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Becky Leng, General Manager of SearchGuru

INSPIRED & WRITTEN BY Arcadier

How to Craft a Solid SEO Strategy

In the world of online marketing, a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is essential to the success of any e-commerce business. SEO and the visibility of your website within a search engine has become more closely linked to the success of your online marketing campaign than ever. Having quality content is not enough to attract traffic to your site –  knowing the responsiveness of your customers, such as what keywords attracts site visitors and what do they do on your site, are crucial information that should guide your content creation strategy.

However, given the dynamic nature of SEO, it is important to grasp a solid foundation on the complex world of search. Arcadier sits down to have a chat with SEO expert Becky Leng, General Manager of SearchGuru, to understand more about how to utilize SEO to gain the most traffic for your site, and how to stay ahead in the challenging race of attaining online presence amidst the ever-changing landscape of SEO algorithms.

SearchGuru is Asia's leading one-stop digital agency for performance marketing, with their skilled specialists based in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. The agency works closely with Google, other prominent search engines and popular social media platforms to provide exceptional technical support to their clients. Their strong technical expertise in the field of SEO and SEM explains why their clientele list contains many reputable brands, ranging from Nike, AirAsia, Grab to Fitness First, Maxis and MPH – a strong testament to their reputation in the industry.

Becky Leng (third from right). Photo credit: SearchGuru.

Arcadier: You’ve had over 17 years of experience in digital marketing. What got you interested to start a career in the field?

Becky: My exposure to the world of digital started with XM Xpanded Media in 2000. At that point, digital was a new, unexplored sector. As such, clients and peers tend to have a very receptive view when exploring these uncharted territories. The days were long and there was a level of intensity on the agency's side, especially given that the emerging digital channel just went through the dotcom bubble. However, I thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing, and data-driven environment that requires quick thinking. As such, it made my world fun-filled and my team and I always looked forward to transforming projects and businesses with digital marketing.

That was how I ventured into the digital marketing field, which was my first longest tenure job. I stayed in XM Asia for about 5 years, and subsequently moved on to dealing with the client's side – to Maxis, Singtel, the iProperty group, and I am now in another media agency in Singapore.

Arcadier: Digital marketing has been on the rise as more websites compete for visibility on the web. Where do you see the trend going? What do you think is the future of SEO and SEM?

Becky: Digital marketing will only be ever-increasing in their level of importance. The user experience is really about their intent  –  whether they are interested in a specific product or service. The first channel of discovery has always been through Search Engines, and hence brands should compete for their market share and target audience by staying relevant and focusing on building a strong SEO foundation. This can be done via making their online assets easily searchable. Brands should take a step backwards and not adopt a technical perspective when exploring SEO and SEM. Rather, they should think from the consumer's point of view – consumers venture into the digital space to fulfill a need, and dissecting this channel is what that requires SEO and SEM. Being relevant to the users, through keeping the brand's product applicable and easily accessible to the users, is where the brand stands to gain.

Arcadier: We’ve seen people engage in different ways to manipulate search engines, and the engines continue to get smarter about understanding and mitigating black and grey-hat SEO tactics. What is really the best solution?

Becky: I always feel that the best solution is to focus on the users and find out what they are looking for. Every brand or business have a specific problem set that they face. Instead of diving headfirst into figuring out 'how to manipulate the search engine', I always advise my clients to take a step back and evaluate where they stand in their field of business, against their competition – are they a market leader? Are they creating something completely new in the market that could potentially be disruptive? After which, think about 'what exactly is my brand offering to consumers and what do I want to be for my consumers' before planning out the journey from there.

For example, if I have an e-commerce client who is vying to be the best online grocery, the question he/she should ask is 'how do I make it easier for consumers to use my online grocery service?' From there, we plan the engine optimization strategy around the problem set that they have. Perhaps it is an issue of a certain gap in content, whereby a poorly written website makes it hard for consumers to find them. We will then seek to improve on the website in technical aspects, such that it is no longer poorly written for SEO.

If the issues do not stem from a technical challenge and the website is well-created, we will move on to examine the search environment which the target consumers reside in. Are we touching the consumers correctly from our client's perspective? When the consumers are looking for relevant information, is our client showing first? If not, how do we get there? All in all, it really comes down to staying relevant and having a good marketing or SEO plan in place.

Photo credit: SearchGuru.

Arcadier: What can you share about SearchGuru’s approach and tactics for SEO and SEM?

Becky: We start with an all-rounded analysis of our clients, and being completely transparent regarding their weaknesses and strengths. Instead of using technical terms, we discuss tactics for SEO and SEM in layman's language, through asking questions such as 'let's dissect according to the client's current marketing scene', 'where are our client's weaknesses against competition, or are they the first mover?' and 'what are the strengths of our client?'.

When strategizing, we first seek to identify the business goal together. Our clients will have existing marketing plans and ideas on how they wish to execute this plan to achieve their end goal. This also include plans on how our team fits in to provide support to the entire campaign, through SEO and SEM. Hence in terms of approach, our difference lies in our 'client-first' perspective, as our end objective is really to assist our clients in growing their businesses – whether in terms of increasing business revenue or attaining their business goals. On top of this, our team is fast, nimble and resourceful, as we make sure to support our recommendations with a fair bit of analysis in consumer search information.

Arcadier: SEO is an ongoing process and has to be properly maintained. How long does it take to see results, and what can affect this timing?

Becky: A few factors can affect this timing, including how well-written the site is, whether the content of the website is relevant to their business and etc. Apart from ensuring that these factors are properly maintained and supported, the client should also seek to improve on key words that are relevant to their business. On my side, we will do a technical analysis for our client's website. If all of these factors are well in play and continue to do well with adequate support from both the client and our SEO team, I would say that it will take 9 to 12 months for the results to be seen.

To emphasize the importance of a well-written site, my best analogy would be to compare a newly-created but poorly-written website to a new house with an incorrectly-written address. Picture this scenario: it is the festive season and you've decided to invite everyone to your house for housewarming. However, as your address is incorrectly-written, no one can find you even if they received an invitation. Similarly, with a poorly-written website, no search engine or consumers can find you even if the relevant keywords are keyed into the search engine.

Arcadier: What do you suggest clients do to optimize their content strategy for SEO?

Becky: This is a very popular query among my clients. Their questions often revolve around 'how do one create the relevant content for SEO'. However, they should really be asking 'what type of keywords are the users searching for?' For example, coming back to the online grocer example - given that an online grocer has so many SKUs and products on their site, they should never begin with thinking about how to map their content strategy. Instead, they should ask themselves the following question: what are the users searching for on my website?

I always recommend my clients to first look at the most searched keywords related to their product or business, and examine the search keyword's volume to find out where the low-hanging fruits are. Using the online grocer example, the most common keywords would be generic phrases like 'grocery online', 'grocery e-commerce delivery' or 'grocery free delivery'. However, it could also be product-related, such as 'balsamic vinaigrette oil online'.

Hence, one way to optimize your content strategy is to look at what the users are searching for, what the trending key words are, where the clients are currently ranked at against competition, before mapping out your content strategy from these areas.

Arcadier: Many startups do not have the funds to hire an SEO agency. What would be your recommendations for them?

Becky: As a startup, your initial and most crucial aim should be to focus on your business goals. Ultimately, it is best to trust the experts and leave the SEO job to a good agency with the right expertise, so that you can concentrate on building your business while being assured that your SEO plan is being properly and professionally handled.

However, if there is absolutely no funding, the founders of the startup can seek to become more informative and knowledgeable about SEO themselves, by attending trainings or turning to online resources to find out how to optimize their SEO, so as to build a good foundation for their site. Alternatively, they can build an internal team to specialize in SEO. However, it is challenging to keep abreast of SEO due to the constant algorithm changes, which translates to constant fixes they need to do on their site. There is hence a trade-off if you take up the SEO task yourself - you might get so wound up with planning your SEO strategy and understanding the relevant technical know-how, that you lose focus in your main business goals.

Arcadier: What do you suggest they pay attention to with regard to SEO and digital marketing when they are building their site?

Becky: Be sure to establish a good foundation when building your site. There are golden rules to heed to when optimizing your site for search engines – this includes considerations regarding the structure of your website, ensuring that your website is SSL secure, paying attention to the behavior of the site on mobile, and keeping up with current and ongoing trends.

The mobile aspect, in particular, is something worth noticing. Smart phones are taking over our screen experience, and mobile penetration has gotten so high that in fact in Singapore, you have 3 phones to 2 person! It is therefore essential to pay attention to where the trend is moving towards so that you can create a good SEO foundation, based on where the users are.  

Arcadier: Can you recommend some free or affordable resources and tools to measure SEO success?

Becky: Google remains the top search engine in many Asia countries – for example in Singapore, they possess 95% market share. As the market dominator, they are jam-packed with a wide range of powerful tools that marketers should utilize in order to gain the most out of their social media marketing and SEO experience. Regarding SEO analysis, Google analytics and tools such as the Google search console, are some obvious choices. Majestic SEO is another viable option. To test out technical functions of your site, one should pay attention to Google Pagespeed test, which is easily accessible online. Softwares such as Screaming frog SEO spider are also useful to crawl your site for any technical errors. For research related matters, make sure to explore Google keywords planner and popular SEO software, SEM Rush.

Arcadier: You’ve seen digital marketing from the perspective of both the client and the service provider. What are the pros and cons of hiring an agency vs. in-house SEO employees?

Becky: A clear advantage of hiring an agency over an in-house SEO expert is that a nimble team can take care of all your SEO needs and requirements, which allows you to focus on your key business goals. Given that a strong SEO agency has the relevant knowledge and expertise, you can easily scale your business. Meanwhile, hiring in-house SEO employees can be more risky and tedious - having to oversee the hiring process and experiencing turnover of personnel may divert you from concentrating on advancing your key business goals. In addition, there might be a mismatch of knowledge if you hire someone who is not as well-versed in SEO, as compared to a professional agency. As a result, while you think you are heading in the right direction, you might actually be taking a couple of steps backwards.

Arcadier: What’s your greatest digital marketing success story? (can be from your previous positions or a company SearchGuru worked with)

Becky: I am blessed to have experienced quite a few success stories in my working career in digital marketing. With SearchGuru, it has been very satisfying to help businesses achieve their objectives with us and realize growths in SEO, with Arcadier, NTUC Fairprice Online and Clarins Singapore being some examples.

I've always felt a sense of satisfaction as an individual performer and with my team in every company that I've been to. For example, during my time with the iProperty group, my team and I really moved the needle in the Malaysia market, in terms of increasing revenue and streamlining their products and services. At that point, we managed to achieve a revenue growth of more than 25% and the traffic growth was at more than 50% - and that was just out of one market!

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