By @SimonCocking

We met Jono @jonoalderson from @Linkdex at the DMX event. He had some really interesting ideas about smart, data led SEO, beyond simply plugging keywords. Instead strategically targeting places to make sure the right people come across your products and services. We figured it would be interesting to our readers to go into a little more depth with him about how big data can help improve our results.

Your background?

I started out as a web developer, and got addicted to the idea of finding the ‘best way’ to do things. Small details on coding techniques, etc, which led me to fall in love with technical SEO. From there, I fell into agency world as a techy-SEO hybrid, and had to learn to become a marketer, rather than just a coder; but again, with the same drive to optimise my own understanding and processes just as much as websites and campaigns.

The team grew around and under me, and by the time I left agency world I was managing a multi-disciplinary team of SEO, analytics and conversion optimisation people delivering work to some of the world’s biggest brands. Now I’m Head of Insight at Linkdex, where my day-to-day focus is still about what ‘best’ looks like, but on a much bigger scale, where we’re trying to drive the whole industry to evolve how it thinks and works. Exciting.

How was 2014, big wins?

A huge year. We got some really challenging briefs from some big clients which forced us to evolve the way we think in order to be able to provide them with the kinds of Insight that would enable them to make more informed, better decisions, and to drive more business.

My team and I developed a lot of unique thinking and technology off the back of that which drove us to further success, and has us lined up to win a shelf-full of awards in 2015. It’s only step one, though.  We’re working on the next generation of tools and processes to do some really powerful stuff, and make SEO feel much more grown up.

DMX @ Aviva, thanks for coming over, how did you find it? What were your impressions of what the audience was interested in? Anything different from UK?

I think UK audiences seem to be quite tactic-hungry, but there was definitely a feel of the DMX audience wanting to be exposed to more strategic thinking rather than lists of tools and tricks. The lineup and segmentation of speaking streams did a lot to help this – lots of focus on disruption and reinvention rather than a more standard topic-based approach. It’s a great model, and lets people soak up ways of thinking which they can apply to their own circumstances, rather than just arming them with generic advice.

We felt that maybe the audience was not actually using many analytics tools in their strategy yet. What would you advise them to start with?

Tools are the end of the process, not the start. This is where most organisations get it wrong. The biggest challenge is often defining what success looks like. You need a clear vision from senior stakeholders of what their objectives are, which can be transformed by a savvy analyst into a list of digital goals, and in turn, a list of KPIs. Once this is culturally embedded, then it’s time to go shopping for tools which feed into those KPIs. That bit’s easy, then; it’s just matching capabilities to what you need.

If you need a bit of guidance as to what’s possible and ways of approaching tool selection, I’d suggest reading Web Analytics 2.0’ by Avinash Kaushik. It’s got some much wider advice, but there’s some great stuff about the types of tools and the roles they play. Unless you’ve gone through this process, you’ve no shared language or measurement of what ‘good’ looks like at an organisational, campaign or channel level, which creates enormous opportunity for disparate opinions, perspectives and confusion.

A big theme across the day was that content drives great SEO. Will there be a renaissance for quality online content writing, or is that over stating things?

People search because they have a need or a question, and the content they discover is the mechanic by which that need is met. Better quality content performs better because it answers to those questions better, and therefore ranks better, etc. That, and well-informed visitors become better informed, loyal customers, and so on and so forth. It’s a virtuous circle.

This doesn’t mean that everybody should just start to create loads of pages (although we’ve some interesting Linkdex data which correlates the number of visible/ranked pages with the amount of visitors received); you need to abstract back up to problem solving. “What do my consumers need, want or ask, and how good a job am I doing at answering to that?”. People get fixated on campaigns and copy, when really that’s the output, not the strategy.

You spoke about some of the really exciting possibilities for future developments in terms of using the data (to gain better insights into user needs and behaviour) – which do you think might happen soonest, and which are still a few years from reaching the market?

We’re doing it now, today. We’re thinking bigger and using larger data sets in more sophisticated ways than anybody else we’re aware of, to deliver business intelligence which drives high-level corporate strategy, restructures teams and grows market share. We’d love this to be mainstream, but it requires a large conceptual leap from businesses thinking about “how well is my website ranking, and what can we do to improve it” to “what’s the experience which people who search for things I do/provide/sell like, and how can we better manage that?”. The underlying tech just supports and facilitates the process of acting on this; there’s nothing stopping most large organisations having this mental shift now.

Interestingly, ‘doing it right’ tends to look much more like traditional, conventional marketing – the kind of above the line activity which the SEO industry has scoffed at people like Coca Cola and Nike doing for years whilst their own websites didn’t perform brilliantly from a conventional SEO perspective. We’re helping brands to get the best-of-both – winning mindshare and influencing perspectives and behaviours but from a highly data-driven angle.

What are the key indicators that you use, rather than just looking at likes and shares, to asses if an SEO strategy is effective?

It varies hugely by organisation and context. Some activity is directly commercial; how many $’s have I generated from this activity? Some is more nuanced; eating into competitor market share, raising awareness or net promoter scores, or improving brand/product perception by better-managing the reviews and consumer feedback ecosystems. Success looks like whatever you’ve defined success looks like, but make sure you have some solid KPIs!

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