The online world has spawned a virtual content creation and aggregation boom. Digital marketers flood online channels with YouTube how-to videos, Instagram photos, Tweets, Facebook posts, Web pages, graphics, blogs and more. In turn, consumers rely on Google search to help them sift through the rubble and find nuggets of useful information.
Getting messages to rise to the top of the search page is the job of search engine optimization (SEO).
While SEO practices have been around forever -- at least since the dawn of Google -- they've become an increasingly important skill for digital marketers. These days just about every company is a digital publisher, creator of promotional content and a content marketer, and so every company needs to become an SEO expert as well.
"Content, in any form, is really the orange apron of Home Depot," says Sean Kainec, senior manager of SEO at The Home Depot. "Content explosion might not be the right words, but there's definitely an intent on focus."
Why Owning the Letter H' Is Key
Kainec's SEO team has helped The Home Depot capture the letter "H" in Google search. That is, when consumers type "H" in the Google search bar, The Home Depot pops up as a suggestion. While this might not seem like much, its impact can be tremendous, leading to greater brand recognition, higher number of website visits and, ultimately, more sales.
But capturing the letter "H" hasn't been easy. Kainec has spent nearly a decade in the field of SEO, where he's seen search engines change and their importance grow rapidly. In the old days, people would type in keywords. Today, they verbally ask questions. The search engine has evolved into a kind of semantics engine, and SEO has had to evolve with it.
"With SEO, you really have to think like a customer, really dig into what the customer is asking Home Depot to be," Kainec says. "If your site isn't deemed an authority, you won't show up. So it's about crafting Home Depot as the authority for home improvement."
Kainec also has to stay on top of the search game, which isn't easy given Google's constant updates its search engine algorithm. In turn, site owners may need to tweak their content strategy or make wholesale changes to the way their site is built or put an end to shady practices such as link farms. These algorithm updates can be quite secretive and complex despite the fact that they're given simple animal names.
"We're tracking Google changes -- your penguins, pandas and hummingbirds," Kainec says. "They make us feel like zookeepers."
SEO can be hard for business executives to understand, Kainec says. And so The Home Depot uses Brightedge, an SEO reporting tool, to keep them in the loop. The Brightedge dashboard shows a company's keyword ranking, competitors' keyword ranking, competing pages, correlations, impact over time, and other analytical information.
Are You in an SEO State of Mind?
Getting a handle on SEO will become more and more important with content expanding beyond a company's homepage and into social networks. As the digital world merges with the physical one, such as consumers tweeting while watching a television commercial, greater emphasis will be put on search as consumers look for the hot discussion or topic of the moment.
"My personal opinion is that SEO stretches through everything, whether that's social, UI [user interface], UX [user experience], content marketing, general marketing," Kainec says. "SEO is not a job title; it's a frame of mind."