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Adaptability: The new competitive advantage in SEO

Lots of people are fascinated by dinosaurs.

But being a dinosaur brand doesn’t make you fascinating.

In fact, it’s the quickest way to lose credibility in the eyes of your customer. 

How do brands become dinosaurs?

No brand ever thinks they are stuck-in-their-ways or will become obsolete.

Yet, many companies behave in ways that unintentionally may lead to their brand becoming obsolete:

  • They lack execution.
  • Their product improvements are stalled in backlogs competing for resources and foundational.
  • Long-term initiatives (e.g., SEO fixes) go unaddressed and unfixed year after year.   

In short, dinosaur brands become slow, neglected, stagnated – and eventually are forgotten by consumers.

Not even established brands are immune to becoming extinct.

But what’s the best way to stay at the top of the proverbial food chain over the long term and navigate navigate the changing digital landscape?

Always be willing to adapt to change – from changing markets and circumstances to shifts in search intent.   

Change is constant. The rate of change in technology is unmatched.

Unless you’ve been comparing SEO advice published in 2010 to articles in 2022, you might think you’re doing just fine. (That said, the late Bill Slawski is, in my opinion, the exception to this rule because even this blog post from 2010 is sage advice.)

So even if your brand is behind on marketing, operations or SEO, you can avoid pitfalls that result in dinosaur brand behavior.

What is dinosaur brand behavior?

Dinosaur brand behavior is what happens when a (frequently older) company operates in an outdated way of thinking or is slow to adopt a more agile way of implementing change, especially in four areas that would otherwise drive sustainable growth for the brand:

  • Strategy 
  • Tactics
  • Collaboration
  • Data 

Strategy

Strategic thinking requires an awareness of one’s current situation in order to be able to get to a more advantageous one.

If a company wants to be considered strategic, it should be aware of not only itself, but how it’s perceived by its customers and its competitors in the marketplace and whether it might be operating on outdated models or information – even misinformation. 

The SEO industry is unfortunately prone to this type of challenge – particularly with dinosaur brands.  The reason being that, before the Internet became mainstream, the pace of business was much slower. 

SEO isn’t the type of discipline where a strategy can be set at one point in time and be valid for years to come. It’s predicated on advances in technology. 

Dinosaur behavior toward a discipline like SEO is building your strategy in 2010 based on SEO articles published that year thinking you can then move onto whatever is next. This outdated approach fails to address how search continues to evolve (e.g., E-A-T and broad core updates).

The literal meaning of brand awareness is that consumers are aware of the brand. But, if adaptability is a form of strategy, brands themselves would be better served by practicing self awareness and being more aware of how they’re perceived.  

For example, when a brand that people don’t see or hear from regularly, tries to use a marketing channel like SEO to grow organic traffic, not only is it an ineffective strategy – it’s not even a problem SEO is designed to solve. 

The brand has an awareness problem because consumers don’t even know to look for that brand

When consumers are doing branded searches online for dinosaur brands, it looks like this:

Google search results for [does radio shack still exist]

Remember, SEO is not a demand creation channel. It captures existing demand.

Dinosaur brands have an awareness problem because customers don’t know they still exist

“This is usually where I tell my students and clients to focus on getting in front of prospective customers – when they’re still trying to solve a problem,” said Jeff Ferguson, CEO of Amplitude Digital and an adjunct professor at UCLA. “When you’re trying to create awareness with content, your goal should be to be a part of the conversation by helping solve the customer’s problem.”

Tactics

Tactics are the executions, the operational set up or the marketing channels deployed to get things done. Dinosaur behavior look like this: 

  • Doing things that used to work, but haven’t for years (e.g., sending terrible outreach emails).
  • Not easily offering customers a clear way to unsubscribe from a payment plan.
  • Thinking your existing site content is competitive enough and needs no additional investment.
  • Not tapping into modern, social media engagement like spinning up a pilot influencer program.

Adaptability means embracing modern opportunities, especially in a dynamic channel like search.

When the People Also Ask feature began appearing as a SERP element, how many brands actually started adjusting their content to capture a spot in those answer boxes?  

Today, how many are at least trying to infuse their site with more E-A-T related signals? At the risk of oversimplifying SEO, if a company never updated the content on their website, the changing nature of search alone would cause it to lose rankings and traffic. 

Collaboration

SEO isn’t just an investment, it’s a team sport.

SEO does not and should not exist in a silo.  Especially at the enterprise level.  

Very little SEO work gets completed without the help of collaboration from cross-functional teams. Dinosaur behavior that stagnates collaboration is ultimately a lack of execution, especially on SEO initiatives that are key to strengthening the technical site architecture and variety of content types needed to capture organic demand.  

One aspect that brands have found the most challenging to coordinate and get right is having products available for purchase online while a major live-broadcast event is taking place.

Live events (e.g., sporting events or award shows) are an opportunity where consumers, at scale, can be encouraged to search for and purchase what an athlete or performer is wearing because other marketing channels can be in the mix too; social media posts and ads, commercials, and live event sponsorships can influence search behavior. 

Given that search demand is amplified by a live event, the sheer volume of opportunity should be something that is planned for months in advance by cross functional teams. But many brands (even many modern ones) still devote a disproportionate amount of attention to the familiar calendar holidays running their sales on Black Friday, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day or Christmas Day. 

Just think of how many eyeballs (and mobile phones connected to the internet!) are collectively present for things like a live musical concert, the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or the Olympics! It’s an incredible opportunity that, alas, remains a complex challenge.  

I have a feeling more brands are becoming wise to this type of opportunity and are making better inroads with teams to collaborate in a more meaningful way that both delights (and is attuned to) customers in how they search and shop, ultimately delivering dollars to the bottom line. 

For enterprise brands that are proactively adapting here, the future is in unlocking revenue from live events that has been invested as media dollars; to be able to capitalize on the search intent from direct to site and organic visits which can result in transactions. 

Data

What SEO or omnichannel leader wouldn’t love to be able to point to a campaign that involved efforts across SEO, product, marketing and media buying?

Imagine telling the story of how you tied it all together:

“We invested X media dollars across social and streaming for the 4-5 months leading up to this live event. In parallel, we coordinated content optimizations on these category and product page URLs which translated to X amount of revenue immediately following the event and a total of $$$ in the two weeks thereafter.” 

Holy smokes! Revel, rinse and repeat!

In order for something like that to happen, marketers need to be operating from not only an omni-channel perspective, but from/with the best data. 

An immense amount of data available to us. Which means if the data is not properly maintained, scrubbed, untangled and validated across channels from time to time, it can become too noisy and largely unhelpful. 

Because of this, dinosaur brand behavior that neglects data hygiene looks like the following:  

  • Letting legacy versions of analytics platforms persist without planning for future platform updates.
  • Letting analytics tags build up in the website code thereby hindering its speed.
  • Not maintaining or upgrading to a modern product information storage solution .
  • Deterioration of customer data and product data feeds.
  • Not establishing documentation for how channel attribution is defined, set up and tagged. 

The devil is always in the details. 

Adapting and improving is about constantly asking questions that help your business get to a source of truth:

  • How is the data set up?
  • How is each attribute defined?
  • Does the metric provided in this dashboard give us insight into what action(s) should be taken?  

No company has their analytics completely figured out. But that’s part of adapting over time.

The closer you get to properly understanding all data inputs and outputs, the more competitive your business can be because it’s operating from information that’s as clean as it can be. 

The hard truth for dinosaur brands: perception is reality

This is an especially tough pain point for brands that are stuck in their ways because consumers have so many options to choose from.  

Hard truth #1: If consumers do not physically see your brand out in the world and/or they’re not being advertised to, they will think you are no longer in business and will therefore not think to search for you online. 

Hard truth #2: Appearances matter. Whether online or in store the appearance and intangible experience makes an impression about a brand. Websites need to be fast and easy to navigate. Stores need to be clean, stocked with the products shoppers want, have strong WiFi, and have attentive, engaging and knowledgeable staff. 

I’m oversimplifying the omni-space but the point is, those are consumer touchpoints that no brand can afford to ignore.

Websites in particular need to be maintained because that’s the online store that consumers will pull up on their phone or desktop and expect it to be open 24/7.

Without reminders to consumers like a physical store or advertisements like TV commercials, a retail brand becomes extinct in the eyes of the consumer; just another brand swallowed up by the “retail apocalypse.” 

Demand dries up if there’s no investment in brand awareness.

That’s a huge risk to a brand because potential customers literally think your brand no longer exists.

Your brand has not just become, but gone the way of, the dinosaur!

“This is where that classic marketing story about Arm & Hammer baking soda comes into play,” Ferguson said. “They were the go-to brand for baking soda for decades, then people stopped baking so frequently. Instead of the brand just giving up, they looked at all the other ways people used the product and leaned in that way.

“Brands can do that now with content,” Ferguson added. “I’ve seen brands create content that illustrate various ‘hacks’ for their product as a way to stay in the conversation.”

The risk of not adapting to changes in search intent  

Another hard truth: search intent changes over time. 

Brands must continue to invest in adapting their own website content, in particular, to meet the dynamic needs of what and how customers search online. 

Simply put, search is the language of demand

Search Intent is the main goal a user has when typing a query into a search engine. As an example, pre-pandemic, most of the search intent for retail locations was about geography (“near me”) and/or finding the hours of operation. 

Since 2020, almost overnight, search intent related to retail stores has changed to reflect the consumer need for new options such as “grocery delivery” or contact-less “curbside pickup”. 

Google Trends data below shows the intent change around a consistent term like “in store pickup” against a new term “contactless delivery” that emerged at the start of the pandemic. 

Google Trends data for “contactless delivery” and “in store pickup”

In the past two years alone, marketers have been watching in real time as brands and businesses adapt to the change in demand for their goods and services. 

Without question, adaptability is the new competitive advantage. 

Spare no expense on adaptability

Business is about execution. 

Brands are about ideas. 

As a brand you always want to be relevant. The key is to maintain an awareness of how your brand is perceived and be willing to adapt and execute on what it takes to stay pertinent. 

If anyone knows about surviving (and thriving) the long game, it’s SEO because it largely comes down to execution in technical improvements (crawling, indexing, speed etc.), content and links.  

The most glaring form of dinosaur brand behavior is not investing in SEO fundamentals related to an adaptive strategy, tactics, data and collaboration.

Build great teams that help keep your brand at the top of the food chain.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Holly Miller Anderson is an experienced SEO and marketing strategist. She has more than a decade of broad, digital marketing experience that includes marketing films, managing events, as well as experience growing SEO as an acquisition channel in various roles from consultant to agency and in-house Product Manager at enterprise-level brands. She has made a career advising marketers on their holistic SEO strategy by developing a strategic plan and tactical roadmap that delivers sustainable growth. Holly is currently a Lead SEO Product Manager at Under Armour.

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