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Kansas City Diaries: the art of organic search

Kansas City Diaries is an exclusive article series by Natalie Pool as she goes undercover at VML’s global agency headquarters in Kansas City, USA, to find out how organic search, Snapchat and other technologies are changing the advertising and marketing industry.

At the heart of many digital agencies is a Paid Search department. But how many agencies and brands give Organic Search the love and attention it deserves? Not that many in South Africa, is almost certainly the right answer.

VML’s headquarters in Kansas City is one such company whose Organic Search team is growing and slowly taking over the world — the online one anyway.

Led by Associate Director of Organic Search Heather Physioc, the eight-man (and woman) team work hard and smart to optimise online content for big clients like PepsiCo, Bridgestone and Wendy’s, to name a few.

Where keywords and intent meet

Heather is quick to point out that it’s not 2010 anymore. That means no more Jersey Shore reruns, floppy Justin Bieber bangs and keyword manipulation.

In 2016, personalisation means that creating content pieces for every keyword is unnecessary and a cheap ploy to trick search engines that will see right through it.

It’s far more important to focus on creating content that delivers true value by conducting thorough keyword research and analysing search behaviour, like only an award-winning Organic Search team can.

Organic Search teams are growing and slowly taking over the offices of marketing companies throughout the world

Two people can Google exactly the same thing (Taylor Swift’s cat, for example) at exactly the same time. From exactly the same location. And get completely different results. Heck, the same person can search for Olivia (Swift’s cat. Duh) at the same time on their laptop and smartphone and get different results on each device.

That’s because Google is smart. It delivers results based on factors like your search history and intent. Google’s algorithm updates like Panda (anti-spam), Penguin (anti bad links), Hummingbird (pro intent), Mobile (pro local and mobile), Quality (anti bad UGC and ads) and Rank Brain (pro AI and intent) all penalise bad, lazy, spammy content.

But don’t go chasing algorithms, warns Heather. Rather focus on creating exceptional, quality content based on what users want. Ensure the content is easy to find and navigate and you’re Google golden.

This is not say that keywords are dead. It’s just the way that we use them is constantly evolved. “We still care very much about keywords and provide keyword research to clients to inform content strategy and optimise content. This is still the very foundation of what we do,” says Heather.

Death to silos

Much of VML’s Organic Search Team’s success is due to their determination to work with other departments. They work closely with the PR department, a one-man team also known as Bill Patterson, who values Search as the place where people reveal their true selves (as opposed to Social, where people carefully craft their ‘realities’).

With input from the Organic Search Team, Bill is able to identify human truths and opportunities to create earned media opportunities for VML’s clients. For example, if SEO research reveals people are concerned about where their food comes from or how employees are treated, food retailers can create content that highlights their sustainable practises and employee wellness programmes.

The Organic Search team also provide insights and keyword research to Content and Creative teams, who use this info to kick-start brainstorms. Search then reviews the content created to optimise it.

Lastly, there is also overlap with the Insights and Analytics teams, who measure factors like sentiment and even emotion of target audiences. Combine these metrics with those of ranking, visibility, traffic and engagement and you have a complete picture of what makes your audience tick.

Heather has worked hard to integrate her team with others at the VML and fights to get them at the beginning of the conversation and not at the end as an after-thought.

They are the unsung heroes of the content world. But not for long.

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