LONDON — Lisa Templeton, senior manager of search marketing and paid media at PFSWeb, an international provider of eCommerce solutions, wants brands to pay closer attention to SEO. Focusing on five ways that search engines are changing, she outlined a road map for 2016 that brands should adopt to maximize their traffic and resulting sales conversions.

She said the SEO skill set is core to digital businesses and encouraged attendees at the WWD Digital Forum London to look at it with a different perspective — “beyond the typical title tags and meta tags that you are going to put on your e-commerce site or marketing sites” — if they want to maximize the number of new visitors, and make themselves more attractive to Google.

Templeton encouraged brands to think of SEO managers as “the people who understand the consumers’ wants, needs and wishes,” taking their cue from what’s typed into a search bar and translating that into content that’s going to “meet those needs, surface that into a search engine, which is still a really great discovery tool, and promote it so that it gets credibility. Your brand needs visibility across a wide [spectrum] of sites, from your content marketing sites, social sites, your channel partner sites, the list goes on, so there’s a real need for this,” she emphasized.

According to Templeton, SEO contributes to about 18 percent of a brand’s total site traffic and on average generates about 16 percent of the revenue. She said it’s also responsible for 55 percent of new visitors. “So that’s where you have to stop and think that this is a channel we have to be in early.”

Her first point was on SERPs, or search engine result pages. Templeton explained that Google is making changes to the layout of SERPs, with up to four paid ads appearing at the top of results pages, meaning a decrease in organic search space on a page.

Additionally, there are new Knowledge Panels appearing on the right hand side of brand searches, often populated with information from a third-party content provider like Wikipedia. These also include verified social media handles and links to competitors. “I’ve heard that they are also thinking of adding an ad unit to this, so this is a space to definitely be aware of,” she noted.

Video and image units on a Google search page were two organic opportunities that brands can harness, particularly with the current focus on content marketing.

She showed an example for a search on “how to apply foundation.” About 22,000 people per month in England search for the exact phrase, but adding in all the variations of that phrase, it’s more like 1.8 million people per month.

“So there’s a lot of volume, a lot of eyeballs, and Google noticed and they like to surface content that’s very clear, step-by-step, very clearly meeting that need to answer that question,” she said, adding that the first video to appear was an exact match for that phrase. “So applying SEO tactics to the videos you’re putting up on YouTube can be very beneficial for your brand to get this type of positioning.”

Her second point centered on the need for sites to be as fast as possible, ideally loading in under three seconds. “Google likes fast sites, they prioritize fast sites in the algorithm…if the site is not rolling fast we know we’re at risk of loosing not just Google rankings, but conversions and increase in our bounce rate as well,” she said.

To improve speed, she said that brands planning a redesign with a mobile-first approach were on the right track. If a brand isn’t planning a redesign, she suggested teaming SEO and creative teams to make sure that images aren’t too hefty and time-consuming to load, and also tasking development teams to look at and clean up old site redirects.

Another topic was HTTPS, or hypertext transfer protocol secure, used by secure sites. “Since 2014 Google has been really pushing the concept that all sites need to be 100 per cent secure,” said Templeton, adding that includes not just the back-end of a site and the card payment process, but the entire site.

Despite this, it hasn’t been adopted widely as yet, but she advises brands to start planning to implement HTTPS in the next 12 months, considering third-party integrations and code changes, upgrading certificates and SEO transition.

She also suggested applying a common core vocabulary — or shema — to the way brands code their sites. “If you refer to your price and your product name and your product description and your product images in the same way, using the same common vocabulary, it’s going to be a lot easier for Google to understand,” she said.