Email with search bar

Email Marketing and SEO Strategies: What are the Connections?

The email inbox and the search engine – they’re two of the most important places for brands and digital marketers to make connections with customers and prospects. But are there any connections between email marketing and SEO (search engine optimization)?

SEO and email marketing are two distinct practices, and they often come into play at very different parts of the customer journey. However, email and SEO do intersect, and there are a bunch of ways your strategies and tactics for one impact the other.

Let’s take a look at how email marketing and SEO can work together.

The basics of SEO

We’re probably safe to assume you know what email marketing is all about. But let’s briefly explain how search engine optimization works.

Put simply, SEO is the practice of optimizing a website for better visibility and engagement on search engine result pages (SERPs). The goal is usually to improve search rankings and drive organic traffic by appearing as close to the top of “Page 1” results as possible.

Now, when we say “search engines” we’re mostly talking about the big one: Google. By some estimates, Google has more than 90% of the global search market.

Google icon on phone next to email

Ask anyone who’s spent time working on SEO and they will tell you their job is part science and part art. That’s because, while we know some things about how Google ranks web pages, much of it is a bit mysterious. Google uses a complex algorithm, which it is constantly tweaking and updating. Google also doesn’t want people manipulating search rankings (and people have definitely tried over the years).

4 important ranking factors

While there are many different signals and technical aspects of web content that affect SEO, the four factors below are some of the most common considerations for optimization:

1. Keywords

When you type a search query into Google, the search engine looks for those words (keywords) among the many pages it has in its index. Then it returns a list of results that should be relevant and helpful to the searcher. Sometimes the query is a very specific word, other times it’s a more complex phrase, and people will also enter actual questions into the search bar.

That's a very simplistic explanation of how it works, but it will do the trick.

Those who practice SEO research the keywords that have significant volume (number of monthly searches). And they try to add those keywords in the right places the right number of times. For example, keywords in the <title> tag can influence rankings. But overusing keywords in an unnatural way can look spammy and manipulative, which Google does not like and could hurt SEO efforts.

2. On-page optimization

You can also optimize web pages in other ways. That includes writing meta descriptions that describe the page in the search results and encourage searchers to click on it. The alt text for images may include keywords that help visuals rank in a Google image search. A page’s URL can be optimized with relevant keywords too.

On-page optimization includes the creation of web content that is easy for both site visitors and search engines to consume. When it comes to the user experience, having a website with pages that load quickly and are optimized for mobile devices is a big deal if you want good search engine visibility on Google.

Google has search bots that crawl the web checking out pages, consuming the content, and traveling to new pages via links before reporting back to Google's index. Organizing web content with h-tags for subheadings helps search bots understand the main topic of the page. Internal links between pages on a site help bots crawl, discover, and index new content.

Speaking of links... This next one is a pretty big deal.

3. Backlinks

External backlinks have always been important in SEO. They are a signal that someone other than your brand thinks your site, content, or products and services are worth trusting and considering.

When Google got its start, the founders were inspired by early search engines for academic papers that relied on citations. The more a paper was cited in other pieces of research, the more likely it was to rise to the top of results. Those citations were like endorsements.

Backlinks work in a similar way. In most cases, when more sites link to a web page, the more likely it is that search engines will see the page as important and worthy of visibility (or good rankings). It's even more helpful if a backlink comes from a site that's very authoritative (like CNN), or is related to your industry. Of course, backlinks can be manipulated too, which is one reason why Google’s algorithm has evolved so much.

4. Authority and quality

In recent years. Google has told site owners that it is placing less importance on things like links and keywords and emphasizing the quality of the content on web pages.

To help people understand what that really means, Google came up with its E-A-T guidelines. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, but following its principles is key. In essence, Google is evaluating whether the brands and people behind web content know what they are talking about.

For example, Google likely thinks that Email on Acid has authority and expertise around topics like email coding and email marketing strategy. But if we suddenly started posting BBQ recipes to our blog, it’s unlikely that search engines would rank the content very high. Our recipes may be delicious, but our brand doesn’t have authority on that topic.

Authority in SEO is a little like sender reputation in email marketing. When it comes to email deliverability, if mailbox providers see you as a trustworthy sender that gets good engagement, you’re more likely to land in the inbox. In SEO, if Google sees your brand as a trustworthy source for important information on a topic, your site will rank better.

Content: The connection between SEO and email marketing

At first, it’s not easy to see the connection between email marketing and SEO. They seem like two different worlds.

The links you put in emails won’t boost your rankings. Your campaigns aren’t likely to show up in search results. Visitors from organic search are often at the beginning of a customer journey while email subscribers tend to be somewhere in the middle.

Content marketing is where SEO and email marketing cross paths.

Venn diagram of content, email and seo

Email marketers need content for newsletters, nurture campaigns, onboarding, company/product update messages, and more. Search engine marketers need quality content to establish topical authority, earn backlinks, and rank for the keywords their target audience uses.

Email marketers and SEOs have a similar goal: Get people to click on the content featured in emails or search results so customers, subscribers, and prospects visit the website. And once people get to the website, both types of specialists want visitors to engage and convert.

So, that’s where email marketing and SEO intersect. But how can these two strategies support each other?

3 ways SEO supports email marketing

If you’ve got silos in your marketing department, it’s time to knock those babies down. When different teams with different focuses share data, insights, and strategies, good things happen.

Let’s start with the ways strong SEO supports an email marketing strategy.

1. Organic traffic and list building

Because SEO is a “top-of-funnel" marketing tactic, the organic traffic it drives to a website represents something very important to email marketers: potential subscribers.

A new website visitor could easily represent a new, qualified email contact. If someone lands on content from a Google search, and they love what they find, they’re likely to want more from your brand. So, articles and landing pages that attract significant organic traffic should include a call-to-action or form that lets people subscribe to your emails. That’s how SEO helps you grow your email list organically.

It's also a key step in connecting with people at the start of a customer journey and moving them down the funnel to the next step.

2. Segmentation and lead nurturing

Once visitors from organic search subscribe, SEO and email marketing can work together to make communications relevant and persuasive.

If you know what pages a prospect visited before they subscribed, you can use it to inform your lead nurturing strategy. For example, if people land on an SEO article about a specific problem, you can continue the journey as you send emails with helpful advice that addresses the same pain point.

You could also segment those who subscribe to your emails based on the category of content they visited. For example, if your brand targets both B2B and B2C audiences, you could have different signup forms on content based on the audience it was written for. Then, you can be sure to send the right welcome emails and follow-up messages to those contacts.

3. Subject line ideation

The keyword research that SEO specialists conduct can help email marketers increase their open rates. SEO-optimized headlines may even inspire email subject line strategy.

Sometimes, we get caught up using industry lingo that fails to resonate with the people we’re trying to reach. Keyword research helps marketers understand the language real people use when they’re solving problems, researching a product, and making purchase decisions.

If you use that sort of relatable language in your subject lines, as well as throughout the body of the email copy, your campaigns are going to resonate with subscribers.

Title tags are similar to subject lines while meta descriptions for web pages are a little like preview text. SEOs work to craft page titles and descriptions that encourage clicks when they show up in search results. So, evaluating the titles and descriptions that get the most clicks from Google can help email marketers get creative with subject lines and preview/preheader text.

Silo collapsing

"If you’ve got silos in your marketing department, it’s time to knock those babies down. When different teams with different focuses share data, insights, and strategies, good things happen."

3 ways email marketing supports SEO

There are also many ways that a search engine optimization strategy can benefit from email marketing insights, especially when it comes to content.

When Sinch Mailjet surveyed thousands of senders around the world, results suggested the most important way email contributes to business success is through content distribution. Nearly half of all respondents said amplifying content through newsletters and customer education was a top three email objective.

Here’s how content distribution becomes a key connection between email marketing and SEO.

1. Establishing expertise, authority, and trustworthiness

As mentioned, Google evaluates quality content based on the E-A-T principle (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness). But how do you get recognized as an authoritative and trustworthy expert?

Thought leadership content as well as original research are two of the best ways to show the world your brand has something to say and that it’s worth listening to. Email is one of the best ways to get that content in front of the right people.

Email gets the word out. It drives relevant traffic to your expert content, which in turn and over time builds trust and authority for your brand. As your subscribers consume your content and hear about your unique solutions, they’ll start talking about what you do and what you create.

Eventually, search engines like Google will take notice and realize that your brand is producing authoritative content featuring trustworthy experts. That leads us to our next connection between email marketing and SEO...

2. Natural link building

When email marketers distribute original, quality content that follows Google’s E-A-T guidelines, valuable backlinks are going to come naturally. And those external links are going to do wonders for SEO.

A natural backlink is one that gets placed on another website without a brand asking or paying for it. So, links from guest posts aren’t really natural, and neither are links you ask co-marketing partners to place for you. These backlinks still have some value, but Google is usually smart enough to know the difference.

There are undoubtedly contacts on your email list who have their own websites or blogs. That means they have a way to create backlinks. There could also be people on your list who are in your industry but aren’t competitors. Interesting thought leadership ideas and stats from original research in the content you distribute via email increase the likelihood of earning backlinks from those contacts.

You may even be able to identify subscribers who are online influencers or satisfied customers who act as brand evangelists. Email marketers could create a separate segment of those "influencer contacts" and create campaigns encouraging them to share the stuff you’re sending. By the way, while Google often says social media shares don’t have a direct SEO connection like backlinks do, there is a correlation between shares and better rankings.

3. Understanding the audience

Just as email marketers can get ideas for subject lines and newsletter content from search analytics, the behaviors and preferences of email subscribers can inform SEO efforts. For example, the subject lines with the highest open rates could help SEO content writers figure out how to create title tags that get more clicks from search results.

There’s also a good chance that much of the content subscribers engage with in your email newsletters is the same kind of content that people are searching for online. So, when an article gets a lot of clicks from the newsletter, it’s a sign that more on that topic will be good for the SEO strategy.

Yet another way to use email to help SEOs (and everyone in the company) learn more about the target audience is to straight up ask subscribers questions. A survey sent to subscribers’ inboxes could inquire about the topics they find most interesting, the biggest problems they’re trying to solve, or how customers found and chose your brand. An SEO specialist can use that information to attract the right kind of prospects through organic search traffic.

As with most areas of marketing, there's some psychology in email marketing and SEO. When you understand your target personas, you're improving your knowledge of their demographics and psychographics.

What’s your email optimization strategy?

Here’s something else email marketing and SEO share: The need to optimize content for improved performance. That's right, we’re talking email marketing optimization (EMO). We know, we know. “Emo” is not really a marketing acronym it’s a moody youth subculture and music genre.

This is not what we mean by "EMO" (email marketing optimization)

The point is – you do need to optimize email campaigns before you hit send. We’re happy to offer two solutions that help you put your best email forward.

Sinch Email on Acid is a pre-send email testing platform that helps you catch mistakes and rendering issues before they cause big problems. That includes reliable email previews that show you how campaigns will look on all the major clients and devices. But Email on Acid also helps you improve inbox display and accessibility while catching issues with things like links and typos.

Mailgun Optimize is a suite of best-in-class email deliverability tools. Senders can use Email validations to conduct list cleaning and validate new contacts at signup. Mailgun Optimize also monitors blocklists and spam traps, provides reports on inbox placement, and more.

Use Mailgun Optimize to make sure your emails make it to everyone on your list and use Email on Acid to make sure campaigns look great when your subscribers open them up. That’s a double-whammy of email marketing optimization.

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