decisions about which optimizations can be executed in real time, as consumers make their needs apparent, enables brands to be fully responsive and even proactive in personalizing the search experience.

Don’t be left holding the wrench | Add automated talent to your team

Let me us a mechanic as a generic example. Being a mechanic is a perfectly respectable profession. However, 20 years from now a person with those skills alone is going to have a difficult time finding employment. The mechanic who is upgrading his skills today, who is now studying engineering or transportation safety or automotive software development, is ensuring his employability when driverless cars hit the market.

Those mechanical skills will still be needed, but they’ll have to be complemented by a solid understanding of the computerized systems that drive the car. They’ll have to be able and willing to work alongside the machines.

SEOs today have the opportunity to elevate their role and self-drive some SEO functions with automation and be the CMOs or CDOs of tomorrow something (that my company) does with BrightEdge Autopilot. Especially if they can position themselves as the best choice to work alongside Level 5 systems.

Search’s broad impact across the entire digital customer journey gives SEOs a wide-ranging set of skills and perspectives on which to build and eventually lead. To capitalize on the opportunity, search professionals must be willing to embrace AI not as a tool, but as a collaborative digital partner—one that can be trusted to make the right decisions when guided by the right strategy.

All too often marketers find themselves in mixed debate over the merit of one digital channel over the other, the pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence and the opportunities for the next promotion. The reality is that in any thriving ecosystem balance is key. The same is true for search and digital marketing. It is particularly the case for SEO as working in technically orientated environment requires much work and a lot of balance given its influence on content and all digital channels.

Those who can intelligently embrace advancements in AI and automation are actually the ones who stand to get that next promotion and elevate their role in digital. After all – in reality they already have extra members on their team.

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform BrightEdge. He can be found on Twitter @jimyu.

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admin November 1, 2019 0 Comments

Interview with Tony Uphoff: Digital Marketing for B2B Manufacturing Industry

Most of my clients are from B2B industrial manufacturing. I have many challenges with this industry because my clients’ products and services are very specific, niche websites.

I have developed new B2B SEO and PPC strategies in my everyday hands-on experience by managing multiple projects. In addition, there is another challenge that the industry is facing, the adaption to digital transformation.

Tony Uphoff interview on B2B SEOI decided to talk about B2B with Tony Uphoff, the CEO of Thomas. Thomas is a leading resource for product sourcing and supplier selection. Tony is the video host of the popular, “Thomas Index Report” on industrial sourcing trends, and he is a regular Forbes.com contributor who writes about the industrial marketplace.

I was curious to know what Tony thinks about the challenges that B2B manufacturing companies are facing when adapting to digital transformation and data-driven culture. I know that my fellow B2B marketers who are dealing with the same challenges will find a lot of value for themselves as well as B2B manufacturer business owners. We also spoke about SEO, KPIs, and lead generation in B2B. Here is my interview with Tony.

Karina: How do manufacturing and B2B advertising differ from wholesale and B2C advertising?

Tony: There are some key differences, but also some similarities that many people overlook. One difference is that B2B purchasing often involves a longer sales cycle. Buying a piece of capital equipment or choosing a new supplier is not something to be taken lightly. A lot of research and vetting goes into the process as there is a material risk for the buyer, both, personally and professionally.

Another key difference is that B2B buyers aren’t typically completing a one-off purchase. They’re looking to find a supplier they can partner with for the long-term. As for the similarities, a B2B purchase is more personal for the buyer than many people understand. While B2C purchases are often very personal, consumers identify with certain brands that they want to be associated with. But with B2B, purchases are often personal similarly because the buyer that makes the decision on the purchase has a lot on the line.

Karina: Manufacturers have long relied on trade shows and other physical events for marketing and sales. Do you see this trend changing?

Tony: Yes. Many businesses understand that the digital transformation of industrial marketing and sales is here to stay, and they’re trending away from traditional methods such as trade shows and word-of-mouth exposure. There are still several well-attended mega-trade shows, as well as smaller ones, hosted every year, but we’re seeing that those types of events are typically taking up a smaller percentage of the marketing and sales budgets of the customers we work with.

Karina: Are U.S. manufacturers finding a greater need to make their marketing more data-driven?

Tony: Yes, because the buyer is in control of the sales process in today’s industrial world. Today’s buyers have unprecedented levels of information at their fingertips. Buyers are as much as 70 percent of the way through their buying process before they engage with a sales rep. This is a massive shift in the way businesses need to reach, engage and sell to industrial buyers thanks to the digital transformation of marketing and sales. Companies that still rely on old-school marketing tactics to try to drive growth and retain customers are going to find it increasingly difficult to stay relevant in today’s market.

Karina: How long do you think will it take for B2B to fully adapt to data-driven, analytics, and digital marketing?

Tony: The industry is still in the early stages of the digital transformation of marketing and sales. While we’re seeing a good number of businesses that are aggressively and enthusiastically embracing the transformation, we are also seeing a significant number of businesses that have yet to make a real commitment to a digital strategy. It may be a generational challenge as these incredibly successful industrial and manufacturing businesses were built and grown by Baby Boomers whose expertise is in engineering, product design, and manufacturing. Nearly half of the users of Thomasnet.com are millennial buyers who are helping to accelerate the digital transformation.

Karina: The industrial manufacturer’s market is very niche and faces big challenges in content marketing due to specialization and sometimes very low search volume results. How can content marketers take advantage of this?

Tony: For our customers with niche markets, the niche works to their advantage simply because it’s in the lower competition of their industry. From an SEO perspective, this makes it easier for them to stand out on result pages. There are a huge number of categories in manufacturing that are not at all niche. However, there’s massive competition in areas such as “CNC machining” and “metal stamping”. Whether in a highly competitive category or a niche category, we’ve learned from our customers that the pillar page strategy works well for overarching terms. Then we drive users to niche terms.

Karina: What is the right approach for digital marketers to run successful digital campaigns for the B2B Industrial manufacturer sector?

Tony: Getting their website in order is the foundation for everything else. Is it responsive? Is it secure? Is it easy to use, comprehensive, and informative? It’s also important to implement a program that reaches buyers at every phase of the industrial buying process. Understand that building brand awareness is often just as important as generating leads. In terms of strategy, it’s easy to get caught up in all the tactics and solutions, but while the vehicle is important, the most important thing industrial marketers need to keep in mind is that whatever they’re putting out there. It needs to resonate with a specific persona that has a specific job to do. Marketing and advertising content should be focused on helping your ideal customer(s) solve problems and accomplish important tasks, specific to where that buyer may be in their buying journey.

Karina: What does the future of publishing look like?

Tony: While it’s obvious that much of the publishing world is moving to digital platforms — if they haven’t already — a more relevant question is “What does the future of advertising look like?”. For years advertisers have relied on display networks, buying data on users and employing programmatic advertising. Not only has this proved to be quite costly and relatively ineffective, but privacy laws such as GDPR are making this approach obsolete. The trend today has publishers moving away from those broad ad-serving networks to the “walled garden” approach. A “walled garden” approach is one in which they’re creating their own ad networks and selling advertising directly on their online assets. Interestingly, this approach mirrors the ad sales approach that publishers in the print world have used for over a century.

Karina: What KPIs should B2B businesses focus on in marketing?

Tony: Obviously, lead generation in the form of marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads are a key KPI for digital marketing. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s important to build brand awareness as well. The reason is simple – when your sales team calls a lead that has never heard of your company, just getting that lead to continue the conversation is a challenge. When the lead is aware of your brand before the salesperson calls, that person is more likely to be receptive to the call. Other important KPIs are the cost of acquisition and average order value – and internally, businesses should also focus on RFI/RFQ response time. We’ve surveyed tens of thousands of industrial buyers, and invariably one of their pet peeves is the lack of responsiveness from suppliers to which they’ve requested information. Today, all the great marketing in the world will have little value if you aren’t following up on incoming RFIs and RFQs within a day – and preferably the same day you receive them.

Karina: How is Thomasnet.com using data and analytics to add services that bring new elements of value to their advertisers?

Tony: The first-party data generated by users on Thomasnet.com®, as well as data that is captured by buyers interacting with customer product information generated by our Thomas Product Data Solutions and our Thomas Marketing Services, gives us incredible insights into in-market buyers of products and services. We’re approaching three petabytes of buyer behavior data that helps us understand what buyers are interested in, how their purchase process works and when, where and how they’re engaging with content as a part of their buying journey.

Using our free Thomas Webtrax™ platform, our customers (as well as other qualifying industrial companies) can see and use that data to turn anonymous web traffic into leads, and create more targeted, meaningful messaging when targeting those leads. We’re also introducing a weekly data feed that businesses can use to determine exactly which buyers are actively in-market within a certain segment or vertical of industry. Our Thomas marketing services team also leverages the buying and sourcing trends from our data to help their customers enhance their organic and paid marketing.

Key takeaways from the interview

  • Clarify the differences and similarities between B2B and B2C
  • Discuss the reasons why B2B is trending away from traditional to digital marketing
  • Understand how B2B marketing is adapting to digital transformation
  • The importance of B2B manufacturers companies to adapt to a data-driven culture
  • The challenges of content marketing in niche B2B businesses
  • The steps to run successful digital marketing campaigns for B2B businesses
  • The KPIs that B2B businesses should focus on

I had a great conversation with Tony where I understood better the transformation of the B2B manufacturer industry. The industry has evolved from hard copy directories like yellow pages to an entirely data-driven culture (happening now). This is a huge opportunity for marketers to generate leads. Then, it is key to fully understand and overcome the challenges.

Note: This interview has been condensed for publishing purposes.

Karina Tama is a contributor for Forbes, Thrive Global and the El Distrito Newspaper. She can be found on Twitter @KarinaTama2.

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admin September 25, 2019 0 Comments