In Conversation With: Sara Clifton
Sara Clifton is an expert in search engine optimisation (SEO) and the founder and CEO of Search Integration, a Sweden-based consultancy that works with a global client base. She talks to Bowen Craggs about the latest corporate SEO trends, how to keep your content at the top of the rankings, and what ChatGPT means for corporate SEO.
CS: What are the emerging trends for corporate SEO this year?
SC: The major ones that have been growing over the years, from the perspective of the ‘traditional search’, are about ensuring your content is well-sourced and trustworthy. Where are the facts and figures to back your content up? The key here is that Google tries to find trust and authenticity, and so it will check what the source of your content is. It can see whether you have linked to a special source, or where else it might be coming from.
So, corporates that are working a lot with, for example, the pharmaceutical industry, or other B2B companies pushing innovation, have to provide the facts and the research. Talking openly about what your mission is and the reasons behind your projects/approach is the way forward for the corporate organization. This can also inform the rest of the content on your site.
The emerging trend is that corporate content is going to continue to grow in importance online. Whereas there has previously been a lot of focus on just trying to rank well for certain pages, whether pages or articles around products (for B2B or B2C companies) or other key areas of the site. Now, corporate can play a bigger role in providing the facts and research behind their content and explain transparently why they are doing things a certain way, and relating to the people that are behind the content.
CS: Are there any technical changes to search engines or Google search that our clients should be aware of?
SC: The latest updates happening revolve around the idea of ‘helpful’ content and questioning whether content is genuinely useful for someone. The question is, how can you prove that? I think this is a challenge in larger organizations because normally digital teams are quite siloed in the way they work.
Updates such as ‘Google Helpful’, which is designed for this very purpose, have had a major impact on ecommerce, who had previously been writing random content/SEO text to make their product listings rank higher. We’re also seeing people get hit by misspellings, or thin content, and Google is saying if people hit the back button very fast, it means they probably are not happy with that content. It’s sending signals that this wasn’t the right landing page, or the right information.
This is why I think ‘helpful’ content is growing, as well as things like FAQs, which directly answer people’s questions. The more voice search that we have, the more mobile phone usage we have, we are using longer phrases, and Google wants to see if this is all factual.
And of course, artificial intelligence is coming into this, where again we’re trying to answer questions and even trying to do jobs that we don’t want to do. For SEO, the latest updates with Open AI and Bing investing a lot, will create a new landscape where you will have to make sure you and your company are the ones providing the information to the AI. Corporates have to be clear that they are the source, so that the chatbot can be optimised to be in that space. You can’t just try to rank for sustainability, you have to specify yourself.
CS: Which of these updates do you think will be of particular interest to those running corporate websites? As you’ve mentioned, the authenticity behind certain content is important for SEO.
SC: I think whoever has received the most links and social shares on a piece of content is an important factor; this shows that you are popular, or your content is popular online. It means that people are relating to your content as you are the source, and therefore both normal search engine listings like Google have been displaying it, and the artificial intelligence will also try to retrieve it.
Some of these new AI tools can help in writing your content. For example, you can say, ‘I’m trying to rank for this keyword. Show me the related keyword terms that people are also searching for’. ChatGPT can pull out that information for you, and so these AI developments become part of your information research tools.
CS: Which companies are getting SEO right in your opinion and why?
SC: I don’t think there is any company that does SEO perfectly. In terms of trust and authenticity, at least, the financial industry has really understood that you need a person behind things. They have a person saying, ‘Here are our latest recommendations around inflation’, and they also have different stakeholders talking about it. They have understood that a key part of it is that maybe we can bring our clients closer to us by linking content to a person, because it establishes trust.
All industries, especially the pharmaceutical industry, need to put more of that trust factor into their websites: why should we be using your services? I think that ties into how companies are recommending things or how they are talking about problems. Having more people behind these things is an advantage, whether it’s stories or case studies.
Companies at the moment are trying to say a lot around energy efficiency, sustainability, carbon footprint, all of these keywords. But the only ones really ranking in these spaces are the governmental sites or public interest organizations, as they can provide facts and figures. So, when I talk to companies, I ask them to specify whether it is ‘hydrogen green within this space’ or is it ‘marine application’, ‘battery powered equipment in mining’? What additional information can you provide because these keywords are too wide. Also, people don’t search for ‘sustainability’. They search for specific questions to be answered. They want the charts and the facts and figures and research behind it.
I think this is where corporates need to start integrating this specific ‘keyword’ content within the rest of the site, to provide both authenticity as well as make a case for why people should invest in you/do business with you. Does the new generation want to work for you as a company? It’s all interrelated, and I am against the fact that there is a sustainability section when it should be a thread throughout the entire site.
What are the topics in three years time that will be mainstream and that people will expect on your site? They will expect you to be sustainable, and for HR to be able to provide information, and to know that you take care of your employees and provide trust signals for customers buying products. Companies doing this are staying ahead of the curve. There needs to be more corporate integration in the organization and that’s a very top-level decision.
CS: It would be great to see these topics woven throughout the entire digital estate, not just in one section, because it makes it seem more authentic and like it really matters to the company. And it also promotes the company to Gen Z, and all consumers, stakeholders and customers really who prioritise these elements of a company.
SC: I think most people in the younger generation expect companies to be a part of this discussion. Many companies are posting stories with their staff, whether they have more women coming into a male-dominated workforce, or if they work with oil maybe they can have more women promoting what it is like to work there. This makes it easier to understand, rather than simply saying 30% of the board is women. It has to be shown with content and videos and interviews, and there should be visuals on all content.
Coming back to the SEO perspective of this, if we authentically answer questions – what it’s like to live and work and breathe the brand and the products – you can bring that into the space of how to sell your products online or how to sell your services.
Sara Clifton was speaking to Caterina Sorenti of Bowen Craggs. Sara can be reached at [email protected]