The Google Search results are very competitive.

Depending on the sector you operate within, and your customer demand this determines the level of competition you are likely to face.

Within ecommerce now, on multiple transactional terms Google decides to show Organic Shopping results and its own Google “sponsored” PPC ads within the Page 1 scroll.

This compounded with multiple algorithm updates (2023 there has been 15 so far), the development of generative search (SGE), social search – the old “blue links” within the search landscape not being seen as much. Staying visible in Google is a full-time job.

As the old Bob Dylan song goes “times are a changing”.

Change as we know is the only constant in life and we should not shy away from change but embrace it. Falling behind with the times leads to horror retail stories with old familiar brands/buildings haunting high streets and business parks. These brands didn’t adapt to change and had the “good old days” mindset.

As SEO consultants, we are used to change. Imagine doing a job that changes fundamentally every year and there are no factual courses, books or research to follow. All that exists within our sector is experiential knowledge with every now and then a vague soundbite from Google that can be interpreted thousands of ways.

Recently Google admitted this at a recent search event.

The whole point of this introduction is that SEO is hard, search will get harder into 2024/25 – which can be overwhelming to not only those who work in the sector but also in-house marketing teams and business owners.

SEO is not just hard; it is extremely time consuming for already stretched marketing/SEO teams.

From analysis, competitor insights, to then updating or creating new content – while also being acutely aware that original content isn’t ranking or and the website is full of technical errors.

The cognitive bloat and overwhelming nature of “all” can lead to the equivalent of writers block – not knowing where to start.

It doesn’t have to be like this and the key to SEO is focus, segmentation and to atomise tasks to their core elements and work on enhancing each one slightly every day aggregate weekly/monthly. This is progress.

If you aim for the moon, they say you fall short but that is still the stars. But if you want to aim for the moon some people spend so long planning, worrying and getting everything right/understood that they never even enter the rocket to start the journey.

The key when aiming to reach the moon, don’t think big, think small.

Action is better than inaction and this is why marginal gains as a concept is key for SEO.

What Are Marginal Gains?

A concept, more at home within sporting endeavours and popularized by Sir Dave Brailsford when coaching the Olympic cycling team, refers to the strategy of making small, incremental improvements across various aspects of a task to achieve a significant overall enhancement in the delivery and performance of the task.

The way to think of marginal gains is to imagine a system – each component part of that mechanism does its job to work the system. Each component part has its own specific components that help that part work and so forth within the system.

The concept relates to the “aggregation of marginal gains.”. The 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do”.

The is that if you improved every area related to the system by just 1% percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement in performance.

In the system example, a 1% improvement in 100 parts within the component would make the component work 100% better. Which is turn would make the system run more efficiently.

That is the power of the 1% gain.

On the surface you wouldn’t even know about it, it is unnoticeable, but it has meaning and purpose and as they aggregate over time the difference is felt.

This school of thought has so much in common with SEO.

Why are SEO and marginal gains so aligned?

SEO is not a short-term gain.

Never mind what the spam emails and course selling gurus tell you over social media. Unless you have significant brand equity, an established web presence and a solid marketing/PR team to get meaningful results in the short-term from SEO activity is “luck, more than judgment”.

Being a long-term channel activation means that in some sectors even if you work diligently on your site – it can take months to see any performance.

This can mean that the visibility effect from your work is not showing. Which can be disheartening, demoralising and even effect your business case.

However, on most sites its normal and it can take 6-9 months for your efforts to bear fruit within competitive sectors and on new/lower authority sites.

It can be difficult to quantify what would be a 1% increase in performance – however we don’t need to go this granular as although we have multiple datasets at our disposal it would be unrealistic to try to compartmentalise a specific task into a number metric expressed as a percentage as generally performance data around SEO is aggregated as a set of metrics.

This could only be done if you were running a Random Control Test (RCT) using control pages and variants as we do within CRO work that through testing over a time period you could state that there has been a positive or negative impact of the change. On most sites this is not required as any change created logically based on data/SEO awareness would be a positive.

A better way to think about marginal gains SEO is to think around the act and with a wider focus – working on multiple areas at once in small increments with the focus on optimising the whole.

Therefore, for time poor marketing executives and in-house SEO practitioners this makes the approach a lot easier – through the atomisation (i.e., breaking down the objective into smaller bite sized chunks).

How you can apply marginal gains into SEO within the 3 Cs framework

There are three key elements (aptly named the 3 C’s) with both SEO and marginal gains:

  1. Campaign
  2. Coverage
  3. Consistency

Campaign – focus on a specific site area/topic theme – what is your immediate business goal?

Coverage – work throughout all aspects of every element that feeds into the campaign goals

Consistency – always on action, every day working on elements of the site within the key foundational areas

An example of the above can be seen below in its application around ecommerce for SEO:

Objective: Increase sales performance on ecommerce category page by 35% within next 90 days

  • Campaign: ecommerce PLP landing category
  • Coverage: work on all aspects of the page throughout the core foundational elements of SEO
  • Consistency: every day over the next 90 days work on the below tactics for a half an hour a day

Technical – fix all category level crawl/indexing issues (throughout PLP category)

Marginal: redirects, status errors, nonindexed page review/fix, sitemap/robots.txt, page speed

On-page – update the page content throughout the category

Marginal: review GSC and competitor data, identify page gaps, opportunity terms (Page 2), tweak meta data with new keywords, optimise PDP pages

Structure – increase visibility to category pages

Marginal: put page into menu/footer, link out from homepage, interlink within category, build grouping/cluster, look at nesting and taxonomy

Content – build out the site with informational content

Marginal: create a content strategy that aligns with core page, develop a 6-month content calendar, undertake a content performance audit (update/promote/remove), check technical performance, develop cluster pieces and conduct persona work/customer funnel pages

Off-site– work on your brand authority

Marginal: reach out to partners/associations, survey customers/market to gather data to create linkable brand assets, unmentioned brand links, product outreach, competitor analysis (media lists)

CRO/UX– make sure your website commercial performs

Marginal: gather qualitative and quantitative data, remove rage, distraction and frustration from the customer experience (moving images, buttons, content, checkout enhancements)

 

There are a lot of tactics presented within the above example list – you don’t need to do them all its and the list is certainly not exhaustive – they are only to show an indication of how you can atomise a larger strategic objective into smaller manageable parts.

Working half an hour even an hour every day on “one goal” tweaking and updating a part of the system will achieve results as long as you enhance based on experience, data and a proven track record of having made these changes before seeing growth.

To increase the ranking, sales and performance of the website cannot be just achieved with one task – if you are just updating meta data and page copy without doing the rest then performance will be staggered.

Doing a little bit into each area and having a holistic view of all component parts of the system achieves results.

As always make sure you are measuring as yes you cannot quantify the 1% improvement in changing an element within the approach, but by making the change you can review core metrics around: ranking positions, traffic, conversions and engagement.

The marginal gains mindset requires patience, discipline, and tracking but can deliver sustainable SEO success over the long run. Small but consistent effort is the key.

 

For more information on marginal gains SEO and to find out how it can help you achieve your marketing goals reach out to one of the Polaris consultants as an experienced Ecommerce SEO & B2B SEO Agency we work with to understand your challenges, develop a marginal gains approach that is bespoke to your needs through our in-house SEO adoption framework.

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