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No brand is ever ready for what lies ahead, says GSK global SEO director Adrian Phipps


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

February 21, 2020 | 6 min read

No brand is ever ready for the future, says Adrian Phipps, global SEO director, GSK. Some just have the ability to play the game better than others.

Phipps is lined up to chair the jury of The Drum Search Awards 2020 and is expecting to be wowed, as there are amazing teams out there and fantastic campaigns happening right now.

"I am just so excited to be able to review and assess the best output from across the digital marketing industry," explains Phipps. "Those who will impress are the ones that manage to takes the foundational elements of digital marketing and combines that across multiple digital channels."

Ahead of the award's judging day, The Drum spoke to Phipps about the future of search marketing; the importance of performance and user experience, how to optimise for voice search and which brands are ready.

How important are performance and user experience when it comes to search marketing?

Ultimately everything we do as digital marketers is to lead to a conversion or desired outcome. Unless we commit to the customer journey in our setup (platform or campaign) then we won’t be successful. The user experience reflects on the brand and product offering. If the two (UX and performance) are out of alignment with the brand offering or promise, then the digital channels will not work as expected and subsequently, the great work that can be accomplished will not succeed and become redundant. Performance and UX are to be considered foundational and core prerequisite elements of any digital activity.

Within search marketing, there are often third-party metrics that are reliant on a site/ brand having effective UX and performance. Most notably measured via quality score (QS) and ranking. Effective account control from an SEM perspective, united with effective content ranking and landing page optimisation from an SEO perspective, combine to help navigate both Google and potential customers down to their respective and intended conversion points. The two rely on each other for positive outcomes.

Having said that, UX and performance - site speed in this context - are massively reliant on partner/ stakeholder alignment and prioritisation. Its all about working collectively to achieve a team goal and not an individual target. Unless navigated well, the value to be added across digital channels from great UX and performance will be negated; resulting in underperforming digital activities.

Going forward, I see the future of UX and performance even more connected through highly personalised content offerings and personalised engagement and conversion funnels. Taking CMS, eCRM, search, SEO and programmatic to the next level. Serving a holistic yet tailored, highly personal and biased digital content experience that aligns tightly to the intent of the customer and their desired outcome based on past activity or anticipated motivations. A lot of the recent Google updates appear to try to capitalise on this concept. Most notably via local search; but that’s only really connected with one part of the user journey - the conversion. Amazon are the ones who have really pushed the boundaries of this area. But it is ultimately contained within their platform as they seek to own and harvest the resulting data. We should aim to learn more from their single-minded approach but don’t aim to replicate them; rather work out how to better exploit their strengths of high octane customer service and personalisation for our own benefit. As with Google, they are only at one part of the customer journey; they don’t warm up or engage further up & down the funnel.

How do you optimise for voice search?

I get asked this all the time. The answer I give now has been the same for the last couple of years. Sorry to say, it’s dull when compared to other shiny SEO tactics that people are discussing. But it does reflect my approach to search marketing and SEO of looking at the long-term strategy with great housekeeping. Do the basics well and consistently over time.

To optimise for voice, I truly believe that you need to optimise for mobile and desktop SEO. Don’t try and gamify or target voice specifically. But rather try and answer questions within your site from your user’s or customer’s perspective within your content – the site should not just display content based on the brand or product. Associated topical content and supporting insights need to be added but being careful to not add content for the sake of it or too wide-reaching so Google thinks you are an expert of nothing or have the authority of nothing. Be single-minded, niche and very clear and build from that foundation.

It’s worth remembering this. Google is not really looking to sell your product , they are looking to satisfy the user’s intent first and foremost, not yours. It is worth recognising that Google Analytics and Search Console have said they are working towards integrating a voice search tracking function, but it is yet to transpire. However, if you look at tools like “answer the public” you can clearly see the rise in people asking questions and expecting an answer.

You might think this is obvious; however, many brands appear to still reason that their brand is bigger than Google and should by rights be at the top of Search Engine Results Pages results for generic keywords. It often seems that they are reliant on social or the use of paid search activities to boost or bolster what they can achieve via organic tactics. Speed over effort.

What does not help is that business is often aligned to the budget lines and what the ROI is for the spend. This is easy to measure for paid and sponsored activities. With SEO and voice, this is harder to attribute to specific actions and can take time from a few weeks to sometimes months to achieve.

For voice, do the basics well. Understand your target user’s intent. Demonstrate you know what you want to be known for from Google and be consistent over time.

Which brands are ready for the future when it comes to search marketing?

This is an interesting one. FMCG brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are pushing boundaries the most. They have agile in their DNA as brands due to being at the front of fashion which historically changes very fast or the changing tastes of consumers for foods.

Having said that I don’t think any brand is ever truthfully ready for the future; some brands are just able to pivot and adapt faster than others and take better advantage and test and push and poke where others fear to tread.

The deadline for the awards has now passed and judging will take place soon. Nominations will be announced at 3pm on Friday 13 March.

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